We Should All Be Futurists
You’ve heard all the buzzwords before: foresight, insight, forecast, predict, and so on. When people hear the word ‘futures’ in a business context their mind often defaults towards speculative stocks instead of science fiction. I believe the latter conceptualisation, in fact, holds much more utility for the future of business.
What is the ‘future’, really?
For about a century it’s been a commodity promised to you by a slew of brands, something tangible and only a credit card’s swipe away. Technological developments throughout the 20th century, particularly in the household consumer space, touted lines like ‘the future is now’ or ‘tomorrow, today’ to advertise a new appliance or lifestyle product. This ethos has carried through to the corporate consulting world, where many claim to have forecasted the exact future right for your business before handing you a written report followed promptly by an invoice.
Scott Smith, Founder of Changeist, calls these “flatpack futures”; boxed, pre-packaged deliverables that can paradoxically reduce the agency and decision making ability of a client. These futures are often over-engineered, and by delivering this flatpack as the future they’re closing off pathways to other futures and ways of thinking.
We need to get away from this commodified, rigid idea, and change the way we think about the future. Horizon scanning, forecasting and futures modelling is an iterative process that should seek to transform the way business owners and employees see the future of their service, product, company, and entire industry. They need to recognise personal biases and assumptions about the future, spot key emerging trends and brainstorm, with full, no-holds-barred creative freedom, how these trends may intersect with the world around them in five, ten, or twenty years from now.
We’ve long perceived uncertainty as something to be minimised at all costs. A director, executive or manager may not want to know the risk, just that it’s being managed or accounted for by someone else. Robust futuring makes us face uncertainty head-on and get comfortable with it. This turns it into a tool; something to utilise in productive ways that leads to novel discoveries and choices you may have been blocking out before. This is the key. Futuring as a non-linear process can revolutionise how you think about what’s to come, and give you the tools to forecast and model in a way that’s more organic to you, your employees, and your business. Unlike a flatpack future, nothing is off the table; you should keep pulling on the threads that interest you and see how far they go, or even incorporate a fringe trend that may seem completely irrelevant. You may surprise yourself when some dots start connecting.
The strategic environment is shifting. You’re worried about the unforeseen consequences that may arise down the line, but also eager to seize any opportunities. You want to do some futuring. It’s crucial to lay some foundations first.
- What’s the scope of your foresight going to be? You want to be in a position to jump on an opportunity one year from now, or perhaps you’re leaning into risk management mode and stability one year from now, or both? Great.
- Your new technology is in development and you want to forecast how its applications may shift five years from now, due to the evolving cultural, political and economic environments and the interplay between them? Absolutely.
- You have no idea of the scope, or what areas, or which people in your business may benefit or in what way, but you know that futuring could be valuable? Fantastic, a blank canvas has the most potential.
- How is the future perceived and discussed within your business’ internal culture? Is there a certain team or individual in mind, or do you want everyone involved in the process?
There are many ways to approach futuring, and many more ways of thinking to discover and tools to use along the way.
Now, you’ve spent a few weeks scanning for information, setting some parameters, discussing and debating the interplay between trends across various horizons, identified reoccurring themes, given yourself and your team full creative freedom, and even created some alternative future scenarios. There may be one that is particularly desirable, or one that is certainly to be avoided. From this you set a goal for the business, figure out the best way to implement your limited resources towards achieving it, identify how progression towards the goal can be measured along the timeline, and establish it all in a framework that is flexible, monitorable and able to be iterated along the way. Congratulations, you have just created a strategy, one born from futuring and guided by robust foresight. Not only did you create it, but you obtained the key ways of thinking and the tools to create many more.
This is how we could be operating. Every team and individual, in every business and organisation, in every sector, can benefit from futuring in this way. JC Ltd. aims to bring this in to the mainstream, and make robust futuring part of the lifeblood of business throughout the South Pacific.