Most business and organization leaders recognize a great and growing need for innovation. Unfortunately innovation may not be what their organizations are good at.

They aren’t blind to change. Executives of large and mature industries are well aware that the future is different, that whatever will be expected of them in the future isn’t the same as today.

Mature organizations and businesses are usually extremely good at doing what they already know how to do. They depend on their best people for incremental improvements in already successful products or services. Unfortunately that may not be enough in future. It’s not enough now.

Somehow leaders must curb their organization’s tendency to hire creative and innovative newcomers and then crush all the new ideas they get from them. If that sounds harsh, it’s true or at least it has been in many organizations. Hiring for the future must mean hiring for initiative, ideas, exciting concepts, and engagement with change.

Will today’s organizations have sufficient capacity for innovation to succeed in a changing operating environment?

Three assessments you might need to make now:

1. Has your organization sufficient capacity now to generate innovations to keep pace with, or leap ahead of changing conditions?

2. Do you have a strategy to transition successfully to a new generation in the workforce. To oversimplify, Millennials and Gen X-ers can lead in innovation while your 50+ workforce keeps the ship steady and on course. Keep in mind that innovation and creativity are not exclusive to any one generation, your best idea could come from your oldest worker.

3. Does your company have a futures orientation? Is everyone fully focused on the coming challenges and opportunities?

Let Leading Futurists, and its associates, Green Consulting Group, guide you in the design of a company-wide futures orientation, or through a workforce/HR transition strategy. We can build a program for you to help you chart the path of innovation you need for future success.

We could start by saying what we know you do not need. You do not need business or management smarts. You have those. If you do not, futurists are not likely to have higher business, management, or sales skills to advise you.

That’s true too for association executives who already know more about the structure, goals, and culture of their associations than a futurist ever will.

So why bring in a futurist? What could the measurable impact possibly be?

A futurist will not immediately increase the sale of your widgets. Nor will he/she substantially increase membership this year. Past experience tells us this is true no matter how farseeing and clever we may as futurists believe ourselves to be.

What can you get, then? What can futurists deliver that is of value and use to you?

We can best describe it as thinking differently. Others have described it as seeing and capturing new insights about the organization and the emerging world it must operate in. Being a better critical thinker by adding power to your decision-making is another description. Bringing in the future enables executive thinkers to re-sort their ideas about when and how a challenge must be faced and dealt with. And so on.

You have to decide where to bring this new power to bear. Who needs to hear from a futurist the most? Who would benefit from working with one, at least briefly? Is there a project that needs the input of someone thinking beyond today? Are there a dearth of opportunities, or so it seems? A futurist can help uncover them with you.

Contact us to discuss how our expertise on the future can meet your needs today.

Warren Berger, who wrote “A More Beautiful Question,” gives good advice on turning New Year’s resolutions (which you may already have abandoned) into questions that can help you achieve those desires and intentions. http://www.fastcodesign.com/3024646/before-you-abandon-those-resolutions-read-this?partner=newsletter

He suggests reframing your resolution as “How Might We?” or “How Might I?” For example: “How might I exercise more this year?” or “How might we solve this business problem?” As you read the article you can see how the power of the question opens up intention and direction, leading you to new ideas and actions. It’s an approach widely used by designers and others to scope out problems.

Reading this made us realize how often futurists use the question “What if?” to stimulate thought and exploration of possible futures. “What if?” leads us to anticipate future outcomes of a trend or shaping force that could have immense effects if it continues, or gets stronger. One recently popular “What if?” has been “What if China…(fill in the blank!)?” Another one is “What if our members don’t need us anymore because of…?”

Depending on what your business, industry, or group is, there are probably two or three forces looming in everyone’s minds. Why not take one of them and shape a “What if?” question? This can be a starter for a discussion about potential outcomes, implications, needs for change, needs for information, and so on. 

Because the people having this discussion will most likely be responsible for operations under these changed conditions, the exploration will come back around to “How might we?” questions. These questions are about being successful in adapting to, or initiating change, and in discovering the innovations likely to be necessary in that future. And also about uncovering new opportunities!

We’d be glad to help in getting that discussion started, and to open eyes wide to the future.

Are we infatuated with trends?

December 29, 2013

In a recent blog with Yvette Salvatico, futurist Frank Spencer asks this question: “Are we infatuated with trends?” (http://www.fastcoexist.com/3021148/futurist-forum/why-predicting-trends-doesnt-help-prepare-for-the-future Read their blog–their main point is that being up to date with current trends isn’t all there is to being usefully aware of the future. Knowing the trends doesn’t get you there.

It’s a good time to think about this because we’ll see lots of blogs and articles about the 5, 10, 12 most important trends shaping the year(s) ahead. Not that it’s wrong to identify and monitor trends. Especially if that monitoring is based on a futurist’s definition of a trend: 

“A trend is a statement of the direction of change, usually gradual, long-term change, in the forces shaping the future of an organization, a region, a nation, a sector, or society in general.”

Based on this definition, many changes we are urged to pay attention to may be short-term, soon gone and forgotten. Worth a minute to think about and maybe to make adjustments for, but not to base a policy or a long-term strategy on. 

This is not to forget, of course, the many businesses and sectors that make their living from the new, the short-term change, the sudden switch in the public’s attention. In their case, it’s in their interest to hype the “trends,” to get more attention for what may be a short-lived opportunity. But it’s not effective foresight. It’s new colored stripes for deckchairs, not iceberg detecting radar.

Happy New Year and good (real) trend monitoring!

We are the last people to say an organization shouldn’t have a good story. Good stories are what people hear and remember about you.

However, there may come a time when you need to revise that story. Why? Because it could be standing between you (your organization) and a successful future!

Of course it is not just a story standing between you and your future (your organization’s). That story undoubtedly tells about the culture and the ethos of the organization, its past heroes (and heroines) and its historical experiences. When you change the story, you may also be changing the organization’s culture and strongly-held beliefs. This is so the organization can teach and learn new ideas and work with a new story that will open up new opportunities.

As anyone in an organization with a strong and long-lasting successful culture knows, this is not easy to do. We all know organizations and industries that have struggled with a culture that has to be changed to meet new challenges. Apple has been successful at it. Nokia is in the process of creating a new story, which it has done successfully before. IBM has done it more than once.

Industries that don’t manage change well usually disappear or are overtaken by the new organizations with a new approach and a new story that fits the future better.

We all need to be aware that the future can reshape old stories and old realities. Contact us to help you grow new awareness and build a new story.

As does any group offering professional services, futurists have to consider their unique response to a client’s needs. Do they have the most industry knowledge? Are they particularly good with futures tools, such as scenarios? Can they do an excellent environmental scan?

The other side is that companies, associations, agencies, have their own intent in calling in futurists. Maybe this is their first venture into looking to the future. Perhaps they are experienced users of strategic foresight. Or they might believe a well-used futures tool could enhance the results of a project they are already engaged in.

These considerations are all practical, and important to making a good fit with a futures firm. More than this, though, organizations have their own unique way in which they will approach the future and make use of futures information. This is more about “this is the way _we_ do things,” than anything else. It’s useful for the organization to get a good sense of what that unique approach is.

So organizations have to ask themselves what’s special about their own approach to the future. Three questions to ask: 1. How is talk about the future received here? Nervous laughter? Advice to stick to immediate issues? Relief and delight? Some variant of these three?

2. What are our assumptions about the future and how do we make them? Are they based on history, our past successes? Do we have a vision, or a plan for the future? How do we deal with uncertainties?

3. What kind of work on the future would best fit here? An expert panel? Scenarios? Training for people to develop a “futures mindset?”

These three questions can spark an internal discussion that leads to a more satisfying engagement with the right futures firm.

Emerging markets present challenge and opportunity to US companies. The consumers in these emerging markets face their own challenges: urbanization, new aspirations, changing cultures, and new choices.

With all this concentration on emerging markets, US companies can find access to data, market studies, etc., on their target consumers. 

Where we see the most common shortfalls in facing up to these challenges is in our own thinking. For example:

1.  thinking “they” are like us, or at least that emerging market consumers will want just what we want

2.  not really believing that the world has changed and the momentum of growth is coming from elsewhere

3.  not really believing that part of that growth and change is creating competition from those markets

Each is a shortcoming in understanding rather than information.

 

So the challenge is first to understand, and that’s not only about having good data. In fact, that’s not the main task at all. 

Futurists will explore with their clients new ways to think about challenges such as this, helping them understand difference and change at a deeper level.

We were taken aback recently to read in the comments on a defense of futurists by futurist Paul Higgins, aka “futuristpaul,” that if companies were not able to see the value of foresight and working with a futurist, then maybe the problem is in the company’s business model and not in the futurist’s advice.

It could be just the futurist’s notorious tendency to throw out the baby and the bathwater and start over from the beginning to build a new system. On the other hand, maybe there’s a grain of truth here, or a fleck of baby powder at least.

As most of us know, one of the reasons why foresight isn’t attractive to the successful business is because of reluctance to change what works well today. Futurists don’t say you _should_change. We argue that the future will _make_ you change! You had better do it deliberately, and with an enhanced sense of opportunity in the future.

Most companies would do well to spend at least a fraction of their time considering the “what-ifs?” that might force sudden or unexpected change. It’s important to ask, is our business model robust against these potential changes?

If the answer is “no” then there is work to do. A foresight session is a place to start.

Prof. Andy Hines, University of Houston, is working on this question and came up with a framework to measure what success in working with the future might look like. You can see his diagram here 

Andy, who is a former colleague of ours, has worked as a corporate futurist and knows first hand how important it is to achieve some measure of success in bringing the future, and foresight, into an organization.

Like much consulting, easily measured results are rare. Say, for example, how a change in thinking led to XXXX dollars saved in an adapted process, to a successful new product or service, or to a brighter future for the organization overall. All these outcomes are possible with foresight and critical thinking. They are rarely ascribed directly to the services of futurists.

In his approach, Prof. Hines has sorted out the aims and targets of foresight for the organization, and ascribed the services offered by futures practitioners to three stages of a decision-making process, learning, deciding and acting. As you might expect, futures practitioners deliver most of their expertise to the first two stages. In most organizations, only the results of acting, the third stage, are measured. So we don’t have a way to measure success yet. We do have a new tool to work with, thanks to Prof. Hines.

The question is: will your stake in the past hold your organization back from future success? What is that stake? It could be a successful track record and a big investment in plants, properties, and approaches that made success possible. With all that holding you down, it isn’t going to be easy to reinvent the organization for a different future.

Sometimes the stake isn’t only, or mostly, investment. It can be a way of life, a hard-earned expertise, and a feeling that with a few changes we could go on doing well at least until (my) retirement.

Newspapers survived the change from hot metal type to computer-based production. It’s not clear they will all survive the Internet, even by going virtual and online. IBM has done well by innovating and changing its priorities as computers and their new uses evolved. It has learned how to create new value in changed circumstances.

Can your organization do that? Working with a futurist may help you discover some new opportunities.

We know it is not a one-step or easy transition to make. It’s important to set foot on the road though if an organization mired in the past is to have any hope of a successful future outcome.

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