Explore the Future…

Before You Become a Thing of the Past

Published on: July 2017

Written by: Peter Mulford

Mike Lazaridis, the cofounder of BlackBerry, found out about the iPhone from a TV commercial.

Nokia’s CEO, Stephen Elop, announced his firm’s acquisition by MSFT by saying, “We didn’t do anything wrong, but somehow, we lost.” In 2008, MySpace was a digital superstar; three years later, it lost forty million unique visitors per month, both co-founders, and the majority of its staff. Radio Shack failed to see change in the market and went bankrupt in 2015, at the age of 96. And so on.Exploring when and where the next disruption to your business will occur isn’t an academic exercise; it should be part of your business rhythm. Not because I say so, but because your next disruption is coming, ready or not. Whether the disruption becomes a good thing or a bad thing is largely up to whether or not you saw it coming. With this in mind, here are a few suggestions on how you can make exploring tomorrow an effective part of your business rhythm today.

Zoom Out, and Stay Focused.

Leaders today need to keep their feet in two places at once: Scaling today’s business model on one foot, while discovering tomorrow’s on the other. Start by setting an agenda for your operating reviews/meetings that regularly alternates between issues of today and issues for tomorrow. By way of example: the leadership team at one Fortune 500 client meets once a week to focus on the immediate term, and once a quarter to focus on the next three to five years. That’s one example — you can pick a time frame more appropriate for your circumstances. The magic comes from sustaining the rhythm. And from being patient when you zoom out to the future, especially when people are busy today. Exploring provocative tomorrows can lead to better decisions today, even if they seem far-fetched at the time.

Pick a Process—and Master it.

Smart people typically miss disruptive trends because of three derailers: because they can’t think outside their current context, because of biases, or because of fear (in particular, fear of any disruption that can devalue their skills). So in order to make sure you don’t fall victim to these derailers, you need to find a proven, repeatable process that mitigates them. At BTS we use and teach Insight Fusion and Risk Storming. There are plenty of other techniques out there as well. The trick is to practice and master them. Why? As you experiment with these approaches, you will quickly realize that doing them poorly is worse than not doing them at all. Doing them well requires you to anticipate and manage the emotions, egos, and eccentricities that these sessions arouse. A well designed process will take care of these derailers—provided you stick with the process, and follow the rules.

Include Diversity and Inclusion

Connecting the dots is not something you can do alone. Spotting trends before they occur requires a diversity of perspectives, not a homogenous “strategy team.” So you need to have an approach to Diversity and Inclusion that makes it possible for you to get a lot of different perspectives on the future. Getting diversity right means that you have different perspectives at the table; getting Inclusion means that everyone at the table has a chance to contribute. You’ll need both to succeed.

Buckle Up—and Give Ambiguity a Hug

Exploring the unknown can be a deeply satisfying experience for your team if you are prepared for it. You will uncover some scenarios that will delight some members of your team and will dismay others. You must be prepared to deal with both. You will find both problems to mitigate and prospects to exploit. You must use your own common sense, experience, and data to evaluate which scenarios are likely and worth further consideration, and which are not. Note: Your competitors are likely doing the same thing as you are, so you should widen your aperture to consider them in your exploration, too. Remember, a disruption usually begins as a series of unconnected data points that seem harmless until, suddenly, they are not. We live in a time of disruption and exponential change. Cast a wide net. And enjoy the ride.

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