Tag: future prediction

I Didn’t See That Coming – Do You Predict The Future?

predict the future
Somehow, CEOs and small business owners seem to think that after a great disaster has befallen them, saying ‘I didn’t see that coming’ absolves them of all responsibility. Maybe they did not see, but that is not to say that they shouldn’t have been able to. We are talking here about being able to predict the future.

Throughout history, there have been events that disrupted the way of the world. When electricity replaced gas as a means of creating light, it revolutionised the world. I suspect that there were a few factories developing a new generation of gas-powered street lamps but by and large people saw that coming.

Later on, we have a fantastic invention, the Sony Walkman. Portable music for the masses which was replaced incrementally by DVDs, then Apple iPods and finally mobile phones. Those who have produced these devices and who have supplied the music and games for them, have had to look up and see what was coming!

Who remembers Blockbuster Video? A huge chain of video rental shops that disappeared almost overnight because it was possible to stream video online.

There have been numerous cases of shops disappearing from our high street because of the effects of online shopping. This is not simply because of the emergence of online shopping but because existing retailers have not been able to predict the effects of the emergence of Amazon (and others) nor forecast the requirements of modern day shoppers. None of those that vanished seem to have attempted to predict the future.

There is a whole area of forecasting that is concerned with what are called ‘weak signals’. Imagine that you are standing on the stern of a large ship. You see the wash from the propellers and the wake left behind. After the ship has passed over the horizon a experienced old sailor might be able to ‘read’ the wake and tell you what sort of ship has passed and combine that with the tides to tell you where it might be going.

Imagine now that the whole scenario of the ship is played in reverse. As time passes, the ship gets closer until finally you can see it. As it gets closer, the signals that you pick up get stronger. With weak signals, we use a range of techniques to scan the business horizon to build up a picture of what might happen in the future. We then keep scanning. In fast-moving industries we cannot see as far ahead as say the construction industry.

Weak signals are a way of trying to predict the future and take advantage of it. But there is a simpler and less expensive way for the rest of us.

Compare those companies who ‘didn’t see it coming’, who did not attempt to predict the future, with those who are relaxing and sipping cocktails, the big difference is they aligned with emerging trends. They saw it coming just a little bit earlier than everyone else and did something about it.

To avoid being taken by surprise I thoroughly recommend that you do the following 3 things and ‘ride the curve’:

  1. Look ahead of the curve – scan your environment, identify and track trends. Increase the amount of business research you do and seek market intelligence rather than wait for it to come to you (via industry reports or briefings).
  2. Think ahead of the curve – look for patterns of change, and emerging opportunities.  Trying to make sense of every small piece of information will be too time-consuming. Ask yourself where will this trend, technology or driver be in 10 years and what might I need to do in response or to take advantage of it?
  3. Act ahead of the curve – Be like the surfer catching a wave. Don’t wait for a trend to overwhelm you, take action today. Be disruptive to both yourself and your competitors.

Riding the curve means grabbing opportunities, taking calculated risks, and turning your understanding of where your industry is going into steps that take you from where you are now to where you need to be in order to profit from change.

The Workplace of Tomorrow

workplace of tomrrowIs there an ideal workplace?

Despite all of the predictions of a futuristic workplace we all seem to inhabit vastly different offices and factories. So will there ever be a workplace where everything is ideal? What actually will the workplace of tomorrow look and feel like? The answer is probably not because of the compromises that must exist. But it is likely to offer flexibility and empowerment to the people that work within it. Such a place must try to accommodate the requirements of the business (usually in line with commercial stakeholders) and those of employees (and social stakeholders).

These fall into 3 main areas:

1. The organisation, Leaders and Managers
2. Employees
3. Working environment

Roles will change

Leaders and Managers will find their roles changing. They will be the ‘senior citizens’ of the organisation and will no longer exert influence through power and hierarchies. Influence will be through their experience, knowledge, wisdom and vision for the future. These senior citizens may very well have portfolio careers (a term used often by Charles Handy). They may work for more than one organisation. They will exert influence but with less cost than the full time management of old.

Employees are the citizens, still able to contribute knowledge and experience but not to such an extent. Contracts of employment may very well be zero hour i.e. employees will not be contracted for a minimum period of employment per week. Instead, their efforts will be summoned on demand. Perhaps 30 hours one week and 40 the next (or none). This will give businesses flexibility but could also leave employees some freedom to create valuable IPR in their time off as a trade off for the new contracts.

The working environment

The working environment is perhaps the thing that we are currently closest to. Efficiency dictates some sort of hot desking, perhaps hot desking with feeling so that the immediate working environment is not sanitised and can be decorated or personalised. With a distributed workforce, a certain amount of sickness absence and site visits, we no longer need the amount of office space that we did in the past. Making such environments ‘modular’ also means that we can add or subtract capacity easily.

The name of the game in the future is compromise and flexibility on the part of all parties.

The Future of Leadership

The future of Leadership (and also Management) continues to be debated. It is widely recognised that things cannot remain as they are. We are in a challenging era and we need organisations to be more effective (not necessarily efficient), to be better places to work and to be sustainable. Up until now, these have mainly not been attainable apart from in a few organisations. These few do, however, show that what we are all striving for is in fact possible. The question is, how on earth do we get there?

There are professional bodies that see themselves as the custodians of Leadership or Management. Are these the bodies to take things forward? In fact, should there be representative bodies at all? The problem is that we are trying to paint a picture of the future which a) obviously does not exist b) which we wish to be different from the present.

This means that if we use the current knowledge and models from any existing sources then we are likely to be interpolating in order to create the future. Even current management thinking tells us to be wary of this. Surely what we desire is a way of extrapolating from what we already know. Fans of Douglas Adams will only be too aware of how the ‘Infinite Improbability Drive’ was extrapolated from an exceedingly hot steaming cup of coffee in The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy (please read it if you have not already done so). If Douglas Adams had interpolated then he might have just created a frothy Latte rather than an ‘Infinite Improbability Drive’.

So what does this mean for Leadership? In terms of concrete actions, I am not entirely sure. However, to find out I believe that we need to paint a picture of the future which does not have to be complete fantasy. It should, however, not be limited by current thinking. This should maybe focus on organisational structures (or not), behaviours and the ways in which employees communicate as well as the requirements of organisations. The let us consider how we get there.

We should not throw away what we already know. Neither should we accept an interpolated future just because there are aspects that we are unclear about. If there are no Leadership and Management models then let us invent them. If we do not like the language used then let us create new language. Even if we cannot do that, let us experiment and create a prototype of the future which others can borrow or add to.

The danger is that this will be seen as too high a price to pay for creating a brighter future. What price are you and your organisation prepared to pay?

Business Creativity and Innovation – why aren’t more companies taking it seriously?

Business Creativity and Innovation – why aren’t more companies taking it seriously? Let’s face it, most of the economies around the world have been in deep trouble for a couple of years and the problems do not look like they are going to end soon. We have politicians talking about radical reforms, new beginnings and innovative policies and then at the bottom of the chain there is us, the businesses both large and small that the politicians are betting on to help dig us out of the mess.

A lot of companies are making the right noises and I have contact with many who state that they wish to run ‘innovation workshops’, kick off an ‘innovation programme’ or make their business more creative. They all seem to appreciate that taking some action will improve many HR issues such as intrinsic motivation, communications, and decision making to name a few. These businesses all claim to be looking to the future, to determine what the products and services of the future will look like and meet that challenge.

So senior managers, and above, are tackling strategic issues and seeking for the most effective tools to get the job done. Why is it then that when presented by a number of solid proposals that they do not go ahead? Mysteriously something comes up at the last minute, people cannot make the workshop, the cost is too high or best of all something more important has come up! What can be more important than the future of your company?

The worst offenders seem to be large multinational companies with a degree of financial inertia (maybe some cash in the bank and the ability to sit it out and see the competition wither) who elect to ride out the storm rather than steering around it. These companies need to be showing us the way and leading global recovery or else we are just going to be left with a handful of dinosaurs in sectors such as oil and gas, power generation and airlines.

So, my plea is, if the future really matters to your business then take Business Creativity and Innovation seriously and give it the time and funds that it deserves or you may not have a future.