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Strategy - BLOG

Why Your Company Needs a Resident Futurist

Elisabet Lagerstedt, CEO and Executive Consultant at Inquentia Group |

Being far-sighted about your strategy can help you prepare for the big global changes already unfolding.

I’ve spent quite some time trying to understand the world of tomorrow – as far away as 2035. I’ll then be 66 years old and ready for retirement, which puts things into perspective - at least for me.

This actually started during my university days more than 20 years ago, when I decided to attend a seminar about the aging population. I was finishing up a course in demographics as part of economic history. The topic of the seminar may sound boring to some, but intrigued me based on the focus of the past semester. The speaker was clearly ahead of his time. He invited us to a future world that looked very different, at least in terms of demographics. Today, the story he told us about the aging Western society has come true. 

It was this course which sparked my interest in forces larger than the industry-level trends normally captured by the traditional strategic tools used today (e.g. Five Forces). Also, it became clear that businesses needed to interact and adjust to their changing environment, and that it was easier to ride the wave than go against it. Still, most businesspeople seem blissfully incurious about these large forces. We keep ourselves busy with everyday business life, and focus on the short-term rather than allowing ourselves time to reflect on the more distant future. It's just so far away that it doesn't feel relevant. 

 “Futuring” as a strategy tool

One tool that I find useful in handling this is ‘futuring’, a systematic process for thinking about, imagining, and planning for the future. There is even such a thing as futurists, people who explore predictions and possibilities about the future based on current trends. Meanwhile associations, such as the World Future Society, provide relevant forums for discussion and analysis.

One technique Futurists apply is identifying mega-trends. A mega-trend is a global, sustained and macro-economic force of development that impacts business, economy, society, cultures and personal lives, thereby defining our future world. But that doesn’t mean that only organisations of global prominence—such as the UN, OECD or a select number of Fortune 500 CEOs and strategy teams—should think about them. They are relevant to all of society, both  the public and private sector.

While short-term trends may be important for certain companies, mega-trends are what will ultimately shape consumers’ future behaviour and needs. Organisations of all shapes and sizes will have to not only adapt but also discover relevant opportunities to get actively involved in the ongoing change. Everyone has a role to play in co-creating the best possible future.

Five global mega-trends

A colleague and I recently embarked upon a futurist experiment. We combed through 5000+ pages worth of reports on social, political and business trends issued by leading institutions over the last five years, in search of overarching themes. We then clustered our findings in groups, which involved several iterations and a workshop. Finally, we found that at least five global mega-trends seemed to pop up over and over again. 

These are the mega-trends we spotted, which the Inquentia Trend Report 2015 describes in more detail:

1. Digital society

The digital society connects both people and objects, digitises goods and services, enriches everything with information and automates human labor.

2. Aging population

The world's population is aging, on average. A proportionally smaller workforce supports more seniors, who are more active and engaged as workers and consumers.

3. Urbanisation

More and more of us have moved into cities, especially in the developing world. Cities become mega-sized innovation labs and catalyse growth.

4. Global Growth

Everything grows – populations, economies, and wealth. The developing world is the key growth engine as the global middle class expands, particularly in Asia.

5. Sustainability

The consequences of climate change and unsustainable resource depletion hit home. Corporate sustainability is an urgent need - and a competitive advantage.

Start the conversation

The five mega-trends we have selected are already upon us. They won’t be unfamiliar to diligent consumers of media, but too few managers have seriously thought about their business implications. The key question any company at least has to ask themselves is -"What does this trend mean to us?". Some of the mega-trends will be highly meaningful, and some not. There are certainly other mega-trends out there that we haven't covered.

As a first step, companies should at least be starting conversations around this question and searching for the mega-trends most applicable to them.

Elisabet Lagerstedt is Founder, CEO, and Executive Consultant at Inquentia Group. You can contact Elisabet at elisabet.lagerstedt@inquentia.com or follow her on Twitter at @ElisabetLagerst

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Agree with you Elisabet, but let's go one step farther. Every company needs an accountant, but everyone at the company needs to be able to create a budget and keep with their expenses.

In the same fashion, every company needs a futurist, but everyone needs to think and act strategically. But we will not get there until we start teaching the future in schools, particularly secondary schools and colleges.

Check out Teach the Future to find out more...

Elisabet Lagerstedt,

Hi all, thanks for your most relevant comments so far. A more relevant title for the post could be "Every strategy needs a futurist". That suggested, as every strategy is intended to take that specific company into a future, which is still unknown. Strategic thinking by definition has its roots in today, but stretches into the future towards the overarching targets, vision and purpose of your company. There are however also other ways to work with and understand the unfolding future. A great tool is for instance to build SCENARIOS of different possible futures to understand your possible role in each of them, and what you may need to change. Developing scenarios for an iNGO last week was for instance a great personal learning experience, where it also became very evident that different combinations of mega trends may play out totally different future scenarios. A last comment regarding the five mega trends: of course, summarizing 5000+ pages of mega trends in 5 bullets, or in 30 pages as we did in the Trend Report, will only scrape the surface of what is really going on beneath it. I do recommend anyone going for a more in depth understanding of relevant mega trends to read at least parts of the 50 sources available in the linked report. Personally I believe it's definitely worthwhile.

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