In 2009, after a speech at the St. Petersburg International Economic Summit (Russia’s Davos), I wandered into a panel discussion on the topic of trade wars, led by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. My thought was: “why this topic?” Trade wars were not on most people’s radar, certainly not mine. But the question is: should they have been?
I’ve been ruminating of late about this notion of one’s “radar” in relation to the world of rapid change that we are living in. Looking back at three decades advising companies on innovation strategy, I’ve noticed how little progress has been made in the field of strategic forecasting. Looking ahead at the 2020s, I see a dire need to reinvent the process by which we get to the future first.
In this next decade, businesses and their leaders will rise or fall based on their ability to anticipate and creatively respond to rapid change. That said, how exactly does one “anticipate and creatively respond” to change in an era when so much of what is happening –from the onset of the Global Financial Crisis to the rise of Donald Trump to the outbreak of a trade war with China — seems unpredictable.
Predicting the future will always remain problematic, even with the coming of prediction algorithms. But guidelines in this realm to help us navigate this new and turbulent world of hyper-change are due for improvement. Here are 13 that you may want to consider:
1. Create your own early warning system. Don’t expect others to spot trends, or to recognize threats and opportunities for you. Instead, we must all get better at looking, thinking and acting ahead of the curve. I call this process managing the future, as it combines the tools of technology scouting, forward thinking, competitive intelligence, strategic thinking, and scenario planning.
2. Think like a futurist. Economists primarily track one type of trend: economic. Futurists by contrast attempt to systematically explore predictions and possibilities about the future and how they can emerge from the present. Learn all you can from economists and other specialized experts. But expand your range over the entire landscape of driving forces of change and mega-trends: workplace, demographic, social, regulatory, environmental, geopolitical and technological. Develop insights into each important trend and add insights as you go.