We all need to be futurists

Why thinking about the future helps businesses make better decisions.

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Change is all around and it’s getting faster. The Chairman of think tank Future Exploration Network says the most successful businesses of the future will be those that embrace change and are genuinely excited about innovation.

Futurist, keynote speaker and business strategist Ross Dawson has consulted for global organisations including Ernst & Young and Procter & Gamble. He outlines how today’s business leaders can set themselves up to thrive on what could be a disruptive road ahead.

Imagine a new landscape

We used to have some sense of what was coming up in the next year but, with change accelerating exponentially, we no longer have that luxury. With greater uncertainty comes greater ambiguity so to make effective decisions today businesses need to think forward and understand what the landscape will be like in the years to come. Essentially, we all need to be our own futurists. Winning businesses are the ones using today’s extraordinary opportunities to reinvent themselves – becoming more relevant to the future than the past.

Do the thinking yourself

Business people need to think about the future much more than they do. Maybe they feel they don’t have the time, but you can’t outsource this kind of thinking and you can’t just wait for the prophet with words of wisdom. You need your own insight. Every business is unique and innovation has many facets – new products or services, improving processes, using your capabilities differently or getting better at engaging with customers.

Consider reactions

When we think about change, what springs to mind? Technologies – and some are advancing rapidly. Inevitably we’ll be increasingly using augmented reality, virtual reality and all the underlying technologies that drive that. We can get a sense of the technologies and what they’ll do, but more important are our responses. How do individuals respond to shifts? Google Glass is one example – there was a strong social response against the VR glasses incorporating video. We can’t know beforehand what responses will be, but we can look out for them.

Watch social shifts

Social change and consumer behaviour affect business and one of the big shifts is rising consumer expectations – for quality, service and convenience to broader issues like sustainability, transparency and accountability. One of the factors driving this rise is simply the availability of information; we can see more of the things we like and don’t like and want to know what’s happening in the institutions we deal with.

Look to create value

The structure of business and the way we treat value is fundamentally changing. We’ve moved from a system in which a company simply created a service or product and got money for it to one in which value tends to be created in systems – and thus we see the rise of platforms. Companies such as Uber and Airbnb – these businesses create value by connecting others.

Be a ‘future’ leader

Tolerate ambiguity – if you need everything crystal clear you’ll struggle. Additionally, be willing to create value with others. The successful emerging business models are those built on collaboration. A fundamental business leadership trait is an attitude and aptitude for co-creation, be it with suppliers, customers or even competitors. Last but not least is optimism – believe in the possibility of creating a better future for your business and achieving something wonderful.