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Amy Webb - Developing a strategic vision of the future

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I'm getting asked one question right now. More than every other question, and it's this one. What is the future? What is the new normal? When is this new normal going to happen? But tell me just--tell me what is the future. And I'm curious as to why we're all asking this question. I mean obviously, there are some reasons that we're all well aware of. Covid has clearly upended business, and travel, and education, and lots of facets of our everyday lives. But I'm curious about this question in particular. What is the future? And this question is being asked in every industry, among every senior executive team that I deal with. And also within government agencies. Certainty is brittle. You have to have the courage, and the will to lead your organizations into the future. When there are lots of unknowns. Where uncertainty doesn't have to mean absolute risk. This means being flexible right now. While keeping a strong viewpoint on the future. This is what futurists do. We think near and long-term simultaneously, with a different approach to time. We engage actively, not passively. And you need to get into a habit of making ongoing incremental decisions about both the immediate and also the longer term. Futurists steer into the slide. So today, here's what I want to do with you. I want to show you three ways to steer into that slide. And in that process, how to rethink your future. And I'm going to do it with you. We're going to go on this slippery journey together. So first, you have to challenge assumptions and confront your cherished beliefs. This is hard. It's hard sometimes because we're not even aware that we have those cherished beliefs about the future. Deep uncertainty, so the time that we're living in right now. Produces two kinds of organizations, they're what I call pathfinders and bystanders. So pathfinder companies share a few characteristics in common. So, again as I go through these I want you to be thinking very objectively if you can about yourselves, and your organizations. Pathfinder companies have a strategic foresight process of some kind. Some kind of process. If some shared lexicons, they have shared frameworks. They're not buying other companies' research and using it you know here and there. They're not occasionally doing trends, exercises, or scenario modeling. There's a process, there is a plan, there's a shared lexicon. Second, they are open to alternative versions of the future. Which means that they are constantly taking all of the new signal data that they're getting in. From that strategic foresight process, and they're recalibrating. They're thinking through their immediate mid and longer-term plans. And tweaking it, on as they are getting new information. And this doesn't happen every five years, or once a year through a giant planning process. They actually do this all the time. Every day. Pathfinder companies confront uncertainty, not with their gut. Not with intuition, they do it using data. Using quantitative and qualitative data. This is not the same thing as market research. Market research is super important, obviously. This is a different flavor of that. So, they are looking at emerging signals of change. They are measuring those signals and they're--again relying on quantitative and qualitative data. Not just focus groups. They are intentionally looking at adjacent areas of disruption. They're not just focused on their own industry and immediate competitors. They're actually looking pretty far outside. They actually go way up to the edge of plausibility. To see what might be changing around them and what they can learn. And finally, they are willing to be flexible, to recalibrate their strategy, and recalibration isn't a bad thing. Recalibration is simply a signal, a sign. But the executive leadership team is constantly preparing for what's next. Now I want to switch over and talk about bystanders. Because again when faced with deep uncertainty companies tend to go in one of two directions. And again I want you to try to objectively categorize yourself, to see which type you identify more with. As you're thinking about the future, and working toward those goals. So let's talk about bystanders. The bystander company does not have a strategic foresight process in place. They might do little fits and spurts of foresight, but they're really not organized on it. And there is no culture of foresight within the organization. They often believe they can control the future. They are usually closed off to alternative versions of the future. They tend to ignore uncertainty until there is a true crisis. Forcing them to make a change. They like to know exactly what the ROI is going to be. And have some concrete answers before they are willing to make a small investment and a bet. Or to change anything at all, what they're doing. And worst of all it's these companies, these bystanders that are always vulnerable but they never realize it. Now there are plenty of companies I think that exemplifies what it means to be a bystander. And I'm sure at this point you can think of at least one or two. These are companies that fail to see the future, not because the signals weren't there. But because they didn't have a mechanism in place. They fail to act. And ultimately they either go out of business, or they have to restructure, or they just lose so much market share. That they're now just a shell of what they used to be. Let's move on to the second step. In either case, there is a way to move the needle. And that is to start acting more like a Pathfinder, and the way that you act more like a Pathfinder is to simply always be looking for signals of change. Especially in times of great disruption. Any time you are looking for signals of disruption. You should consider these 11 macro sources. It's from these 11 areas that most modern change comes from. And these are sort of areas that you're probably already aware of. Things like--you know geopolitics, in the economy. But we like to drill down even deeper than that for primary sources of change. Which means that anytime I'm looking at anything. And trying to put that through the lens of this. So, can I make a connection to the environment? Can I make a connection to demographics? What am I seeing changing, and education that might help me interpret whatever the signal is in a new way? My point is this, a company that is oriented to the future. Looks at--an out layer. Like a microwave, you can talk to. And it methodically seeks out information. It doesn't simply dismiss--not every signal means everything, right. So you know, the point here is not to assume that everything matters. But it's to get much better, methodically, collecting data, doing some analysis to determine what does matter. And what--what signals in the present tell you about your future. Alright. Rethinking your future means confronting your cherished beliefs. OK, so behaving more like Pathfinder companies. Rethinking your future means identifying signals of change early. You got to do this using a framework. I showed you are 11 sources of change. Methodically asking questions and investigating answers. The third step is an important one. And it's the last one. And that is to evaluate what to do next. So one of the biggest problems that I see in companies, is that if they are collecting signal data the way that we just discussed. It kind of doesn't go anywhere. So oftentimes companies will collect all this information, find it interesting producing gloriously well-designed PowerPoint decks. But then nothing happens. Or they may do that first part of the process because again foresight is much more than looking for signals. They might model the trajectory and speed of those signals and trends. They might go on to the next step. Which is to create scenarios, that describe plausible next order outcomes. But along the way-- usually, momentum fades. If you're not set up for some type of action. And the reason for this is because this work-- kind of like it's going to-- in a silo. It doesn't filter up to the top of the organization, and often employees are worried. They don't want to take any of this information to their senior managers until it's really good. And they don't really know when to do that. You have to determine what is it that your monitoring. What decisions have to be made, and what actions have to be taken. And if you get into the habit of constantly tagging what you're going to monitor. Where to make a decision, and what-- when action is required. You will be on firm footing as a Pathfinder. It's like the easiest thing that you can do to get in the habit of labeling things as your learning new signals.

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Duration: 9 minutes and 56 seconds
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Language: English
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Posted by: wobi on Apr 7, 2021

Amy Webb - Developing a strategic vision of the future

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