Exponential Organizations , Frank Diana

On Future Thinking (guest post by Frank Diana)

Future Thinking

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I’m struggling with the term disruption and its effectiveness in driving urgency. Most definitions describe a radical change in an industry or business strategy, and most involve the introduction of a new product or service that creates a new market. My struggle is not with this decades old view of disruption, but its application in the context of our exponential world. The word disruption is viewed through a traditional lens. I end up in debates about the validity of a disruptive scenario as viewed through this lens, versus the massive implications of these future scenarios viewed through an exponential lens. The ensuing dialog focuses on:

  • Coming up with disruptive innovation before our competitors do
  • Embracing protectionist behavior to block a disruptor
  • I’m not worried, regulatory hurdles in my industry block the impact of disruptors
  • I’m safe, my industry is very stable

In the context of disruption, all valid places for our minds to go. In the context of what is likely a radically different world in the next 20 years, is it the right lens? For instance, Is any Industry Safe from Disruption? Through various discussion and dialog, my struggle with this lens intensified. At the core of the struggle is the dramatic impact that exponential progression is having on our world and the general lack of future thinking and foresight required to address it. If I had a discussion with you focused on disruption, you could very well tune me out because past success is our default lens. But if the discussion focused on this exponential future and the studies that project 40% of today’s Fortune 500 companies will cease to exist in 10 years, it should be a different conversation. Scenarios that are emerging suggest a radically transformative future that moves at a speed that most are unprepared for. Does a focus on disruption increase our level of urgency, or lull us into a false sense of security based on the past? Does our predetermined view of the term help us understand just how dramatic the changes that lie ahead are? Does it drive the realization that our organization characteristics and attributes must radically change if we are to remain viable? I’m not sure that it does.

That’s where I believe future thinking and foresight come in. By truly analyzing future scenarios, we can internalize both the radical change ahead, and the pace of that change. The lens of our analysis would focus on where the world is heading, and our potential role in that world. This analysis brings challenging questions into focus:

  • How does a traditional organization keep pace?
  • How does it find the talent required to deal with these scenarios?
  • How do traditional structures change to enable success and viability in this vastly different future?
  • How do these scenarios play out and on what timeline?
  • What are the potential obstacles that block a scenario?
  • What accelerators bring them to realization faster?
  • What is the organization response to a given scenario?
  • How do these scenarios converge, and what is the amplified effect of that convergence?
  • What are the emerging value ecosystems and how do I participate in value creation and capture?
  • What are the job implications and what does work look like in the future?

On a recent radio program, Futurist Gray Scott said something that stuck with me:

“If you’re not working with a futurist in your company right now, you’re already behind the game. I mean a futurist job is to come in and say to you; let’s embrace what is possible right. Forget what we’ve known because these startups are showing us that everything that we’ve known is wrong, that it can be broken and that technology is going to change the paradigm”

This massive paradigm shift is indeed the point. What we think will take ten years will likely take two or less. Therefore, our view of the future in the context of strategy and planning has to change. Future thinking, simulation, and the use of foresight are critical to this change. As a result of my struggles, I’ve made a subtle change to my anchor visual. The scenario curve was labeled “disruptive scenarios” – it now reads “future scenarios”. As subtle as that change seems, I hope it shifts the lens and places it squarely on future thinking.

Future Scenarios

 

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Frank Diana