Ask new questions to new people

Thinking Like a FuturistCompanies often don’t realise their research is stuck in a rut. They run the same focus groups and ask the same questions of the same people year after year. Broaden your horizons and ask new questions to new groups of people inside and outside your organisation – especially the young, bright ones who find it easier to embrace change.

Depending on the questions you’re asking, there are some easily accessible groups of people who are often not considered when doing corporate research or future scenario planning.  These  include: (1) your employee’s children (especially their older teen and young adult children who are still, studying); (2) your social media contacts- many companies still use social media channels in traditional advertising ways, simply sending messages to their networks, rather than engaging in conversations; (3) LinkedIn interest groups; (4) Expert groups – there are many groups of consultants, futurists and scenario planners who would provide their future insights (often for free) if they were just asked.

Watch the competition you didn’t realise was your competition

And learn from them. Not just the competition you know, but the innovators and start-ups in other sectors. Who would have thought Apple would one day challenge Sony? Or HMV? Your future competitors may well be in a completely different industry. They don’t pose any threat today – but who might they be?
This is one of the biggest themes of our work at TomorrowToday – we even run a programme called “How to Think Like a Futurist” to help executives  learn the skills required to think about disruptive change as part of their everyday work. Why did Eastman Kodak so spectacularly fail to see the shift to digital photography? How has Nokia fallen so far so fast by missing the smartphone revolution? How could Sony, EMI and the other music giants have spotted Apple coming in to dominate their markets? Do the car companies of the world realise that Google will become big competition with their driverless car?

The biggest cause of disruptive change in the world right now is our ability to capture, process, apply and use vast amounts of data. How could the radical power of knowing everything affect your industry? This leads to our next tip:

Data, data, data – shaken not stirred

Businesses have access to more and more data. Use it – but with a twist. Look for new trends and the likely impact of any disruptive change by combining different data sets- purchase habits with weather patterns or commuting times. You will need to employ special people (“data scientists”) to do this.  It will be worth it.

Do you have the right people working for you? Do you have data scientists, data detectives, and designers who can turn all this data into infographics and do graphical analysis? (If you’re capturing a billion data points a month, like Tesco do, you can’t analyse this in Excel.) We need more visual analysis tools, and this requires different skills and abilities. With all due respect to them, most IT departments are bereft of these skills.

Learn to share

83% of Generation Y (teenagers and 20-somethings) will trust a company more if it is socially and environmentally responsible, and 79% want to work for a company that cares about how it impacts and contributes to society. These are your future staff and customers. They are looking for you to demonstrate that you are not only making a profit but sharing the value that you generate not just in terms of cash but also knowledge, technology and people.

We do a lot of work with clients across different industries on the issue of multi-generational understanding. This is becoming more and more of an issue for us and our most forward-thinking clients. The recession has lulled many clients into a false sense of comfort about “the war for talent”. It will heat up again soon, and the criteria for success are going to be subtly different. How ready are you for this?

Enjoy the discomfort

When technology is used best, it challenges people to work differently and forces us to change our habits. Employ people who can take you outside your comfort zone and engage with new technology to help your business transition to where you need to get to.

Change the physical space

Our physical environment shapes our habits, and these in turn shape our thinking. Move things and people around, and allow your people to work in different places and at different times. Sometimes change really IS as good as a holiday.

Our research shows that changes in the physical environment can have a significant effect on how your team operates.


Nothing opens the mind more than travelling to different parts of this diverse planet. When you travel on holiday, do at least one activity that is deliberately aimed at chasing an insight that will help your business.

The TomorrowToday team travels extensively across the world every year presenting and running programmes on every continent (no, we haven’t quite made it to Antarctica yet, but would accept an invitation if offered), to nearly 200,000 people in more than 40 countries a year.

Read, watch, listen

Make it a habit to expose your mind to content that doesn’t directly relate to your industry or even to business. There are thousands of great publications, blogs and websites out there to keep you up to date with what’s coming. Try The Economist, TED, Popular Science – or find what piques your interest amongst blogs and niche media. Get your team to report back on what they’ve seen and how it has helped them to think differently.

Hire and train for the future

What business will you be in and who will you need to make it work? For example, do you have enough “data scientists” – the ‘hot’ breed of employees who have the technology skills and a fair bit of ‘magic’ to extract competitive advantage from information?

Use stories to make sense of it all

Some of what you learn will have a huge impact on your business; some less so. The same data can help you reach different conclusions. Use you business knowledge to create scenarios or narratives not just facts. How will your customers live and work in the future? How will they commute? Or will they work from home – in another time zone? How will this impact your sales team? Your customer service centre?

Speak to us about our keynote presentation / workshop Thinking Like a Futurist that addresses this issue.

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