International Futures Day was just celebrated during March 1st. To honour the day, we organized a webinar and a breakfast event on topics like how companies prepare for futures, what is the main purpose for such work, and what tools are used to do so.
The background for discussion was provided with the recent online survey that was open for answers during early 2019. The stage was set for discussion with our CEO, Panu Kause, futurist Niko Herlin, and CEO Kirsi Kostia of Great Minds (a Finnish management consulting company). Here’s our quick summary on it.
So how are companies preparing for futures? Meaning, what are the means of keeping up to date, keeping your finger on the pulse on the changes around us. Of respondents,
- nearly 80% said that they follow external market changes in their business environment, and
- 55% continuously analyse trends and feed that into strategic decision-making.
- Customer feedback was one of the sources mentioned with 83%.
It’s good to see that customers and customers’ customers are being more and more central in business planning all the levels, top management to design teams. It seems like also that the ones still with no systematic procedure are seeking a way towards a new, continuous mode of working on their futures.
The purpose of future-related information
Next question is what for is the information gathered and used for:
- 70% say it’s direct input for their strategic planning, and
- 60% use it for their innovation programs and ideation
- 50% mention using it for building of long-term scenarios.
With the discussions on the results at the breakfast, the time frame comes into picture during the purpose of the information. Seemed also that larger organisations tend to use the long-term scenario work, whereas smaller organisations favoured the more direct and more short-term input to their innovation work.
On organizing the work
Who participates to the work then? Is it for everyone or just part of the organisation? Results show that nearly 50% say that everyone has an opportunity to participate to the future-related discussions. This can, of course, mean that it’s by utilizing simple ways, like a feedback form or it may be something more specific. It does seem that even if there are companies willing to entice most of their organisation, but there are only a few who actually use some tools or software to support such work.
Only 23% said that they use a digital tool, or software for foresight and strategy work.
How to get people involved then? On the breakfast sessions discussion, we heard some really good examples of how organisations have started to tackle their foresight and futures discussion, and taking that as input for their strategic actions. Take the Finnish Tax Administration (Verohallinto) for example, they have started to move forward with more collaborative methods by starting a few times a year session with open collaboration and discussion on given phenomena or trends of taxing. For Verohallinto’s and every citizen’s point of interests can be the new revenue sources of platform economy for example. Local Finland (Kuntaliitto) also does a lot of work for spotting of weak signals and working on towards a common understanding of trends.
Then some tips on work with future related information
Kirsi’s tips focused on the human side:
- Engage your people, your employees, interest groups and of course customers. Especially when collecting or scanning for a large number of weak signals.
- Don’t stop there- the next step is perhaps the most important. What does all that information mean for your business? Use “Passion teams” for sense-making. Passion teams are a combination of people who are willing and want to be part of shaping the future. They can, and should be, part of different areas of your business.
- The management team has to be involved and give their full support to such work. It has to be okey’d from the top that this kind of work serves a true value for business’s sake. Lead by example!
Niko spoke continuos ways and use of imagination:
- Keep it continuous! This is rather a marathon run than a sprint. Trying it just once or twice is not enough, repetition and continuity is needed for futures work. Doing it once during your strategy days, once a year, simply is not enough.
- Use your imagination! Building something new has to have the element of free thinking and even playful imagination. Especially when working on long-term new innovations.
- Try alternative methods while facilitating the work and remember, that facts and figures can be shared on the spreadsheet, focus on thinking and discovering something new.
And finally, Panu’s point of view on the practicalities:
- Find a way of working that fits your organisation; namely the tools, the team, responsibilities.
- Keep it easy and always offer a clear connection between the futures work and everyday operations. Of course, with a time frame that suits it. Is it something long-term and building something new, or focused on creating something out of what you already got.
- The level of ambition! Are you set out to change or disrupt something, or rather the following pace with someone else. Then, an important thing here to remember: even the giants have started from small! Google used to be a company with a few people. The size of your current company does not stop you from becoming something else.
Futures Day is every day.
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