Three years ago our team made a strategic decision that changed our course from consulting business to a software business. We wanted to provide a solution that helps organizations get really connected to changes around them and plan their actions accordingly.
This spring and summer, we were fortunate to be part of the Startup Autobahn accelerator program, which culminated in a great Expo Day in Stuttgart at Arena 2036 (see the video here). The program pushed us forward a lot and helped us to further fine-tune the message about what our software can offer now and in future. The combination of human thinking and AI assistance, all for the benefit of simply smart strategies at our customers.
Focus on artificial intelligence?
The field of artificial intelligence is growing fast and adaptations are surfacing rapidly within business applications. From strategic foresight work point of view, natural language processing (NLP) and natural language understanding (NLU) offer interesting options. Why? Well, simply because a lot of weak signals, and related trend research is in written form. Since the amount of (text) data and a number of information sources are only getting higher, and since human attention span is simultaneously getting shorter (see: goldfish); there simply is no point for humans to even try reading through all the masses of trend related data.
We believe the promise of AI - in the context of strategic foresight - will become real through automated data clustering and automated summaries of data masses, suggestions of emerging new phenomena, automatically detecting the tones of discussion, even automatically listing all the argumentation related to new topics, etc. AI will summarize and categorize information for the human user, but people will still make the final judgment, and take the insightful decisions. Collaboration between human and tech. The AI should be there to make things easier. We can thus connect to a plethora of external trend research and idea banks, and even to your internal databases (like CRM, other BI sources), automatically cluster and learn from the combined data, suggest new scenarios and ultimately even entire strategies based on the continuously refreshed trends understanding. A real strategy machine, a bit like Harvard Business Review wrote here. But before we get there...
Three problems related to strategic foresight and strategic planning & execution
Back to current day. Being part of the Startup Autobahn program helped us pitch our beliefs and our solution quickly. One of the most common arguments related to strategic foresight is about 'can you prove the value of foresight or future scenario work', or 'how do you measure the success of a foresight process'. Truth is you typically can't, at least in hard numbers, since foresight is not a clear estimation nor calculation what will definitely be. It is a structured approach for working with alternative futures and what innovations or opportunities lie there. Long-term foresight serves as the basis for the strategic planning and decision making itself.
We like to be straight-forward and pragmatic. In terms of current problem-solving, most organizations typically need to work at least with the following three:
Problem #1: How to keep track and make sense of all the trends affecting your business?
It doesn't happen overnight and by itself. Establish and enable a place and a continuous process. Support it with tools that suit your organization's style of working. It might be a fantastic idea to get everyone on board, but first, enable it for those who will and want. Make the work visible and show that the results are really used.
Problem #2: How to connect your strategic plan with real foresight?
Once you have that following and sense-making wheel spinning for foresight, you need to connect this to strategic planning and execution. Connect the new insight directly to your vision statement, a more specific target, or a strategic step. Only then you can back-track into what influenced that strategic decision. Keep it simple and transparent.
Problem #3: How to engage people for shared understanding?
Let me ask a question? What motivates you personally? Do you know what motivates your colleagues? People cannot be involved for trend data input purposes only, nor can they be regarded as strategy execution tools only. Everyone needs to gain real personal value of the work they do. Oftentimes real commitment comes from empowerment and empowerment usually leads to better engagement.