Four Essential Tools for Futureproofing Your Organization

January 9, 2017


Last week I described five dimensions of the future of work as I envision it (“Oh, the Things I Know about the Future of Work!”). I don’t claim to have any special or unique insights, but I do believe there are patterns visible today that help us anticipate what the future of work will likely include.

But never forget that we don’t discover the future; we invent it.

Yes, there are events and conditions outside your control that certainly impact your future, but it is your reaction to those “uncontrollables” that determines whether the future works for or against you. And what matters most is how proactive you are about both anticipating those “outside” factors and developing plans for coping with and/or leveraging them for competitive advantage.

I’ve just returned from a powerful two-day experience that convinced me more than ever of the power of applying an activist, designer mentality to the future.

I was privileged to be the closing speaker at the 20th annual Industry Roundtable sponsored by the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) in Chicago. My session was called “Designing the Future of Work” (link is to a pdf file on Slideshare of the images I used to illustrate my ideas).

I began my session by pointing out that most people expect tomorrow to be a lot like today. Our short-term predictions are almost completely guided by our reflections about the recent past. We generally believe in continuity and tend to be biased towards either stability or at most incremental change (we do understand linear trends like growth and decline, but most of us don’t adequately consider the possibility of discontinuous change or abrupt shifts in direction – often driven by breakthroughs in science and/or technology).

Just consider how breakthroughs like the iPod, the iPhone, the worldwide web, and digital photography have disrupted our lives and our work (mostly in good ways). Without one or more of those core technologies none of these entities would exist today:

  •  iTunes
  • iPhone
  • Facebook
  • Airbnb
  • Uber
  • Netflix
  • Amazon
  • Google

How can you avoid being disrupted or disintermediated – or destroyed – by one of those companies or others like them?

While there are no guarantees, I encouraged the participants in IIDA’s Industry Roundtable to include these four principles in their strategic planning toolkit:

1. Cultivate Peripheral Vision

Don’t be myopic. As you scan the horizon, look in all directions and be aggressive about paying attention to innovations and breakthroughs in many arenas that on the surface have no connection at all to your core business. You just never know where the next disruption is going to come from, or how it might affect your business. Take the widest sweep possible of the world around you.

2. Embrace Disruption

Recognize that disruption of established business models is inevitable, that discontinuous change is becoming the norm., Look for opportunities to follow a new technology learning curve, even though at the outset the old, tried-and-true technology you know may still be more productive and more popular. As Clayton Christenson’s landmark book The Innovators Dilemma, demonstrated, almost every new technology begins life as less productive and more costly than the established approaches it eventually overtakes. You have to hedge your bets, since you can’t tell in advance if a new design will eventually take over, but you can be far more successful by setting out to be a disruptor than by overprotecting an existing technology (think about Kodak any time you are tempted to stay with the tried-and-true).

3. Tell Compelling Stories about the Future

Facts and data can build a good understanding of reality, but stories build commitment to action. As I have suggested many times before, the most effective strategic plan include developing detailed, rich stories of several possible futures. Focus on possibilities and probabilities, not certainties.

4. Share Your Vision

Gary Hamel and CK Prahalad, in their classic book Competing for the Future pointed out that most senior executives spend less than 3% of their work time exchanging their ideas about the future with their colleagues in order to build a common perspective. And without a shared vision there is little likelihood of coordinated or aligned action. Spend time talking to your peers about your fears, expectations and objectives for the future. Just as importantly, listen to their views. Build commitment to action by engaging in focused conversations about the future.

Including these four activities in your strategic planning efforts will not ensure that you’ll thrive – or even survive – in the future. But I am certain that if you don’t take a proactive approach like this, you will almost certainly end up in the organizational graveyard alongside once-mighty organizations like Kodak, Blockbuster Video, and Borders Books (among many others).

Call me today (+1 510.558.1434) for a free exploratory conversation about how you can become a hero by enabling your organization to take charge of the future. I’ll be more than happy to describe each of those four “futureproofing” approaches and help you determine which of them to incorporate them in your own work.

Download "Four Essential Tools for Futureproofing Your Organization" as a PDF

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Bary Sheman January 10, 2017 at 4:01 pm


Great four essential futureproofing tools!

Thank you!



Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: