Friday, June 27, 2008

The future's bright - what does it look like?

The best way to ensure that your business not only survives, but thrives, is to know what the future holds. Many people profess to do this already but what is it exactly that they are doing? From your existing management information you might be able to predict the amount of resources required (both human and material) as well as the features of your competitive environment. How far in the future can you do this without resorting to sticking a wetted finger into the air? The answer is probably less than 12 months.

The question is, how far can we look into the future and with what certainty? The answer is anything from 5 to 30 years is possible, and that would certainly help with crafting strategy and changing the direction of even the largest multi national business if this is required. But how?

Most people are familiar with the passage of a ship on the ocean that leaves a wake behind. By examining the wake and knowing how much time has passed, one or more experts could tell you something about the ship, its speed and course. Now imagine that you are at the tail end of the wake but you are in the present, the ship is in the future and not visible to you. If you could pick up all of the bits of information that are present, look at the patterns, and have access to experts then it is possible to gain sufficient information to predict the future for your company.

Predicting the future has developed into a whole new topic known as … Futures. Most gurus will use prediction, based on facts, certainty and giving you answers. It sounds safe but its usefulness over time is limited and it does not deal with the uncertainty of the future. Futures uses a degree of imagination, stories (or scenarios) and a whole lot of questions to rigorously examine the future and it can look decades ahead.

Businesses might wish to use futures to quantify risks and opportunities, craft strategies, inform investment decisions and fuel their innovation programmes. Government and other public sector bodies have broadly similar aims – creating policies, identifying areas for intervention, investment and education needs.

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