Future Thinking


I’m struggling with the term disruption and its effectiveness in driving urgency. Most definitions describe a radical change in an industry or business strategy, and most involve the introduction of a new product or service that creates a new market. My struggle is not with this decades old view of disruption, but its application in the context of our exponential world. The word disruption is viewed through a traditional lens. I end up in debates about the validity of a disruptive scenario as viewed through this lens, versus the massive implications of these future scenarios viewed through an exponential lens. The ensuing dialog focuses on:

  • Coming up with disruptive innovation before our competitors do
  • Embracing protectionist behavior to block a disruptor
  • I’m not worried, regulatory hurdles in my industry block the impact of disruptors
  • I’m safe, my industry is very stable

Future Thinking

In the context of disruption, all valid places for our minds to go. In the context of what is likely a radically different world in the next 20 years, is it the right lens? For instance, Is any Industry Safe from Disruption? Through various discussion and dialog, my struggle with this lens intensified. At the core of the struggle is the dramatic impact that exponential progression is having on our world and the general lack of future thinking and foresight required to address it. If I had a discussion with you focused on disruption, you could very well tune me out because past success is our default lens. But if the discussion focused on this exponential future and the studies that project 40% of today’s Fortune 500 companies will cease to exist in 10 years, it should be a different conversation. Scenarios that are emerging suggest a radically transformative future that moves at a speed that most are unprepared for. Does a focus on disruption increase our level of urgency, or lull us into a false sense of security based on the past? Does our predetermined view of the term help us understand just how dramatic the changes that lie ahead are? Does it drive the realization that our organization characteristics and attributes must radically change if we are to remain viable? I’m not sure that it does.

That’s where I believe future thinking and foresight come in. By truly analyzing future scenarios, we can internalize both the radical change ahead, and the pace of that change. The lens of our analysis would focus on where the world is heading, and our potential role in that world. This analysis brings challenging questions into focus:

  • How does a traditional organization keep pace?
  • How does it find the talent required to deal with these scenarios?
  • How do traditional structures change to enable success and viability in this vastly different future?
  • How do these scenarios play out and on what timeline?
  • What are the potential obstacles that block a scenario?
  • What accelerators bring them to realization faster?
  • What is the organization response to a given scenario?
  • How do these scenarios converge, and what is the amplified effect of that convergence?
  • What are the emerging value ecosystems and how do I participate in value creation and capture?
  • What are the job implications and what does work look like in the future?

On a recent radio program, Futurist Gray Scott said something that stuck with me:

“If you’re not working with a futurist in your company right now, you’re already behind the game. I mean a futurist job is to come in and say to you; let’s embrace what is possible right. Forget what we’ve known because these startups are showing us that everything that we’ve known is wrong, that it can be broken and that technology is going to change the paradigm”

This massive paradigm shift is indeed the point. What we think will take ten years will likely take two or less. Therefore, our view of the future in the context of strategy and planning has to change. Future thinking, simulation, and the use of foresight are critical to this change. As a result of my struggles, I’ve made a subtle change to my anchor visual. The scenario curve was labeled “disruptive scenarios” – it now reads “future scenarios”. As subtle as that change seems, I hope it shifts the lens and places it squarely on future thinking.

emerging-future

45 thoughts on “Future Thinking

  1. Perhaps the word disruption should be replaced indeed. The connotation to most is that disruption is chaotic and causes disorder, which it does. Businesses have a tendency to hurry up and wait until the dust settles when things are disrupted. And at this point in time, nothing could be worse.

    Entering into a new era, while indeed disruptive leads us into a place where we need to not disrupt but transmutate.

    We’re in the same business as before, but the way we conduct that business is vastly different in the digital era than it was during the industrial era.

    But how indeed to we convey the extreme danger of playing the waiting game. The dust isn’t going to settle any time soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Heidi. Your point on how we conduct business is spot on. The focus on disruption – a well placed focus – distracts from a true focus on the future and all of its ramifications.

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  2. Change is the law of nature, it is the process of evoluation, which nobody can stop, it will happen at any case, the only way to tackle it to prepare for it.
    The social system should also be ready for this change, because change from industry to information age shall also change the how we live.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on valuetrendradar and commented:
    Totally agreed. It is all about the future, driven by a innovative task to re-engeneer what we do in business and in our lives. In that sense disruption (or disruptive) is dedicated to the way we think and not to the way we act and operate! — Interesting to see that in the famous documentation “Steve Jobs – Disruptive Innovation Documentary – One Last thing” Steve never used the term “disruptive” or “disruption” to describe his activities and tasks. — Andreas Weber, CEO of Value Communication AG, Mainz/Germany

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  4. Totally agreed. It is all about the future, driven by a innovative task to re-engeneer what we do in business and in our lives. In that sense disruption (or disruptive) is dedicated to the way we think and not to the way we act and operate! — Interesting to see that in the famous documentation “Steve Jobs – Disruptive Innovation Documentary – One Last thing” Steve never used the term “disruptive” or “disruption” to describe his activities and tasks. — Andreas Weber, CEO of Value Communication AG, Mainz/Germany

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  5. TX, Frank. Love your reply, too. I invented a program called “Train Your Brain”. It is based on my disruptive thinking and ideas how to identify the real value of communication. A group of my young international team members created a slide show and video. If you like please check it pout: Value Art+Com: How the Real Value of Communication works — via Hermeneutik – Dialektik – Innovatik — http://de.slideshare.net/zeitenwende007/value-artcom-how-it-works-hermeneutik-dialektik-innovatik-i-mac

    Liked by 1 person

  6. A subtle but important distinction! I wonder if it’s a subject/object switch, in part. A focus on disruption makes disruption the subject and the company being discussed the object; it’s easy to focus on past success, as you suggest, and feel like *you* aren’t *really* the object in that scenario. It’s other people. Whereas saying that all companies need to look at the future clearly makes the company the subject and the future the object. It’s more compelling to look at yourself as the subject, I think.

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  7. I have been working with Denise Easton on a book and workshops that are about the dynamics of disruptive experience. We define disruption and our framework for building response capacity in a journal article we published in the Journal for Quality and Participation. The book is tentatively titled “FLUXed: Survive and Thrive in a World of Disruption and Uncertainty.” The article is called “The World Acccording to FLUX.”

    In brief, we define disruptive experiences as those which exceed our ability to respond successfully. There is also a temporal dimension to how we perceive these experiences. Just as disruptive experience can be self-initiated (think creatives like Picassso, or the current Zappos journey with holocracy), the degree of urgency can be imposed and perceived externally, or consciously set internally.

    We describe the domains of emotion, knowledge, sense-making, and trying, in which our responses occur, and in which changes in our response capacities can occur (intentionally or otherwise).

    Happy to discusss this work anytime.

    http://www.getfluxed.com

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  8. It’s much easier for companies and their leaders to focus on understanding “disruption”, and “disruptive forces”, especially on trying to stop the disruption, than it is to focus on the opportunities that are being borne in exponential change, and to do whatever it takes to make them happen.

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  9. […] I’m struggling with the term disruption and its effectiveness in driving urgency. Most definitions describe a radical change in an industry or business strategy, and most involve the introduction of a new product or service that creates a new market. My struggle is not with this decades old view of disruption, but its application in…  […]

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  10. […] I’m struggling with the term disruption and its effectiveness in driving urgency. Most definitions describe a radical change in an industry or business strategy, and most involve the introduction of a new product or service that creates a new market. My struggle is not with this decades old view of disruption, but its application in…  […]

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  11. […] I’m struggling with the term disruption and its effectiveness in driving urgency. Most definitions describe a radical change in an industry or business strategy, and most involve the introduction of a new product or service that creates a new market. My struggle is not with this decades old view of disruption, but its application in…  […]

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  12. Might be a stupid question, however, is there any foundational article explaining the thinking behind the visual? It looks great, however, I was wondering about the shape of the curve, the positioning of the dots as well as the meaning of the x-axe and y-axe. Any explanation would be highly appreciated.

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    • This visual accompanies my emerging futures visual from earlier posts. It has no basis in traditional x an y axis thinking. I chose two curves to depict an exponential progression that goes out beyond the eye can see. The first curve spawns the second. It works effectively in an audience setting

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