This book offers a method for developing one of the most valuable business skills—foresight to spot the trends of the future. It is also one of the most difficult skills to attain.
Foresight is what leads us to progress. All great opportunities for new products, new ventures, and new enterprises have resulted from foresight. The good news is that foresight can be learned and developed with training and practice. There is a method to it, and that is what this book will teach you. Foresight has arguably become the most important ability we need to succeed in business—and in life. The pace of change in technology and society has accelerated to a point where we cannot live with the expectation that things will continue to stay the same on a steady course. We must transcend the ordinary, the generic, and a slow incremental view of progress if we want to truly thrive. Having foresight leads us on an upward path and shows us how to adapt. We can look out two years, five years, ten years or longer with greater understanding and purpose.
Upward is our desired potential and reverent direction. It’s the connection to creativity, amazement, novelty, as well as to providence. Foresight comes from being active in the flow of things. It comes from the combination of skills of observing, discussing, researching, prototyping, hypothesizing, finding patterns, making notes, sketching ideas, experimenting, and testing. Far from being a solitary endeavor, it is more like a sport, where you collaborate with teammates, and wrangle with the world at large to win.
Once we have foresight, we must act, or more accurately, adapt. Adapting requires insight about behaviors and power structures “out there” in the real world. It calls for taking measures that will cause effective stage-setting moves. Thoughtless action will ultimately deter us from achieving such developments. t is only possible to improve our foresight if we use a method; we don’t want to wander aimlessly. The way of thinking in the method this book teaches you is influenced by process-relational philosophy, because it has the best approach to understanding change as a fundamental aspect of our lives. Heraclitus said 2,500 years ago that you can’t step into the same river twice; one of his students built on that idea, and said that you can’t even step into the same river once. We, and the river, change even as we step into it. The key elements of process-relational philosophy relevant to business are:
- Experience is constantly emerging
- Everything is interconnected, and
- Progress is transcendence of the obvious
Keeping these elements in mind, we are always looking at the emerging potential of our part of the world—the interconnectedness of people, ideas, and experiences; going beyond the obvious to think dynamically, not linearly; and adapting our behavior and actions to actualize our best vision of the future.
Defeating the Forces that Block our Path to Foresight
At one time or another, most of us have left behind a promising opportunity because we did not act. We may have felt that we did not have sufficient foresight to see what that opportunity really meant to us. With foresight, we would have had a lens to envision the possibilities that might have become actualized in the future with that opportunity.
What can often get in our way is when change is seen as threatening. To be on that path, we must defeat stubbornness, fear, and indecisiveness. We tend to avoid change. It may require new language and new meanings. Think of all the new vocabulary and concepts that have come about in just the last 20 years. Tweeting, Googling, blogging, the internet of things, deep learning, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, friending/unfriending, textspeak, etc. At first these were alien concepts, just as the internet was to most people 30 years ago. Many people resisted the internet at first, including Bill Gates.
To make progress we must put aside fear, embrace change in a new light, and recognize that conflict with the status quo is a necessary part of the process. In doing so, we can take steps to make the conflict constructive, not destructive. All experience flows; there are no unchanging qualities. Our job is to better foresee the upward paths, and adapt to them. And, in looking upward to know that providence will help us along the way once we commit to it.
Overview of the Foresight Method
I wrote this book from a wide-ranging business background in market research, product management, marketing and sales management, consulting, and entrepreneurship. I’ve worked in and with all sizes of companies in a variety of industries, mostly related to technology. Like many people, I’ve wrestled with dramatic change, learning from problems I’ve seen along the way.
These are complicated times for businesses. Customers are becoming more self-directed, and more digital in their ways of doing things. Their expectations are greater, but they are less willing to pay premium prices. Perhaps you are facing pressing market issues and new threats. Your products might be fatigued, becoming more commodity like. Or, you feel like there are roadblocks stopping you from breaking through the logjam. You want to reinvent, transform, and launch, not accept the status quo. This book can help you with a rigorous method to channel your drive to improve and grow.
This book is organized into two Parts.
In Part 1, the first five chapters provide pre-requisite knowledge and lay the groundwork for effective implementation of the method.
In Part 2, I will walk you through the 7 steps that will guide you to better foresight:
›› Step 1: Start with intensive observation and discovery
›› Step 2: Scout the market terrain
›› Step 3: Define venturesome ideas
›› Step 4: Methodically rate and rank the best ideas
›› Step 5: Adapt the best emerging ideas to test the market
›› Step 6: Calculate risks and rewards before going all in
›› Step 7: Make a successful market entry
Who Will Benefit from This Book
More than being intended for a particular industry type or size of business, this book is meant to be a tool for executives and managers who are driven to achieve a new upward path for the business and themselves. It is useful to anyone involved in leading change, especially marketing executives, product managers, innovation heads, and entrepreneurs. My goal is to offer a method to improve your vision of what is possible and to show you how to develop more purposeful plans of action to capitalize on emerging opportunities. In doing so, you aren’t looking just to survive, you want to thrive. Change is ongoing, not a part time job; it can’t be done in fits and starts, or relegated to a back burner waiting for when you are ready.
How to best organize for innovation is a major dilemma in many companies, which this book will also discuss. It is often an obstacle to making progress. The organization’s culture, its openness, its use of top down vs. bottom up management styles, and other issues play a part in making innovation happen.
Why This Book is Different
There are great books about innovation, creativity, and strategy, but, these activities must originate from foresight to be effective. It is critical to make the right kinds of innovations and develop the right kind of plans—and this only happens if you have foresight. That is what this book speaks to.
Unlike traditional methods, the foresight method is agile in recognizing emerging opportunities and adapting to capitalize on them. It offers a blueprint to organize, collaborate, and execute to win the markets of the future, and to keep your team focused only on the most highly promising opportunities. The foresight method is totally about results, not creating reams of paper plans that sit on a shelf and are out of date by the time they are printed. Agile teams, projects, and objectives are needed to deal with the volatile, uncertain, chaotic, ambiguous (VUCA) business world of today.
The ideas in this book will not be readily accepted by many businesspeople, especially those who have internally-focused responsibilities such as finance, administration, legal, accounting, HR, operations, etc. It will thus be important for you to take time to get others onboard, and to respond to their concerns. They are typically most concerned with: risk of financial loss, change in general, loss of focus, and pressure for short-term results.
You will need to persuade them that it is equally risky not to innovate, and that you agree with them that it is important to reduce risk. But assure them that your intention is to do just that, by methodically screening the best quality ideas and testing them. Regarding your time, effort, and focus, you will need to negotiate an arrangement with leadership, and communicate regularly about results of your work to maintain momentum.
Innovation isn’t for the faint of heart, and you can’t do it alone. This book will give you practical ideas to be a driver of innovation in your organization, and to encourage others to join your efforts. So, let’s get started!