No one can know the future but, in business, you have to try.
What’s a business plan, after all, other than a set of expectations regarding future events and your planned responses to them?
Faisal Hoque, writing for Fast Company, suggests that there are four things you can do to strengthen your team’s crystal-ball skills:
01. What does your present suggest about your future?
Assessing where your company is right now may show you the future it’s currently heading toward. Here are three things to consider:
Look at the strategy you’re using right now. How’s execution going? Do you see some things that should be changed? If circumstances change, will your current strategy work as well, better, or not as well?
What kind of results are you seeing from you current strategy? How well is it working for your team, customers, and partners, if you have any? Are there aspects you can optimize to improve those results and/or increase revenues?
If so, how capable are you of making those improvements? Do you have the necessary resources and assets to try out what may be a better way of working?
02. Take time to think about tech news
Barring an unforeseen cataclysm, it’s a safe bet that advancing technology will be a major influence on the world of tomorrow. Stay abreast of new research, products, and systems, but don’t get too distracted by their current form. Try to “look around the corner”: get into the habit of thinking about the ramifications of the latest and greatest.
What does it mean for day-to-day life or business if there will be tiny sensors everywhere, or if everything manufactured will soon leave the factory with trackable QR codes? Why did two big companies merge? What future are they preparing for? Does some new tech advance spell the end of a technology or way of doing business currently in place?
Allocate some time every week at staff meetings to talk through the latest intel, focusing on how the news may change things and what new opportunities it may present.
03. Making sure everything you think works really does work
The happy balance between your business goals and technology is an ever-moving target. Business continually evolves in response to customer desires and broader trends, and tools and systems may need to be tweaked to help you meet your needs.
For example, your team may be using software that brilliantly addressed something that used to be important — but isn’t now — and the software these days is just adding a layer of complexity for no real reason. Systems are always in the process of being refined, and it’s not unusual for elements to outlive their relevance along the way.
It’s a better idea to stay mindful of your objectives and be protective of them, regularly reassessing your tools and methods and always being on the lookout for bottlenecks that could indicate something needs to be changed.
04. Think about how you manage and harvest information
In terms of information floating around a company, there’s a lot going on, including content and data flowing via email, paper mail, incoming phone calls, outgoing calls, printed reports and plans, operational data programs, and more.
The most future-facing information is the ideas flying around, and it’s in your best interest to effectively capture them. You need to have some sort of “filtering” in place to ensure that this happens. There are three basic kinds:
1. Decision-making groups that are in the CC loop of everyone involved with their area of interest.
2. Clearly defined hand-off procedures that make sure information is reliably conveyed to the appropriate party.
3. Automated tech that gathers and collates information and ideas, from orders placed on the company’s website to the company’s internal chat channels.
Equally important is to recognize meaningful trends as they arise. Futurist Amy Webb suggests three criteria that identify trends crossing your desk that you should pursue.
Follow up on the trends that:
though timely, stick around
immediately start evolving
connect the dots more and more as they become accepted
There are basically two ways to view the future: as a set of challenges your company will somehow have to survive, or as a wave of fresh opportunities to embrace. Taking care now to get your team facing forward is the best way to maintain your competitive edge, allowing you to get an early glimpse of the exciting possibilities waiting just over the horizon.