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Create Experiences, Not Just Products and Services

 17th April 2018 by gihan

I was speaking at an aged care leadership conference about the challenge of increasing competition and client choice. The aged care industry is growing, because of our ageing population, but this also creates more competition and choice for clients. This is true in many industries, and it’s no longer good enough to just provide products and services. To be truly fit for the future, focus on creating compelling experiences your customers and clients can’t get anywhere else.

Do You Know the Future Climate For Your Business Strategy?

 12th April 2018 by gihan

Earlier this week, I attended a conference (actually an “Unconvention”!) about leadership and strategy, with a focus on the role of Boards in working with their senior management teams.

I was chatting with one of the organisers, Dr. Nicky Howe, the CEO of Southcare, about how boards and senior leaders should cope with our fast-changing world. After our conversation, she said – in fact, tweeted – that “a futurist belongs in a board room”:

As a futurist who provides a “Futurist in Residence” service for boards and senior leadership teams, of course I couldn’t agree more (thanks, Nicky)!

But what does that actually mean?

What value does “futurist” thinking bring to your strategy?

In a nutshell: You scan wide first, before you narrow down and go deep.

Let me explain …

This is important, and it applies whether you’re on the board of a publicly listed company, your own “board member” in your small business, or anywhere in between. We’re all facing a fast-changing world, with more competition and disruption than ever before. So, yep, I get it – it’s not as easy to set strategy and direction anymore.

You do still need to set direction, create a strategy, develop stretch goals, collaborate closely with your management team, monitor progress, exercise good governance, and do all the other things to keep your organisation on track.

But the world might change around you in an instant – from a global competitor, increased regulation, a change in government, a smart start-up, or a disruptive technology. And then your beautifully-crafted strategy is useless!

So how do you balance these competing priorities – on the one hand, giving clarity to your team; and on the other, designing for uncertainty?

The secret is to start with foresight.

Later in that conference, another CEO admitted to me that his organisation had only one strategy – and they were placing all their eggs in that basket. If that failed, they had nothing else. That’s risky! Maybe even negligent.

As French philosopher Émile Chartier said:

“Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it’s the only one we have.”

That’s where the skill of foresight comes in. You step into the future and scan wide by exploring multiple possibilities. You don’t just look at one possible future; you consider multiple futures. Sure, they aren’t all equally likely, but at least you can consider them, and weigh them up when planning your strategy.

The wider you go, the better you are. Otherwise, you’re starting from a narrow range of possibilities, and just hoping to get lucky. And hope is not a strategy.

So scan wide first, then narrow it down to set your direction, and then go deep to create your strategy.

Make the time for foresight!

If you’re spending all day managing immediate priorities or – worse – putting out fires, it’s not easy to find the time for foresight. But it’s an essential leadership skill, especially now.

If you think you’re too busy to do this, at least take heart from the fact you’re not alone! Rich Horwath, CEO of the Strategic Thinking Institute, found in his research that almost all leaders said they didn’t have time for strategic thinking because they were too busy putting out fires (If you want details, search for “Make Strategic Thinking Part of Your Job” in the Harvard Business Review)

But that doesn’t mean you should stay stuck! Either make the time for foresight, or engage a futurist to help you with it.

Foresight increases your chances of success.

If you have the resources, you might be able to invest in multiple strategies for multiple futures. That’s how successful venture capitalists work: They back multiple start-up companies, knowing most will fail but hoping one will make it big.

Most boards and leaders don’t have that luxury, and you will probably choose one path and use that to guide your strategy. That’s fine. At least your foresight has given you the best chance.

It’s like trying to predict the weather. If you want to know whether to wear warm clothes three days from now, check with the weather bureau and you’ll get a pretty accurate prediction. But if you want to know whether to wear warm clothes three months from now, you look at climate, not weather. Foresight and strategy work with climate, and the more you know about the future climate, the better you can plan for it.

Want to know more?

For more about using foresight to drive your strategy, innovation and change programs, download my free white paper Think Sharper.

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Are You Using Reverse Mentoring?

 10th April 2018 by gihan

Many organisations have mentoring programs, but do you also encourage and foster REVERSE mentoring? It’s a growing trend among smart organisations, and one of the best ways to tap into the talent and skills of your people.

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Use If-Then Thinking To Make Innovation a Habit

 3rd April 2018 by gihan

How do you find time for innovation in a busy world, when you hardly have enough time to meet your normal day-to-day goals, let alone think of innovation and change? Use the powerful “if/then thinking” process to make innovation a habit.

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Think Sharper

 29th March 2018 by gihan

Why do so many change and innovation programs fail? Even with management buy-in, a willing culture, and good ideas, too many innovation programs just don’t get traction anymore. In this fast-changing world, there’s one element missing from many of these programs, and it can doom them to failure.

Listen To the Episode

Download the Think Sharper white paper

The Fit for the Future Podcast brings you regular ideas, interviews and insights about how you, your teams and your organisation can become fit for the future.

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Why You Shouldn’t be Optimistic – or Pessimistic – About Bitcoin and Blockchain

 22nd March 2018 by gihan

As a futurist, I see a lot of news about Bitcoin and blockchain (the technology underlying Bitcoin), and many people ask me for my opinion about them. Are they a bubble? Do they have a future? Will blockchain transform the banking / healthcare / baby food industry?

Some people are disappointed with my answer: “Sorry, it’s too early to say”. They think that, as a futurist, I should be able to make some sort of prediction, or at least have an informed opinion about it.

The truth is, I do have an informed opinion about it, and it’s this: It’s too early to say.

I’ll explain why, and in the process I’ll share a really valuable tool that futurists use to make judgements about the future.

Remember the dot-com boom?

Way back at the end of the last century, when the Web was new, a whole bunch of “dot-com” companies were launched with few assets and almost no revenue, but with some vague potential for future expansion. Many people invested in them on this potential, and they had huge valuations … until they crashed. It turned out they were full of hype and nothing else, and eventually the market realised it as well.

At the time, I was running a small Web design company (one of the first in Australia), and I remember people asking me about the future of the Web:

  • “Should I get a Web site?”
  • “Is it all going to come crashing down?”
  • “Is this Internet thing just a passing fad?”

At the time, I could put my hand on my heart and say that Yes, the Internet did have a future, and Yes, it was worth building a Web site. Sure, I had a vested interest in saying that, but I also had something else: plenty of examples of highly profitable Web sites. Some of my first Web site clients who invested $5,000 with us were getting 5x, 10x, even 100x returns on their investment. And in cash, not in future potential.

Find the evidence!

Those examples gave me confidence that the Web was here to stay. Despite the flawed business models of those other dot-com companies that eventually crashed, there were plenty of examples of solid Web sites that were making money – for regular business owners, with real businesses, offering real products and services.

Of course, a few positive examples don’t guarantee success, but they do give you more confidence. And if you can’t find any positive examples, that should definitely be a red flag!

So what does this have to do with Bitcoin and blockchain?

Simple: I can’t find these positive examples.

There’s a lot of hype about Bitcoin, but it’s been around for almost 10 years now (yes, since 2008!), and still hasn’t had much impact on the world. Not in a real sense, anyway. Sure, some people are making money on it, but that’s based on the speculation about its future potential (like buying shares in a dot-com company based on future potential, and then selling them to somebody else who has a higher opinion of their future potential). But Bitcoin as a currency hasn’t exactly set the world on fire.

Blockchain is even worse. You can read countless articles about blockchain transforming law enforcement, ride hailing, healthcare, banking, voting, education, music, real estate, insurance, supply chain management, and pretty much any other industry. But look closer and you’ll find most of these articles use words like “possible”, “potential”, and “could”. There’s nothing wrong with talking about future potential (I do it all the time!), but if that’s all you see, be sceptical.

And don’t be fooled when you see people claiming they are already using blockchain technology. They’re probably not. This one is a bit harder to debunk, but pretty much every example I’ve seen is just a different name for existing database technology. I know, because it’s the same database technology I learned as an undergraduate Computer Science student in the 1990s. You think I’m joking, but I’m not. It’s just that it’s easier to get the attention of the C-suite if you say “permissioned blockchain” than “1990s database”.

This might sound like I’m highly critical of Bitcoin and blockchain, but that’s not true. Don’t get me wrong. I think the Bitcoin/blockchain technology is pure genius, and has huge potential. But potential alone is not enough.

So am I optimistic or pessimistic?

Neither! It’s easy to have an opinion, but there’s just not enough evidence to make an informed opinion.

Think about it this way …

Suppose I gave you a bag with 99 black balls and 1 white ball, and asked you to pick one at random. Would you be optimistic about picking a black? Yep.

What if it was 99 white balls and 1 black ball? Now you would be pessimistic about picking black, right?

But what if I didn’t tell you anything about what’s in the bag? Would you be optimistic or pessimistic about picking a black ball? Well … neither. It would be dumb to speculate, because you just don’t have enough information. If you bet money on it, that would just be a pure gamble.

That’s where I think we are now with Bitcoin and blockchain. Lots of potential, but that’s all right now.

I’m not giving you financial advice here. Some people invest in potential alone, some don’t. That’s up to you, and if you want to invest, talk to a qualified financial adviser and make your decision based on that advice.

Because this isn’t about Bitcoin or blockchain.

I’ve used Bitcoin and blockchain as examples, but I don’t want you to miss the more general principle.

Futurists don’t don’t make judgements on potential alone. We consider a number of other factors, and one of the first is to find real, practical examples of something in practice.

If you want to think like a futurist, I suggest you do the same.

Watch My Webinar Recording: Bitcoin – What’s the Big Deal?

Despite what I’ve said about Bitcoin and blockchain, I’m not saying you should remain ignorant about them! They are big news right now, so it’s worth understanding the basics about them. I covered this in my recent webinar “Bitcoin – What’s the Big Deal?”, which you can watch here:

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Are You an Apple or Google When Dealing With Customers?

 20th March 2018 by gihan

Apple and Google are both customer-obsessed, but they have different approaches and attitudes to their customers. Which approach is more likely to make you future-proof?

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The #1 Thing That Breaks Your Innovation Programs

 13th March 2018 by gihan

The #1 Thing That Breaks Your Innovation Programs

One of the most commonly-quoted stories around disruption is about Kodak, which was the market leader in film photography, but failed because it couldn’t adapt to digital photography. There are many variations of this story, giving various reasons for Kodak’s demise: It had too much invested in film, it had grown so big it had stopped innovating, the organisational structure couldn’t cope with a digital world, and so on. There’s even one dramatic story that the Kodak employee who invented the first digital camera was told by senior management to hide his invention because it would destroy Kodak’s existing market.

The problem with these stories is that they aren’t true. What’s worse, they hide the real reason behind Kodak’s demise.

So why did Kodak fail?

To answer this, let’s first look at one of the most common reasons many change programs fail.

And just to be clear, when we’re talking about “change” here, I’m not talking about the random, senseless change programs that many businesses go through from time to time. Let’s focus on razor-sharp innovation programs that are intended to keep your business current – or even ahead of the game.

Ideas are not enough.

First, of course, some businesses only pay lip service to change. They might run a one-day innovation workshop, a fancy innovation off-site, or something else that’s designed to generate a lot of ideas – with the promise of transforming the business and disrupting their industry.

And you know what? Sometimes it works … at least as far as generating ideas. People come back with butcher’s paper, flip charts, and sticky notes full of ideas – some good, some bad, some practical, some impractical, some crazy, and some surprisingly sane.

But ideas alone are not enough. Far too often, those ideas never get implemented, because the leaders don’t make time and space for action. Change needs ideas and action. Indeed, a common definition of innovation is “applied creativity” – in other words, taking your ideas and putting them into action.

Of course, ideas in action are better than no action at all (or, as General George S. Patton said, “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”). But even that alone is not enough. The problem is that many of the ideas just don’t have any practical value. It’s all very well to implement ideas, but if those ideas aren’t really moving your business forward in any meaningful way, they are worthless.

And that’s the problem with so many change and innovation programs today. You might be constantly evolving and changing, but still find yourself disrupted and blindsided by some smart, savvy start-up that does something radically different. Or the world changes in unexpected ways, and your wonderful ideas are instantly obsolete.

That’s what happened to Kodak. They weren’t afraid that digital cameras would cannibalise their existing products; they just didn’t anticipate it. They didn’t deliberately try to kill off a threat; they just didn’t see it as a threat.

The first digital camera – built by a Kodak engineer – was as big as a toaster, took 20 seconds to take a picture, and the resolution was much lower than a print. Kodak’s management assessed it, but ignored it because they thought it would never be good enough to compete with film cameras. They didn’t account for exponential growth, which meant the improvements happened much faster than they expected.

It’s easy to look back now and criticise Kodak for its lack of foresight. But many, many businesses – especially established businesses – are doing exactly the same thing now. And they are doing it for exactly that reason: a lack of foresight.

That’s the missing element: foresight.

To be truly successful, innovation needs all three elements: ideas, action, and foresight.

Foresight is the ability to look into the future. It’s not about predicting the future like a fortune teller or a lucky gambler. Rather, it’s about using the tools that futurists use to direct and drive change.

For example, you might:

  • Identify trends in the way customers interact with businesses in your industry.
  • Understand how new technology will change your business.
  • Examine global megatrends to identify potential threats and new opportunities.
  • Learn how personal choices are driving professional decisions.

The simplest version of this is to just ask the question: What problem are we solving for our customers?

That’s a good start, but even that question starts from the present, not the future. You’re talking about your current customers, their current problems, and your current solutions.

It doesn’t look further into the future, which means you’re still vulnerable to competitors who look further than you do.

Pull from the future, don’t push from the past.

The key difference when you start with foresight is that you start with a future focus. Instead of pushing change from the past, you pull it from the future.

When you think like a futurist, you can then act like an innovator. If you really want to create compelling change, first learn how to see into the future so you can design a path to success.

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