Planning for the future is something all successful businesses do. For some this planning looks 12 to 24 months ahead whilst others look 5-10 years into the future. Futurology is often derided as an expensive exercise in predicting business and societal trends that are potentially exciting but never come to fruition.
As the world around us develops ever faster the case for futurology work couldn’t be stronger. Those businesses that adopt futurology will be better placed to exploit opportunities and adapt to change. They will be better equipped to make business decisions that differentiate them from competitors and deliver against their customers’ ever changing needs.
The likes of BT have developed futurology teams to help them assess trends and emerging patterns. These teams can help to identify, validate and analyse trend information to facilitate better decision making at both a strategic and operational level.
So where does futurology come from?
Well, whilst you might be thinking about Nostradamus, some lesser known names have been responsible for helping shape the topic from a slightly more recent age. Two key futurologists spring to mind. One is a technologist, the other a 19th century novelist. The technologist was the famous Paul Baran, known as a world leading expert in data transmission. Baran famously wrote the essay ‘The Future Computer Utility,’ in which he predicted both the internet and the various uses we have for it today. One of his essay’s most prescient observations was: ‘our home computer console will be used to send and receive messages – like telegrams.’
The second hero of futurology is Edward Bellamy. His novel ‘Looking Backwards’ was published to critical and cult acclaim in 1888. The novel centres on a young American who, having fallen into a coma, awakes 113 years in the future to witness a changed world. This new world contains, amongst other things we enjoy today, credit cards. The novel sparked significant interest in utopian and dystopian thinking as well as futurology.
So what does it mean for business?
Although the two heroes of futurology are no longer with us their inspiration, whether through technological thinking or creative license, calls us to imagine a changed world. The lesson for business is that we don’t even need to think that hard. Futurology isn’t necessarily about imagining Martian or floating cities. It’s about thinking about the here and now and extrapolating how trends might evolve to alter our world.
The output from any futurology can be used to improve business decision making and to prepare for the fast-approaching future. You might want to better understand how payment systems might change or whether by 2020 cash will have been replaced by virtual currency. These are the types of scenarios all business will eventually have plan for.
Before 2007 no one had envisaged the iPhone, but by examining its adoption and trajectory we can start to plan and anticipate future developments. Not all our predictions will come true but, to use another example, reading about drone technology today we can at least start to think of some applications and developments not too far from now.
A final thought. Futurology empowers agile businesses. Don’t get left behind.
Paul Roberts, Strategy Activist