Hannah O'Brien

“Your future is not in the rearview mirror.” While there is some truth in this quaint quote from a Successories poster, most companies affix their eyes on what is past and fail to look ahead. In fact, only 2.4% of companies take a futurist approach to strategic planning. A futurist approach means to leverage strategic foresight- to plan the future based on what’s ahead not what’s behind. Futurist, Rebecca Ryan, kicked off the Wisconsin School of Business Full-time MBA Leadership Symposium with some astonishing statistics followed by teachings on how to develop a futurist mindset, the core tools of foresight, and foresight’s triumphs and catastrophes in modern business.

 

Ms. Ryan began by classifying roughly 20 years of history into one of the four “seasons”. She explained that we are currently in a winter season; things are frozen but opportunity is around the corner as spring is expected to arrive in 2020. Companies who do not take a futurist approach may pull back in fear during winter by reducing spending and hiring, and stress about the bottom line. On the other hand, a futurist company sees winter as the best time to make large investments and maintaining hope for the spring to come.

 

Gaston Berger, a French futurist, philosopher and industrialist, said, “The purpose of looking at the future is to disturb the present.”

 

Focusing on the future with an intent to cause disruption should be uncomfortable. That is why Ms. Ryan provides a 6-step approach and recommends multi-scenario planning. These steps include:

1.      Frame the domain

2.      Scan for forces and trends (i.e. technology, politics)

3.      Forecast scenarios and identify crossover issues

4.      Envision the future

5.      Solidify milestones

6.      Implement

 

By utilizing this framework and creating multiple future scenarios, companies can plan for all plausible disruptions, events, and trends as our world changes at an ever-increasing rate. Companies like Disney, Shell, and the U.S. Military are already putting this into action as they are in the 2.4%.

 

This strategy and supporting framework will be useful to me as I assess business challenges presented in coursework and in my next professional role. I can bring a strategic foresight approach and help a business stay agile and contribute to a culture that embraces change. Ms. Ryan’s session, along with the other MBA Leadership Symposium speakers, challenged me to think differently while also adding to my leadership tool box.