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Strengthening Strategic Thinking with Futures Exploration

Global futurist and best selling author, Nikolas Badminton, shares insights into how organizations can strengthen their strategic thinking and see disruption ahead of time through futures exploration..

Global Futurist and best selling author, Nikolas Badminton, shares insights into how organizations can strengthen their strategic thinking and see disruption ahead of time through futures exploration.

It was February 2022. I was in Scottsdale speaking at a conference for a multi-billion-dollar waste management company where we explored the future of sustainability, waste, and the circular economy. After a few minutes talking about the value of futures work I asked 250 C-suite executives – from the largest and most influential companies working in CPG, fashion, finance, natural resources, retail, and other verticals – a question:

“Raise your hands if you explore futures or have a strategic foresight capability that helps strengthen your planning and risk scanning?”

I stood there for a few seconds with my hand up. No-one raised their hands. I paused and asked if anyone felt exposed to the changes that were coming from technological disruption, climate change, water scarcity, economic power shifts from west to east, and competition from those companies that do implement strategic foresight. The crowd seemed wary to admit to any of this. 

I am finding that this is quite typical and worrying.

The truth is that we’re at a point in modern business where there is a poverty of imagination on what may come next, and a reluctance to recognize that disruption is coming. There is significant value in knowing that change will happen with changing cultural and work dynamics, softer recessions, the rise of new technologies and even future pandemics (more likely than you probably currently believe).

Regardless, only one in five organizations strategically prepares itself for future movements in their industries and associated markets, and just one in twenty organizations adjusts their course of action or strategic plans accordingly (Rohrbeck and Kum, 2018). They also found that having a higher level of future preparedness (FP) by assessing the need for corporate foresight and comparing it to the maturity of its corporate foresight practices. They also showed futures preparedness made companies 33 percent more profitable with a 200 percent higher growth rate than the average company.

Future preparedness is no longer optional, it’s essential for any company that wants to make their mark on this world.

In my best-selling book – ‘Facing Our Futures: How foresight, futures design and strategy creates prosperity and growth’ – I guide executives and world leaders how to ignite imagination, shift their mindsets from what is to what if, and to learn how to explore futures to see the horizons ahead of us at 10, 20 and even 30 plus years. 

In the book I outline methods for futures expiration and the start of this journey of awareness and exploration comes three activities that help see what geopolitical, technological, societal, and cultural shifts are happening, and their effects over time to our world and your industry.

We start with the scanning for signals. This is where we look for distinct pieces of information, statistics, stories, activities, and/or events that indicate an impending change or emerging issue may become significant in the future. We look across industry and at technological advances as well as those of global, societal, and cultural impact. We find them in research, reputable media articles, discussions with industry, podcasts, social media discussion, and the exploration of futurists.

From the signals we combine and analyze, we see trends emerge. These are the general directions in which our world is developing or changing at pace. They inherently have momentum – either through impact, wide adoption, or larger scale funding and pilot projects with significant market players. Everything from work productivity to machine learning and automation to cultural disruption of new social media platforms can be seen.

The signals and trends give us the reference points for what might come next. At this point we can develop what if scenarios that explore how the dynamics of people, technologies, places, and industries play out. This is fertile ground for exploring future horizons and allows us to see the positive and negative effects of the decisions we may make in our companies today reflected on our visions of the future. 

Companies that embrace this see incredible results. One client that approached me wanted to imagine the future of airports and travel – Vancouver International Airport (YVR). Every 10 years they need to lay out plans for the next 20 years, and they look for input from the public using the airport and the surrounding communities. We established the YVR2037 project where I considered signals and emerging trends and then wrote 5 short science fiction stories that were then encapsulated in a large media campaign with interviews, articles, billboards, and a video to ignite imaginations:

The response was incredible – 5 public consultation sessions at the airport turned into 16 across three cities due to overwhelming demand and invites from local government; media coverage was off the chart with 18 million impressions; and, some 5 years later, they built the futuristic Pier D with many of the elements we saw in the stories and offered by the public.

Truly incredible and our work helped them be future ready and further advance their reputation for innovation in the world of travel.

Over the years I have collaborated with companies to ignite futures thinking – anticipating hybrid work and policies of care for workers for a big tech player, exploring the likelihood of shifts towards electrification for top luxury car brands, supercharging planning for global engineering companies, establishing new climate resiliency programs with the United Nation, and more. I’ve also delivered over 300 keynotes for incredible clients to hundreds of thousands of people. 

It’s good to know that some are gaining pace with futures exploration and the improvement of strategic planning.

Embracing signals scanning, trends identification, and what if scenario exploration truly leads to future preparedness within your company. While the scope of the work can seem daunting at first there are simple yet powerful ways to kickstart your futures exploration. WSB and I have prepared a kickstart guide to help you get going with signals, trends and scenarios exploration here.

We are all a part of the futures that are unfolding, and we owe it to ourselves, our customers, and the world to step up. By investing in future readiness, you play an active part in the futures that will unfold. 

Events aren’t easy, but working with WSB is. WSB works with thousands of respected influencers, thought leaders, and speakers each year and our experienced sales team is committed to the success of your event. For more futurist speaker ideas, please contact us.