“A new business always starts out with an ambition and, often, some carefully thought-out innovation planning to go with it. Then, as the reality of running a new venture hits, the mind becomes focused on the here and now.”
The opening paragraph of a recent article by Nick Dormon (MD of Brand Design & Innovation agency Echo).
In this article (summarised below) Nick goes on to stress how it is critical to keep a connection with that original plan and, in the middle of that day-to-day melee, lift your head above the parapet, scan the horizon for what might be 2, 5 or even 10 years later. Continue the thread of your plans.
Ten years seems a long way out but, when you look back a decade, you realise Twitter (2006) and the iPhone (2007) were in their infancy; these are just two of many brands that have completely changed our world. What would we have done differently if we knew what we know now back then?
Some industries seem more insulated from the rapid advances of technology, but none of us are immune. Technology will have a direct impact on your business but also an indirect one through behavioural change.
We cannot predict the future, but we can design it. Consciously and unconsciously every action we take nudges the future in a new direction. Whilst we cannot control our destiny, we can manipulate it. We can have a mission to drive us forward, we can be aware of emerging opportunities, and we can avoid possible pit falls. Ten seems to be the key number of years to aim for in our preparations. It’s far enough into the future that you can unencumber your mind from daily strife and dream of what you would like to become, but close enough in that the future is already emerging in the present day. For example, ten years ago we would have been aware that social media was just starting to change consumer behaviour.
Peter Schwartz, who pioneered future planning at Shell in the 80s, explains in his book The Art of the Long View that from the many trends out there, we need to identify which will become the causal forces on our business – either by exerting pressure like competition or energising the business through new technology and shareholder ambition. These forces can be classed as either ‘fixed’, like legislation, that will happen, or ‘variable’ like consumer behaviour, that might.
The process is to collate the most potent causal forces as three plausible future scenarios with repeated fixed forces and a spread of the variable ones. A plan can then be made for each. Three seems to be the optimal number as it represents enough breadth to capture the most likely outcomes, but also few enough that they can be remembered by the company going forward. Often future visioning is kicked off as a project with the three scenarios as an outcome, but in reality, it becomes a continuous affair with the scenarios revisited and adjusted over time as new casual forces emerge and decline.
It feels like we are living in a highly volatile world today with polarising politics, pandemics, global rebalancing between east and west. Yet, change is always happening and we need to keep our eyes open for opportunity.
Future visioning comes into force when longer term investments and changes are required. Looking after our planet represents the single most important driver for the long-term changes we face. It simply cannot be solved in the short term, as supply chains will take decades to change in many cases. In can seem an insurmountable problem, but, when aligned with other causal forces, new opportunities emerge that allow a reframing of business to absorb the costs and provide consumers with new benefits
Whilst Nick’s article uses examples related to consumer brands, his points are very relevant to the two distinct worlds of technology i.e.
- The creation of end-user technology (direct impact) – e.g. Autonomous mobile robots
- Technology that facilitates change (indirect impact) – e.g AI/Chatbot technology used to enhance Learning & Development and Customer Experience.
In the former, companies are innovation planning to develop targeted solutions to meet existing and projected needs. Once developed , the opportunity to expand into new markets may arise. Companies who are to be successful in this area need to have a very clear unblinkered long term market focus, but be flexible enough to consider and react to change. Their innovation planning and funding plans need to be well developed – versions 2,3,4 must be imagined and planned in.
In the latter, the end-use may be less well defined, and at Infintec, we do come across companies that, at best, can be described as ‘Tech Love Fests’. Here the business is so focused on developing the technology that the market becomes secondary. In some cases this is not a problem for the company as the VC sector has decided they like it and keeps throwing money at it, until somebody big buys them.
However, there are others who are looking to create a sustainable business and need help in focussing on identifying and meeting clearly understood needs and delivering quantifiable benefits.
At Infintec we help ambitious tech businesses with their innovation planning in order to grow faster and get the innovation funding necessary to achieve this growth.
Our process always starts with our Qualification (Discovery) stage, where we look in detail at the market and the technology as well as the finances and the people. Building on that, we help them vision their future and create their R&D and funding roadmaps.
We then go out and help them scale and access funding – we don’t signpost, we deliver!
We don’t’ have clients – we have partners.