Would you recognise your company in 20 years?

When we work with organisations, helping them to explore what they might look like in 20-30 years, they are often surprised – shocked, sometimes – when they realise that their activities might be completely different from what they do now.  Change is happening all the time; usually the steps are manageably small, so we adapt and acclimatise ourselves to the new normal, literally on a day-to-day basis.

Sometimes the steps appear really big: so remarkable, so unusual that you may hear comments like “it will never take off” – which cause you to smile some years later when that “remarkable” and “unusual” thing is now the norm.  A perfect example is the smartphone or tablet. Consider all the functions that small handset provides, instantly, pretty much anywhere in the world you choose to take it. You can virtually run your life and business with it!  The original purpose – conversing with someone voice-to-voice – is almost a secondary, or even tertiary aspect of what we expect from the handset now.

Now think back 20-odd years. Remember the car phone? A large, black handset which was fixed beneath the car dashboard or between the front seats and needed a battery so big and unwieldy it sat, like a very heavy small suitcase, in the boot. Analogue wireless connection was intermittent, geographically patchy and the voice quality could be crackly.
“Why would I want to call anyone from my car?” the critics said – not foreseeing the apparently limitless possibilities of mobile communication.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Several emerging technologies developed and converged: miniaturisation, new technology in materials, new network technology, optic fibre cables and the cloud, to provide us with what we see today; a small, ridiculously powerful computer with mobile communication capabilities that we now take for granted.

There have been many winners in the field of mobile communication, as well as us, the users.  But there have also been losers; leading companies which did not take a wide enough view of emerging trends, did not keep their finger on the pulse of the market and did not believe they could be toppled from what they considered an unassailable position at the top of their field. Take Nokia: an innovative engineering company back in the 1990s which, at one point, was the world’s leading mobile phone manufacturer. But it failed to spot that developments in software, programs and apps were powering ahead towards the smartphone. A victim of its own success, Nokia was wedded to the view that was a hardware specialist – and it got left behind. See below for more on this story.

Take a look at your organisation. What does it currently do? What are the emerging trends in your industry?  What trends might merge with others and what would that deliver?  More importantly: what are the emerging trends in OTHER areas? Which of these might be useful to you? Which might threaten your future? How would you know the difference?

The application of Foresight can help you be aware of the bigger picture; it can help you see beyond the expected to the unimaginable. It can help you prepare for the future.
If YOU had been manufacturing car phones 20 years ago: what would you be doing now?


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