Insight into Disruption:  The Future is Not What You Imagine

We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. – Bill Gates

Virtually every company has a strategic planning process that looks a few years out in order to align the company’s actions. Most companies also have a process for looking at the forces and trends shaping their industry, markets and technologies. In today’s world, these activities are not sufficient to prepare for potential disruption – either by your company or to your company.

A short-term view of the future, which is all most strategic planning processes can realistically offer, suffers from linear thinking. A focus on industry-shaping forces and trends suffers from generalities and consensus thinking. Neither will give your company insight into potentially disruptive futures that are specific enough for you to act on.

In addition, people have many cognitive biases that get in the way of thinking clearly about the future. We are not good at anticipating things that are not the result of continuations of trends we can clearly see.  We are also highly biased towards our own experiences and those whom we know.

By contrast, an innovation strategy provides an expanded perspective that comes from developing insights into alternative futures, insights that go well beyond linear thinking and consensus trends.

With change happening so quickly today, it might seem like having a longer view than two to three years might not be worth the trouble. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Increasing volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity — and the increased pace of its change — mean that the linear projection methods commonly used in strategic planning, market research and customer insight processes fall short. These methods are no longer able to provide disruptive insights.

For these reasons, as well as others, a structured futuring process is a critical component of your innovation strategy. No one can predict the future, but you can think about it systematically.

  1. Take the time to escape from immediate, pressing business to think about what the world might look like in 10 to 15 years.
  2. Challenge your current assumptions and perspective and imagine plausible futures in different ways.
  3. Discuss and debate the “future knowledge” held by your innovation team and peers (and competitors).
  4. Develop new insights that lead directly to strategy, opportunities and actions.
  5. Make the future actionable. Create a system than can sense nascent disruption so you can take appropriate action.

Let a regular and robust futuring process prepare your company for the inevitable disruptive forces it will face.

Read more about forecasting your company’s strategic future

Selected Readings

Set Disruption Free Dr. Christensen

Continuing discussions and controversy about the disruption theory of innovation has put a leading innovation researcher in an awkward position.

Original article | Read our short take

Stuck in the Middle

New research shows that there really are issues with middle management and innovation.

Original article | Read our short take

Using Superforecasting Methods for Your Strategic Futures

Philip Tetlock teaches us how to become superforecasters and be better at understanding our alternative futures.

Original article | Read our short take