By Dr. Evans Baiya
Without imagination, innovation stalls in the present. Futuristic thinking is a critical skill for everyone—business owners, leaders, veteran team members, and new hires alike. Without it, teams can’t imagine what the organization will look like in five, 10, or 20 years. They can’t imagine their future customers, sources of revenue, competitors, or even what it will be like to work at the organization.
These questions take imagination, and without the skills to answer them, an organization’s strategy and ability to innovate are at risk. As a skill, futuristic thinking requires the ability to see the big picture, roleplay long-term plans, make accurate predictions of possible outcomes, and determine the direction to take to fulfill those outcomes. If an organization can’t think beyond the present, taking advantage of changing landscapes in the market becomes much harder.
Employees with futuristic thinking skills are able to help both the organization and its customers connect the dots and see the opportunities ahead. They can analyze current data, predict where to focus their roles, and, most importantly, combine this skill with problem-solving and creativity. If employees follow these three steps to nurture and develop futuristic thinking, they can innovate to deliver the future of the organization.
Practice finding strategic opportunities. Continuously look for ways to improve the business, whether through employee or customer experience, efficiencies, or assigning the right people to the right projects. Help employees look for these opportunities by identifying problem-opportunities and fostering creative thinking.
In developing this strategic mindset, employees often begin to see things that they could not see before about the future of the organization. This will help employees begin to answer questions about what customers will want and what it will be like to work at the company. However, these aha moments will only come with consistent practice, and ample time should be given for ideation.
Develop a mindset of option-planning. Once employees begin to see the problems and opportunities available to them, they need to be able to accurately and objectively evaluate the different options. Each new problem has several possible paths, but teams can only determine which is the best possible option for that problem by following the different paths. Simply by creating and evaluating these options, employees naturally start to think of the future.
One way to practice this is by looking back. For example: as a retailer, look back five years and ask how the company could have option-planned then, knowing the challenges of moving online and competing with massive online retailers like Amazon. What are the options? Is there a better way to deliver retail shopping? How will retail business be different in the future? This allows employees to brainstorm around different methods, processes, and approaches of future delivery. Once practiced, this same exercise can be applied to present and future problem-opportunities.
Master idea generation and brainstorming. Ideas are essential to creating the future of your organization. By practicing idea generation, employees can look to improve current and future operations. Even ideas that may seem difficult or far-fetched can open up possibilities for the future if ideas are generated now. Making time to ideate, creating and maintaining a way to capture those ideas, and evaluating and testing the ideas to determine which to pursue are all essential steps to becoming a master of idea generation.
As Bob Proctor said, “If you see it in your mind, you will hold it in your hand.” Be sure to capture that idea to make it happen in the future.
The end goal of effective futuristic thinking is employees who are successful innovators. And good innovators are not just good creatives, or good problem-solvers. To be a well-rounded innovator, employees should foster their skills for imaginative thinking, solving problems, and envisioning the upcoming opportunities to move successfully into the future.