Worried about the future? Try challenging your current thinking instead
Innovation. Digital disruption. Future proofing. Customer centricity. These words are currently flying around corporate environments as being the keys to strategic growth, value, customer retention and profit. Indeed, organisations may need to have a large pipeline of ideas to fuel innovation, increase rate of change and generate rapid return on investment.
In this context, many organisations are starting their innovation endeavours with only a focus on the ’future state’; undertaking vision and ideation sessions, capturing all that the organisation could achieve in the future. This can lead to frustration once ambitions cannot be realised based on current constraints across people, process and technology.
Whilst an organisation doesn’t want to limit innovative ideas, they may be at risk of setting a business or technology strategy that doesn’t recognise where they are today and the constraints and implications this places on their ‘future state’ vision and desired rate of change.
A more practical, pragmatic and mature approach is to focus on understanding the ‘art of the possible’ and actively challenging ‘current state’ constraints. This helps to determine a future vision based around the reality of what is achievable now and in the longer term, yet explores what levers the organisation can pull to reduce any tension ‘current state’ constraints may place on strategy execution (i.e. rate of change). In short, the organisation understands it is always in ‘current state’.
By adopting the mindset that the organisation exists, lives and breathes in a continuously changing ‘current state’, business and technology strategy can be viewed as the means to responding to ‘current state’ changes. It uses insight to adapt, pivot and respond quickly (agility, rate of change), whilst anticipating and planning for future unknowns (scale, need for change). Doing so builds confidence and momentum that current actions are aligned to future ambitions.
Such an organisation approaches ongoing strategic change not as a once-off exercise, but rather as an iterative process which must address immediate issues of today and take hold of new opportunities as they arise. The ‘future state’ is a vision, a dream, a ‘narrative for tomorrow’ – a guide, not a perfect plan, to navigate the organisation through opportunities and constraints as they become uncovered.
Navigating the ‘current state’ and its associated constraints is like browsing through an online map. You can gain a detailed ‘street view’ of your journey, but also ‘zoom out’ to understand the broader context in which you are travelling; adjusting your route to best deal with changing conditions as they occur.
By viewing the business world in this dynamic manner, organisations can position themselves to quickly and easily divert from ‘plan A’ to ‘plan B’ or ‘plan C’ as needed. This ability to change is not failure. Indeed, it is the opposite, as it represents a ‘best fit’ path approach to deal with the constant uncertainty associated with doing business, allowing divestment and allocation of resources to drive business and technology change where required.
Creating ‘future state only’ strategies that assume ‘certainty’ about how your world will look in five, or even three years, have little chance of surviving intact. Create a vision which understands where you are today, yet challenges what you are capable of becoming – avoiding focusing on (and investing in) unattainable or unrealistic views of the future. By doing this, you may find your organisation is significantly better positioned for success.