Guessing Ahead with The Futurist

Guessing Ahead with The Futurist

The Pentagon, I am told, has a good working relationship with Disney and other purveyors of a caricatured life. I still remember the time when my then boss wagered me that we would never have a fax facility. Remember the fax? If you are very young you probably won’t. It came and went so quickly. Forecasting, as Herman Kahn once told me, is difficult, especially about the future.

Business still has to plan.  I notice the repeated statements of gurus who say you cannot plan in such a volatile world. Maybe you can’t, but you must. Every commanding officer knows that his or her plans will never work out exactly – or even nearly –  as s/he intended. They will also tell you that not to plan is to die. There are two reasons for this. First, knowing where you are going in a battle, as in every aspect of life, is what makes it possible for you to get there. Second, the very job of planning is how you sort out your options – and the maneuvers you will make if what you want doesn’t immediately happen as you want it to.

Given that change is so fast, that new algorithms and processes arrive every day, every hour, it is necessary to ‘Guess Ahead’. Just as a plan won’t work out exactly how you want it to, so Guessing Ahead won’t forecast all the opportunities and problems you will confront in the future. You’d better have a go, though. We all know that if you don’t try you can’t succeed. How can you tackle this?

Big companies will have their own Guessers Ahead, people employed to foresee the future. SMEs cannot afford that expertise full time but they can and should have it available too. One of the reasons SMEs don’t grow is because they’re so committed to the present that they cannot see what opportunities are coming. Let me give you a tiny example, The jobing printer will be with us for some time yet. His work is being reduced by the urgent need to avoid hard copies and do everything by internet with soft copy. Soft copies will still need design, even more so as they fight for attention with hard copies. Jobbing printers should consider going into design.

Small jobbing printers should certainly have access to Guessers Ahead, or, as I call them, Futurists. The need is not just for SMEs. In big companies the centrally employed Futurist will be concentrating on the big picture, probably mostly on acquisitions and sales to balance the portfolio of the business. Individual departments, for example engineering, will want a look ahead that allows them to prepare for the next stage of development. How can they get access to the data they need if they cannot afford a full time Futurist?

Universities and Polytechnics have resources waiting to be used for a modest contribution to their costs. A simple agreement will give you access to expertise at least as good as your big competitors. In businesses both in the UK and in Singapore I used these resources frequently. I found them thoroughly practical. They realised that as a business I was more interested in what I could apply to increase efficiency and, as a result, profits. I realised that they had papers to write and theses to complete.

We found many comfortable compromises which provided them with their needs and me with mine at modest cost. In particular I found the Polytechnics especially practical since they were not so close to the theory of what we were doing. A side bonus for me was that I got to see members of the next cohort of employees and had the pick of the best before they went on the market. In a few cases I found young people who were really interested in the work we were doing. They made the best recruits and a fair bit of their induction had already been done by the time they joined us.

It is in these places that the future Futurists are to be found. They are computer savvy, mathematically sound and interested enough to want to seek out the potential of the future. They will be curious by background. Their ambitions will be as high as anyone’s at their age but they will be prepared to work for them to be achieved. I anticipate great help for business from academia in the coming years. The ground has been well prepared by big business. Now is the opportunity for SMEs to cultivate it.

It is one world. Resources-saving is making that very clear. One man’s waste is another man’s energy. Such compatibility is true in human resources, too. I shall write more about how this can be better achieved without the boxes and processes limiting people’s scope and growth at present. A ‘letting go’ is simply another’s opportunity. Your suppliers are not the people who bill you for work. They are your team.

Your real suppliers are everyone you don’t yet know.

In the game of hide and seek, you’d better be ahead with the seeking.

You haven’t scratched the surface yet.