Monday, October 30, 2006

Memories of the future

In a recent white paper considering the future of work by the Orange Future Enterprise Coalition, I stumbled across what has to be an undiscovered Philip K Dick novel title - memories of the future. The white paper, entitled The Way to Work by the Orange Future Enterprise Coalition - uses future scenario planning to look at four different scenarios for the ways we are likely to work in the future.

On the whole, the work is well done and deserves a separate post, which I'll provide in a day or two. One of the ideas in the white paper was so compelling I thought I needed to highlight it first. That was the concept of a "memory of the future".

What the authors meant by this was that companies that take steps to understand change and embrace the future before it arrives through scenario planning and careful consideration of the various likely scenarios will "rehearse" the future many times before it actually happens. This rehearsal will improve the anticipation of the events and the speed of the response. A memory of the future occurs when you recognize something as it is about to happen as something you've seen or done before, because you've practiced it or rehearsed it previously.

What the authors mean by this is that firms that spend time thinking about the future and the firm's likely role in those possible futures will be able to adapt and innovate more naturally because they've already rehearsed the things that are going to happen. This is something similar to the old saw that practice makes perfect, only in this case we are practicing things that may (or may not) happen at some point in the future, to prepare for them in case they do happen. If you think about the things you do well at work, they are probably things you do repeatedly and frequently. How often do you innovate frequently and repeatedly? Would you be better at it if you practiced? Could you identify trends and react quickly to them if you had a chance to constantly evaluate the future and examine different scenarios? I have to believe the answer is yes.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 7:13 PM

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Blogger practicalpsychologist said...

The idea of scenario planning has been with us forever but was made real as a core business unit by Shell in the early seventies. They scenario planned different futures for the oil industry - one of which was the massive hike in the price of oil (which happened in 73 - sounds familiar!) because they had scenario planned this they were able to respond quickly and grab a big market share. Anglo-American had a very successful scenario planning dept led by Clem Sunter in South Africa.

Other organisations tend to go more for strategic planning rather than scenario planning and of course there must be room for both.

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