Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Understanding future conditions is vital to create innovative solutions

I'm just wrapping up another project that's focused on trend spotting and scenario planning, working to help a client company understand the emerging competitive conditions their business will face in the next 5-7 years.

While foresighting, trend spotting and scenario planning are exceptionally valuable, many innovation projects simply ignore the benefits they can receive from doing this work.  Instead innovators plunge in to create the products and services they believe customers need.  This approach is why so many innovation projects fail to deliver value - no matter how compelling the innovative product you create is, if the circumstances or environmental conditions change, consumers and their needs will change as well.  To create a really compelling product or service, you need to be able to understand or predict the future conditions and tailor your innovation to those conditions.

Why understanding the future is so important

Many potential customers tell me they'd like to understand the future - in fact they'd pay good money for a forecast that is highly probable.  However they don't believe they are good at predicting what might happen and therefore don't spend time trying, or worse they simply assume the future will be an awful lot similar to current conditions.  They are often shocked when we demonstrate how rapidly customers, technologies, needs and conditions are changing.

Of course it's possible to create a compelling product or service and have it well-received in the market without doing foresighting or scenario planning, it's just much more likely that you'll miss evolving needs or opportunities and the product you create will fall flat.  If we accept that people acquire goods and services to fulfill "jobs to be done" or to satisfy needs, then we must also accept that jobs and needs are fungible and change over time, and that new entrants and new substitutes arise all the time.  Ignoring future conditions that will shape needs, wants and especially ability to pay is a recipe for disaster.

Insightful yet inexpensive

Further, foresighting and trend spotting when done correctly creates an opportunity to gather insights on what might happen and how the company should be prepared to act.  Foresighting is valuable to understand emerging needs, but also useful to understand emerging threats and opportunities.  Doing this work is relatively simple with good participation and facilitation, and creates insights that shape your innovation activities.  It is powerful and insightful, while also being a relatively inexpensive investment.

Its importance and value are increasing

Foresighting and trend spotting are becoming ever more important, as the nature of change is changing and the rate of change is increasing.  Digital transformation will create disruptive change in many companies and will create new types of demand.  New generations of consumers are emerging with different concepts about acquisition and ownership.  Understanding the evolving future and identifying emerging needs before or as they happen is more important than getting a new feature on an existing product which may be obsolete or unnecessary by the time you get the new feature installed.

Practicing the Future

Instead of wandering blindly into the emerging future, you should be practicing it regularly.  Conducting trend spotting and scenario planning activities won't guarantee a perfect understanding of the future, but can give you good insights into emerging market conditions and the potential for new segments, new customers and importantly new threats or competitors.  Having seen how things may unfold will prepare you to put new capabilities in place and to anticipate when the tipping point arrives.

If you want to understand how to do this work well, or need help doing a foresighting or scenario planning activity, contact us.  We have tremendous experience doing this work and identifying the emerging opportunities that will shape future innovation.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 10:08 AM


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