This is a second in a series of four posts regarding what Strategic Foresight can do for you. I draw my inspiration from The Futures School by Kedge and their teachings. This post is about innovation.
Innovation. Everybody talks about it and everybody invokes its pull towards a progressive future, however, very few people can operationalize it or understand its true meaning. The Kedge Futures School reminds us that the process is much like a rubber band tied to a post. it will stretch but it always snaps back. The post that holds the rubber band in place acts as an anchor and it invokes the idea “we’ve always done it this way”. Change becomes incremental and perhaps not bold enough to create real change and real results.
In economic development change and innovation is difficult. It takes a long time for change to take place. Years of “this is the way we ‘ve always done it” is hard to change even though the way we’ve done it hasn’t resulted in anything but perhaps marginal success. It may be years, maybe decades before a change takes place. Greg Satell in an article in INC. says there is a “tradeoff between innovation and optimization”. He found in researching his book Mapping Innovation that there are no common characteristics of those who have pursued innovation. Innovators come in all sizes and shapes. Satell says “What I did find was that all great innovators actively seek out new problems to solve. In other words, they not only continue to hone their existing processes and practices, they go actively look for areas where they can make an impact. These are, by definition, highly speculative and hard to predict, with lots of blind alleys and wrong turns, but they pay off in the end.”
This may very well be the best argument for the use of strategic foresight in the process of innovation. To carry out a strategic foresight process one must first develop the focal point or primary question. In other words, one might ask, “what is the future of our regional economy?” A broad question, yes, but one that will find you going down “blind alleys, taking wrong turns, that pay off in the end”.
Again, from the Kedge Futures School, “Foresight works to expand your thinking and widen the realm of possibility…you move past iteration toward truly transformative and disruptive solutions.
Having a goal of being an innovative company might not be justified without truly understanding the impact of innovation on your company. Forbes contributor Marco Annunziata says that “Innovation is alive and well; it is just more unequally distributed.”If that is the case, what does this mean for your company or organization? Those companies that invest in productivity, for instance, may be more successful, yet this might mean the investment in innovation causes disruptions in the workforce. A reduction in force may cause further inequalities in the company, thus in the community.
Strategic Foresight will help you deal with these unforeseen outcomes. Again Annunziata says, “The key to faster productivity growth is the ability to combine new technologies with the right human capital and to change a firm’s operations, processes and managerial practices to exploit the new opportunities. This is a lot harder than buying newer, better machines. And this is where few firms today succeed and most end up lagging behind.”
With strategic foresight exploiting new opportunities may become clearer an innovation can be conducted with plausible scenarios in mind. You don’t want that rubber band snapping back in your face without a plan; a plan that considers several different futures.
What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts and comments.