Modern organizations are under considerable competitive pressure to produce new, sustainable and innovative products to serve their customers. At the same time, values and attitudes globally are changing toward more planet-centric and eco-friendly directions. This is putting pressure on the organinsations’ innovation capabilities and setting the bar higher to innovate by the day.
The process of innovation can be a difficult one and companies need to understand what their customers want. Growth alone is no longer a panacea and it is argued that the word growth needs to be re-framed completely. This is where corporate foresight can help to guide organizations and develop new sustainable innovation capabilities.
This article will take an in-depth look at the areas of futures thinking, corporate foresight and innovation capabilities. All of these areas come together to allow companies to create products and services that their customers want. They also enable them to keep up with the market and changing values. By using tools like the lean futures toolkit, companies can gain a competitive edge over their rivals, which can lead to a successful future.
WHY TO EXPLORE FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS?
Since the end of World War II, manufacturing industries and technology, in general, have changed at lightning speed. In particular, there have been major technological advances in the fields of telecommunications and computing. These developments have completely revolutionized our lives by facilitating how we communicate, share information and do business. In fact, the rise of the internet has altered all aspects of our lives. It has allowed businesses to move online and make their products available worldwide.
The speed of change in the modern world means that businesses need to work hard to keep up. Therefore, it’s essential that they try to understand how future changes will affect them. A study by René Rohrbeck and Menes Etingue Kum states that businesses that are future-prepared are, on average, 33% more profitable than their rivals. By using corporate foresight, businesses can build future thinking processes into their everyday methods. The result is that these corporate foresight abilities allow the business to continually anticipate change and be more resilient.
HOW CAN DIFFERENT FUTURES BE RESEARCHED?
We can define ‘foresight’ as the ability to make judgments about what might happen in the future and to make plans based on these judgments. In the corporate arena, using foresight methodologies allow businesses to collect and analyze inputs of data, analyze and interpret that data using a systematic framework and plan as well as strategize for the future accordingly.
Using business foresight methods lets the company look at the future from different angles by using scientific methods from different fields and for instance combining quantitative and qualitative data. The objective is not to predict the future but to reframe probable outcomes so that they can be evaluated. The end goal is to highlight areas where there are gaps in knowledge and where innovation can occur.
‘Horizon scanning’ is a popular tool that is often used for corporate foresight as a method from future studies. Horizon scanning detects and assesses emerging trends and gathers information on potentially important developments. Part of this scanning process involves competitive intelligence and technology intelligence.
When undertaking competitive intelligence gathering, companies acquire information on their competitors, customers and markets to look for trends and recent developments. With technology intelligence gathering, the aim is to identify threats and opportunities in the technology world. All of this information is analyzed and used to create strategic plans.
Another example of a popular future study method and corporate foresight tool is ‘backcasting’, where a team starts from the point of a desirable future and they work back from there to the present. They see how each step affects the organization or product so that they can define each point that will take them to their desired goal. Backcasting shouldn’t be confused with forecasting which involves the prediction of the future, which is not the goal of foresight.
FORESIGHT INFORMS STRATEGIC PLANNING
Gathering data and analyzing it is a very useful process. However, a vital part of the process is deciding what to do with the results. The organization needs to use the findings to put in place strategic plans that can lead to company success.
Strategic plans can be either short-term, medium-term or long-term and can involve gradual shifts in direction or a complete restructuring. The ultimate purpose of these plans is to move the organization into the best position for the future, allowing it to innovate so that it can keep up with the market.
This room to innovate is a crucial part of planning. For example, if a new technology is under development, a company might need to recruit specialists in that area. Therefore, the strategic plan needs to include the budget for new staff, space for them to work and any other additional requirements.
A comprehensive strategic plan allows a company to set out clear goals and deliverables. These goals give the organization a way of measuring the progress and success of that plan. By having clear milestones, they can judge if everything is going well or if the plan needs to be changed. This ensures that the company is responsive and flexible, so opportunities for further change are not missed.
CORPORATE FORESIGHT IMPROVES A COMPANY’S INNOVATION CAPABILITIES
Having good ideas is a really useful thing, but what happens if you can never implement them? An organization’s innovation capabilities are really its ability to generate new ideas and put them into practice. If a company is slow to innovate, it can mean that it will fall behind its competitors and lose its market share. Therefore, successful organizations must have the ability to adapt to change quickly. Using foresight methodologies, future needs can be anticipated and structures can be put in place to capitalize on these changes.
If a company fosters an environment that encourages innovation, it will be able to adapt to the surrounding changes. Companies that encourage innovation often have open communication channels between departments, encourage a creative climate and promote innovative thinking. They use futures thinking techniques and scenario analysis to highlight areas where innovation opportunities can be created. By using effective innovation management, they increase their innovation capabilities and create a more resilient company.
In today's competitive world, companies need every advantage they can gain to get ahead of their competitors — and to stay ahead. By using effective corporate foresight tools, they acquire insight into key events and developments. This insight can be used to create an effective corporate strategy that allows innovation to occur. The ability to innovate makes a company more adaptable, resilient and ultimately more profitable.
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