What If? 5 Forward Thinking Ways to Identify Future Trends

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By Lisa Bodell for BizLibrary

The phrase “forward thinking” appears on plenty of résumés these days, as well as in the core values of companies. But in the innovation space, “forward thinking” refers to a formal process of looking toward the future to identify and capitalize on opportunities.

My innovation-training firm, futurethink, has worked with organizations like Novartis and Hilton Worldwide to formalize their process for forward thinking. No matter the size of your own company, forward thinking is both an essential and achievable exercise. Start by considering these five best practices:

1. Make the future tangible
Twice a year, German conglomerate Siemens publishes a print and digital edition of “Pictures of the Future,” a magazine which highlights technologies that will shape our lives in the next 10 to 20 years. Siemens uses these findings to showcase its vision of the world, as well as inform its innovation decisions.

While a glossy biannual publication may not be relevant to your organization, you can still channel Siemens’ forward thinking spirit through an exercise called S.T.E.E.P.

Task your product team with identifying key Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental, and Political (S.T.E.E.P.) forces that will likely impact your organization. Distribute the S.T.E.E.P. list internally and use it to generate forward thinking ideas from the company at large.

2. Conduct annual scenario-planning
Shell Oil Company uses “what if?” scenario-planning to consider a range of plausible futures and how these could emerge from the realities of today. In order to inform the company’s business decisions, Shell’s scenarios teams consider such changes as the global economic environment, geopolitics, water availability, greenhouse gases, and energy supply/demand.

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