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PA OPINION

No one can predict 2019. But everyone can plan for it

Towards the end of each year, my inbox begins to fill up with messages from organisations offering up their predictions for the next year. As a futurist, people also often ask me what my own predictions are for 2019. This is a question that provides me with an opportunity to clear up a common misconception – in fact, good futurists rarely make predictions, and certainly not for a time horizon as soon as just a few weeks away.

Provocation not prediction

If you’re looking for a ‘p’ word for what futurists do, I much prefer ‘provocation’. Rather than trying to predict the near term, futurists want to help people and organisations to be more able to understand and influence change, and to be better prepared for an inherently uncertain and unpredictable future.

The way to do this is through techniques such as scenario planning, which allow for the contemplation of multiple alternative futures. By using such foresight tools, organisations can be better placed to respond to a range of possible future outcomes, rather than just those they favour or perceive to be most likely.

Looking further forward brings present actions into focus

Thinking about the future also involves stretching your thinking by pushing the time horizon forward by at least five years, and preferably more. After using foresight tools to carefully think about a range of these more distant future scenarios, you can explore the actions you need to take now to bring them about, and the implications for those involved.

Solutions to many of today’s most pressing problems demand looking further forward and beyond the day-to-day business-as-usual activities of this or next year. It’s only through taking a longer view that we can put in place effective plans and strategies for today that maintain organisational agility and responsive in a highly dynamic and volatile world.

So, I’m not going to make any predictions for 2019. Instead, here are three areas organisations can act on today to make themselves better able to adapt to any future.

Improving organisational agility

Agility is an essential part of being prepared for the future. Rapid technological and societal change mean organisations must evolve from traditional centralised command-and-control structures and embrace sustainable agility. This demands re-engineering the organisation for greater speed, anticipating disruption and responding to it more quickly. Agile is no longer just an approach to software development. It must run throughout the organisation.

We surveyed 500 leaders across a range of sectors and found a strong positive correlation between agile characteristics and financial performance. In fact, the top 10 per cent of organisations are 30 per cent more agile. We’ve also identified five pragmatic steps you can take now to improve your organisation’s agility – centre on your customer, speed up time to value, design for simplicity, build to evolve, and liberate your people. You can find out more by downloading our report.

Can old dogs learn ingenious new tricks?

Find out more

Exploiting your dark data

Organisations are acquiring data at unprecedented speed and scale. Much of this data remains unexplored and unused. And since it generates no actionable insights, its storage and management are effectively unnecessary overheads.

But there’s tremendous potential value to unlock in such dark data. To do so, organisations need to begin by asking three questions:

  1. What are the hunches or rules of thumb that you’ve always wanted to prove or disprove?
  2. What are the most important outcomes that you should drive with evidence-based decisions rather than gut-instinct?
  3. If you could experiment to combine a range of datasets to develop new insights, what would you combine and why would it be valuable to your board?

The answers to these questions might seem simple but the process to get there can be complicated. Organisations are often bound by assumptions, traditions and silos that make dark data difficult to understand. Our data scientists know that by using data you already own, we can generate new insights that improve performance, achieve growth and save money.

Embrace the Circular Economy

We recently saw scientists and nations come together at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Katowice, Poland. The prognosis looks bleak with dark warnings of the impending collapse of civilizations and the window for taking meaningful mitigating actions rapidly closing. Business-as-usual is no longer acceptable. Taking proactive measures to avoid climate change should now be at the top of the board agenda in every organisation.

There are, however, grounds for positivity. Smart companies are thinking about the opportunities and value that working more sustainably creates – the UN estimates sustainable business approaches will generate $12 trillion in value. Achieving this will need organisations to refocus entire product value chains on reusing, refurbishing and recycling; maximising the inherent value in products and by-products; reducing material and energy costs; and transitioning to the consumption of services rather than the purchase of assets.

Embracing this change is essential for maintaining a habitable planet for future generations and is great for business. It provides opportunities to build customer relationships, reduce costs, attract investment and build resilience. The Circular Economy really does bring big benefits across the globe.

Although I haven’t offered any predictions, hopefully I’ve given you some things to consider. Organisational agility, dark data and the Circular Economy are trends we’ve seen grow through 2018 and they’re certain to expand further next year. By keeping them at the forefront of planning, organisations will keep up with competitors and customers.

All the best for 2019 and beyond as we build a positive human future.

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