How will your company be relevant in the years to come?
A past client of mine recently asked me to review their financials. I am proud of them for maintaining a strong bottom line in the years after I helped them turn things around.
What I said next shocked them.
“The good news is that your gross profit percentage has been extremely consistent over the past three years. The bad news is that your gross profit percentage hasn’t improved.”
Most companies would respond by explaining that their business hasn’t changed so why should the results?
That is exactly why we don’t settle for the results we’re getting. Ever.
If we don’t continually imagine the future of our businesses, we will relive our past mistakes.
Prevention Isn’t the Answer
Many business advisors talk about future-proofing your business. They advocate taking the steps that forestall the inevitable challenges of being around a few more years.
In future-proofing you prevent customer attrition by upgrading your buying experience or introducing new products to replace old products.
What I want to advocate today is something different entirely.
Future-casting is how we make sure your proofing is relevant and durable.
Let me give you an example.
I recently bought a new truck with Apple CarPlay built-in. This is what I wanted and imagined five years ago. Back then I had to settle for bluetooth streaming, which was an attempt at future-proofing a product.
Today, what I want is for my truck to be the device. In other words, my phone is just one of the portable versions of me. CarPlay is that first step as it awkwardly mirrors my phone onto the truck media system.
By the time my truck can be the device, the future will have changed. Everything and anything will be our devices.
A product that gets us closer to the future will do better than one that maintains the status quo.
The Future That Should Happen But Won’t
When you future-cast, you imagine worlds that cannot exist today and probably won’t tomorrow.
They should exist, and that’s what matters.
By the time they could exist, the world will have changed such that a new future will need to be cast.
Our challenge as strategists is to figure out how to get closer to that potential future. Here’s an exercise for you and your team:
- Ask everyone to think about how they will want to do business as a buyer in twenty years. How will you shop, buy services, pick out clothing, get groceries, etc…? Note: The future horizon has to be far enough that there’s no debate about technical limitations.
- Everyone share their ideas.
- Curate the five or so most interesting and most likely futures.
- Next, apply each of those to your business. How will your customers buy, what will they buy, and where will they buy it?
- For each of those science fiction scenarios, identify the first two steps in that direction.
- Focus on the second steps. Those are your future-proof scenarios.
- Which of these steps would have a positive impact now?
Never mind how we do things now. Ignore how we will be doing things next year. Future-cast is about what happens after the foreseeable future.
Embrace the Sci-Fi of Your Business
Many, many years ago I saw my first moving light. It was called the Cyclops and toured with a band (Alabama I think) in the 1970’s.
It was clunky, not very bright, and kind of unreliable.
Fast forward a decade and a couple of generations of moving light. Michael Jackson is starting his Victory Tour and he’s rehearsing with a tracking device that allows the moving lights to follow him on stage.
This is what the users of the Cyclops could only dream about. The first step was building a moving light. The second step was being able to control it in real time. That second step is what defined the path to the tracking option.
What are your customers dreaming about? How can you get them closer to their Sci-Fi version of you?
Try this exercise at your next strategy session. I can’t wait to hear your ideas!
Tom Stimson MBA, CTS helps owners and management teams rediscover the fun and profit that comes from making better decisions about smarter goals. He is an expert on project-based selling and a thought leader for innovative business processes. Since 2006, Tom has successfully advised over two hundred companies and organizations on business strategy, process, marketing, and sales. Learn More at TRSTIMSON.COM