Psychologist R.D. Laing made this observation many years ago, yet his words still ring true, especially today when the pace of change continues to get faster. Let’s think about what he said, especially we begin to see the present only when it is already disappearing. Picture that. It’s like driving your car but instead of looking at the road right in front of you, you only look through the rear view mirror. So you only see things after you have already passed them! Fortunately nobody drives a car this way — but many people do drive organizations this way.
Looking at the past is something business leaders have been trained to do. We look at the previous quarter’s earnings to see how business is doing. We look at annual performance for the previous year to see how well the organization met its goals, and then we plan for the future based on information from the past. Of course, it can be helpful to learn from the past, but this should not be the extent of an organization’s learning and planning efforts.
When you look behind, you can see what has changed. But how much does that really help you plan for the future? When you’re driving, it’s not very helpful to see that the light you just went through is now red, especially if the one in front of you is turning yellow and will be red before you reach it. You might see that a car is following you too closely, but if all your attention is focused on that car you might go through a red light, or miss your turn, or even crash into a car in front of you. When you are driving, it’s important to be aware of all your surroundings, but the most important area for attention is what is in front of you — immediately, as well as down the road. Your destination is also important, unless you like driving around without going anywhere in particular.
The same is true for organizations. You have to have a specific destination, or goal, in mind. You have to drive the organization toward this goal, watching out for obstacles in the road in front of you, and anticipating issues that may come up further down the road. You have to be mindful that conditions might change, and you have to be ready to react quickly to those changes. As an organizational leader, you are in the driver’s seat. You can think of everyone else in the organization as the vehicle that gets you there, but without your direction they won’t know where to go, how fast or when to change course.
Many organizational leaders are too focused on the road behind them, or are always looking out the side window to see whether the competition is passing them. But it is only by looking forward, sometimes a far ahead, will they see not only obstacles but also opportunities that can lead to new value creation and innovation. Like a surprise shortcut or a rewarding side trip, these opportunities are only seen by those who are looking for them, and looking forward.
This ability to look forward and see opportunities is the process of strategic foresight. Strategic foresight helps you identify the global drivers and industry trends that are driving change, as well as how customer behavior is changing. With this information, you can plan for different scenarios — instead of merely reacting to change — and foresee customer needs before the competition does. It’s a skill that all organizational leaders must have if they hope to grow their organization organically through innovation.
imagecredit: 360institute & eternalblos.
Kamal Hassan is President and CEO of Innovation 360 Institute, an innovation management and operation advisory group based in Dubai. Mr. Hassan works with public and private organizations on business model innovation, innovation strategy, innovation project execution and organizational change. He leads international workshops on Business Model Innovation. www.i360institute.com.