Upon first hearing about the merger between Whole Foods and Amazon, my immediate thought was "Wow. Years from now this may be the disruptor we never saw coming!" Now, this partnership could mean a major shift in consumer behavior and the ways we consume food. It also has huge implications that will play out through the lens of the STEEP drivers: society, technology, the environment, economics and policy. Imagine the new applications for IOT (the internet of things) that could make food more accessible or the ways in which small and local food enterprises could scale. Even the unintended consequences and effects on commercial real estate are interesting to ponder. And what happens to social behaviors such as the age-old exchange of gossip and information at the town market and bazaar?
We all know that the future of our business is rooted in present-day choices and decisions. However, actually investing in hires such as a vice-president of foresight or committing to those sorts of research activities as line items in our budgets is rare. Organizations like The Institute for the Future, publications like Cool Hunting and futurists such as Faith Popcorn and Lidewij Edelkoort are all examples of resources that cultivate being adept at paying attention to the present-state in order to anticipate what's around the corner.
Signals are evident when you have a visceral reaction to phenomena that is not yet a trend. For example: Malia Obama's gap year may signal a trend which higher education and even the financial services industry should be mindful. Or, racially-ambiguous models in advertising may have been signals to our current political discourse and the larger conversations trending today about "intersectionality" - something that Grant McCracken calls "multiplicity". These are very important phenomena for marketing specialists to keep in the forefront of their minds.
A robust forecast will help you build better strategy. Key takeaways about being future-minded and paying attention to the mundane are as follows:
· The Present-Future Paradox. Being future-minded paradoxically requires you to be rooted in the present. William Gibson, a speculative fiction writer said "The future is already here- it's just not evenly distributed."
· Question, Question! Forecast research is about building your skill set in framing really good and provocative questions. Twenty-five years ago we would have thought that an electric car was absurd. As Jim Dator, Director of the Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies, said, "Any useful statement about the future should at first seem ridiculous."
· Intuition is a Tool for Strategy. I define intuition as pattern recognition. Signals for foresight work can be more easily recognized if you practice paying attention to your intuition.
Ultimately, signals in other sectors seemingly remote from your own can have cascading effects in your business. Being future-oriented requires you to get comfortable with ambiguity. Therefore, while you may work in the automotive sector, do pay attention to the Amazon-Whole Foods merger. Most insights are right in front of our noses.