The best way to explain what Futures Thinking is all about, is by looking at some examples in the past that led to the concept now being an essential piece to any company looking to survive long term in today’s market.
In 2007, Nokia was earning more than half of all of the profits in the cell phone industry. In 2008, it was seen as one of the most valuable brands in the world.
Fast forward only five years, Nokia was sold to Microsoft for a measly $7.2 billion and that was considered an achievement in of itself as some scoffed at Microsoft taking a gamble on a company that was rapidly in decline.
In 2000, Blockbuster had an opportunity to buy Netflix for $50 million but passed up on it. To put that into perspective, last year, Netflix reached record profits particularly during the pandemic and was valued at $194 billion.
Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy in August of 2020 to try and wipe out $1billion of debt.
In 1975, Steve Sasson, a Kodak engineer developed the first digital camera. They declared bankruptcy in 2012.
“Futures Thinking is a method for informed reflection on the major changes that will occur in the next 10, 20 or more years in all areas of social life, including education. Futures Thinking uses a multidisciplinary approach to pierce the veil of received opinion and identify the dynamics that are creating the future.” —OECD
Those are three examples of heavy hitters on the market getting completely wiped out, some over just a range of five years, some more. Nonetheless, the pattern is clear, no one is safe in an ever-changing market.
Each one of them made more or less the same mistakes, and it cost them dearly.
Vince Barabba, is an American market researcher, author, former head of the United States Census Bureau, and the chairman and co-founder of Market Insight Corporation.
In his book, “The Decision Loom”, he argues that there are four interrelated capabilities that are essential for efficient decision making of any corporate organization:
- Having an enterprise mindset that is open to change.
- Thinking and acting holistically.
- Being able to adapt the business design to changing conditions.
- Making decisions interactively using a variety of methods.
In the case of the three businesses mentioned earlier, some of them had none of these four principles, some had a few, and some had all but failed to act on them.
This is all to culminate into one simple conclusion; being a futures thinker is crucial, now more than ever.
It allows for so much more creativity in how to read reality.
The problem with predictions and decision making, is that they depend almost entirely on reading the terrain so to speak of the world. But what happens if the terrain itself shifts?
Futures thinking creates space for the growth of a mindset that allows for changes and understanding of the major contributing factors of any decision-making process can change.
This covers all industries, policy making, communities and social trends.
Instead of being narrow minded, or even instead of simply trying to predict the future based on the now, Futures Thinking allows you to better understand how the future may shift. This opens up tons of possibilities so it’s not a support tool for accurate predictions.
However, without it, your predictions wouldn’t even be in the same vicinity as what would later actually happen.
To sum up, it’s not about forecasting what will come next, it’s about having the foresight to understand how basic systemic factors can come to change.
The concept itself is still evolving since the 20th century and will continue to do so. For now, it’s important to pay attention, because if we don’t learn lessons from the mistakes of others, we will no doubt repeat them ourselves.