Cut the corners first – Harness the power of futures thinking

mediaentertainment signal board

“Futures are about knowledge. We must be inspired about futures. Futures are also about storytelling. “ explained lecturers Minna Koskelo and Anu K. Nousiainen.

In the course Futures thinking and foresights methodologies we learned how futures thinking is linked to service design and how it can be applied in business. Through hands-on workshops lot of new things were learnt and here are some key learning points.

Decision-making boosted up with futures foresights

Futures foresight methods can help companies to make right decisions to captivate their own blue ocean strategies. When identifying preferable futures and setting trend indicators to follow, companies can improve decision-making. Futures insights offers companies more flexibility to the strategy, support their risk management and produce new business ideas.

There is not just one future, but a whole range of possibilities. Futures foresight is a process of observing current world, finding new curves of change and seeking for opportunities of tomorrow. It is not just about guessing and predicting, but it is systematic approach that combines multiple fields and methods in order to produce proposals of possible, probable and preferable futures, which organizations can use to make right decisions.

Futures research is a combination of intuition and documented information. It is a creative discipline. There are various frameworks of futures foresight process where one can choose the most suitable one and it can be applied in the innovation process together with service design methods.

Trends and signals: hints of new business opportunities

Many companies are too focused on the operational matters and they are unable to ride the waves of chance. Instead of investing on what is about to come, they invest on what is already visible and therefore possibly heavily competed. As Blue ocean strategy implies, higher profit margins are available when the focus is on uncharted waters.

To excel also in the future, companies must learn how to recognize these trends and signals, and to build their strategies based on them. Futures foresight methods are therefore part of the strategy process.

Mega-trends are dominant and important trends that will shape the future. Mega-trends are shaping the business environment, but are rarely that kind that companies can utilize to become a forerunner. Trends are something new or different, which has a significant impact on the culture, society or business sector. They can occur when least expected. Trends can also have different sizes of impacts.  Global trends are changes across the globe and cultural trends are changes in values and attitudes of people. Behavioral trends are changes in practices, patterns and models.

For the trends there can be first weak signals, which are something happening before it is clearly visible. Organizations can recognize emerging signals and react accordingly with specifically created monitoring system. For each possible futures scenario specific indicators are set, which help organizations to identify what is the following scenario. According to Hiltunen, one way to test weak signal is to test them with coffee table conversation. If the topic makes people laugh, make people opposite it, makes people wonder, no one has heard about it or if something is a taboo, it might be a weak signal.

Kone: futures thinking over the horizon

Course offered great opportunity to hear and learn from the Design Director Dr. Anne Stenros of  Kone who shared us how to apply futures foresight in order to create winning designs.

“Those who create maps, they have the power” – Dr. Anne Stenroos told us referring to the history of maps and navigation in her powerful and inspiring lecture.

With futures foresights Kone collects vast amount of information, which is used to find possible futures. She told us that biggest megatrend right now is urbanization. Growth possibilities are strongest in Asia.  In Kone they are constantly forecasting trends (for 1-5 years ahead), scenarios (for 5-15 years) and utopias (for 15-50 years).

“In global business we try to be always the first to cut the corner” she explained and told us that the aim of their futures thinking is to create tangible from the intangible, and to use the knowledge of trends to create new winning designs.

Aim of their company is not to be nice and good, but to be the best in the world. To do so there has to be strong strategy, focusing and persistence.

“Heavier the battle is, the better it is”.

“There are a lot of storms on the way to excellence.” she said using the metaphors from the marine racing. “Wisdom is not to think you know everything” she said and continued that to achieve excellence there has to be good team with right people in it: “You can be in a safe place, when you are with dedicated people who know what they do. Star designers are not the answer in windy places. You need competent people and core competences in the team.”

“You have to have passion and to be stubborn, and have your own insights” Dr. Anne Stenroos encouraged us.

The design team has to have shared vision, which is in line with the organization’s strategy. “There are so many unbelievable things on the way of your vision”. As innovation leader one has to take the role to make enough noise to create enough space for the team to operate and to have enough support from the directors.

15/30 Research: What does the youth think now and futures?

Researcher Pauli Komonen from 15/30 Research agency shared us various different business case of how trend research can be applied in practice. Their research agency is especially focused on the youth  research and they present  their offerings also online. These reports can help their customers to build solutions that meet tomorrow’s demand, such as their recent customer case where aim was to find what are next trends in chewing gum tastes.

At the end Pauli Komonen challenged us to keep our mind open for the field of futures thinking:

“Awareness of trends and futures makes you a more interesting person, because you have something new to tell every time.”

Trends from our futures foresight workshop

clustering signals

Our group works produced interesting futures foresight from various fields. First we had to collect signals, then to cluster and analyze them.

For government and politics one group found trend that pointed out increasing need for data security (See news). Also there is a trend of increasing power of inter-state companies over government power and also trend of citizen’s empowerment, which included focused on local issues rather than global issues. In retailing increasing trends are “one of a kind shopping”, self-service everywhere and brands shaped by people (See Brandalism). Also as trends were recognized  downshifting (or at least slowing down) and nomadism. With the development of technology there will be more capable of robotic machines (also possibly killer robots). In media and entertainment emerging trends were technologies as human extensions, living and creating virtual realities and exploring senses technology. Emerging trends in health and well-being were capturing dreams, having speed up exercises and plastic surgeries in third world countries. Also active seniors were spotted as one trend.

After words

The course opened up entirely new field, which I plan to study further. With the futures foresight methods companies can find competitive advantages and ride the waves of favorable futures.

Text by Laurea SID student Erkki Salo

This blog post was created as an assignment in SID course:Futures thinking and futures foresight methodologies.

Recommendable readings:

– Establishing Futures Thinking understanding in your own organization. http://virtual.vtt.fi/virtual/proj3/innorisk/ispim2007_30042007.pdf
– INNORISK: The Fountain of New Business Creation. Corporate Foresight Group CoFi/ Åbo Akademi University. Turku. http://virtual.vtt.fi/virtual/proj3/innorisk/Innorisk_final_report_2009.pdf

– Weak Signal Research, Part IV: Evolution and Growth of the Weak Signal to Maturity. Journal of Transition Management. Internet: http://mgtaylor.com/mgtaylor/jotm/winter97/wsrmatur.htm.

– Weak Signals in Organizational Futures Learning. Aalto University. http://epub.lib.aalto.fi/pdf/diss/a365.pdf

Interesting online tools:

– Visualize your professional network: http://inmaps.linkedinlabs.com/

– Visualize your online media consumption: https://www.scoopinion.com/

More about futures foresights from our lecturers:

– https://sidlaurea.com/2012/09/30/service-design-meets-futures-thinking/
– https://sidlaurea.com/2012/10/29/service-design-meets-futures-thinking-2/
https://sidlaurea.com/2012/12/07/service-design-meets-futures-thinking-3/

One thought on “Cut the corners first – Harness the power of futures thinking

  1. Pingback: Foresight is part of Service Innovations | Service Innovation & Design

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s