In today’s organization’s strategic or service development projects you hardly hear a word about foresight or futures research. If you do, you are probably dealing with professionals of the field. Typical scene in developing services or company strategies is that we tend to make our decisions based on current normative knowledge – and perhaps worse, with consensus driven mindset. We use too often “I know/I feel” -tool in critical points where instead we should useresearch material and insights about the topic in question. Organizations seem to lack knowledge on how to use foresight as part of development process. It is a powerful tool when used systematically, and when used efficiently it can give you the possibility to spot and develop new business innovations before competitors.
Foresight vs. Service Design process
Service design is all about seeing the big picture: Service design encourages companies to see the service in a customer centric way and increases understanding on how all stakeholders – direct or indirect – are connected to the service development and excellence. Service designers use various methods and techniques to gain “deep understanding” but one thing which is often missing is the knowledge of how to create futures material and how to apply it. In the end, futures thinking is needed in order to innovate and create new value offerings. It is one of the key ingredients, which definitely should be part of service design process or any development process where something novel is aimed at. But how to learn to use it?
How to use trends as a tool to see business opportunities
We had a course about Futures thinking and foresight, and as a part of the course we studied and practiced how to select a topic, collect data, see possible connections between the data and analyze it so that it can be formalized as a Trend card (trend description). Our group’s topic was Government and Politics. Other groups had topics like Health and Wellbeing and Retail and Media. Trend cards are tools to manifest the trend and with the categorized information it holds, it can be comparable to other trends. It is important to understand that trends are directions of change which are happening right now. Global, local or niche, they are still notable facts that are formed by monitoring (weak) signals of change.
In our last contact session we presented each group’s trend cards and with all collected trends information we created business implications and business opportunities to a selected familiar company. The purpose was to practice in groups how to use trend cards as part of business development process.
Group work example
In our group we chose F-Secure to be our case company to reflect the trend cards information and ultimately to find business implications and opportunities. We had altogether 20 Trend cards from different topics. We selected three trends which we noted to be suitable and interesting for F-Secure. The selected trends were eHealth, Data Security and One-of-a-kind Shopping. After short discussion about the chosen trends we started ideating using 10 min silent thinking with post-its and shared our individual ideas with the group. From this ideation we chose five most interesting implications or opportunities to do with for example data mining for possible data threads, secured online fitting room and doctors sharing patients information between different locations; countries etc. We prioritized implications based on their desirability from the customer point of view and from business capability point of view.
I have witnessed a situation where representatives from public sector organization refused to see the possibilities in using foresight in their field of services and decision-making. In this case the reluctance to see alternatives was so strong that even provided case example from other country but with the same situation was not enough to convince the power of effective foresight. I think the hardest part in using these given methods and tools are the fear of unknown and thus, the change from something old to new. However, we need to learn new ways of how we manage the needs now and understanding how rapidly those needs are changing especially in the public sector where innovation is truly required. The hardest part in change isn’t changing the world – it is us, humans.
I encourage organizations to get to know more about futures thinking and foresight by looking up the professionals in the field. It might be so that you can find professionals of futures research right next door. Use your senses, understand and create!
Service Innovation and Design Master student
Trend: Direction of change in the near past or from this moment, which is identifiable and likely to continue. Hiltunen, Elina. Matkaopas Tulevaisuuteen. Talentum, Helsinki 2012.
Weak Signals: Today’s information and phenomena that can be signals of change of the future. Hiltunen, Elina. Article: Good Sources of Weak Signals: A Global Study of Where Futurists Look For Weak Signals. Journal of Futures Studies, May 2008, 12(4): 21 – 44.
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