Andrew Curry writes:
Fast Company has an article this week on how brands anticipate the future, and our chairman, J. Walker Smith, was one of three industry experts the magazine spoke to. In short, the theme of the article was that you can’t predict the future, but you can anticipate it. The writer, Mark McNeilly, quotes some work from Kantar Futures’ history as an instance of this: Mastercard’s ‘Priceless’ campaign, built on an insight that consumers were redefining success to be about the intangible (experiences) rather than material (stuff).
And although McNeilly suggests that it wasn’t possible to ‘predict’ the financial crisis, we described to clients in 2005 the key ingredients that were already shaping to create such a crisis – heavy consumer debt, negative savings rates, and increasingly high oil prices – even if the timing was harder to get right.
McNeilly suggests that companies that want to improve their future should understand how business models are changing, both inside and outside of their category and sector, and should use trends and futures insight to shape new products and services. (As in the famous Wayne Gretzky line, “Skate where the puck is going, not where it’s been.”)
And he has some rules of thumb for picking an a future insights agency, which I’ve summarised here:
- It Looks Outside Its Industry Firms that focus on only one industry may miss developments outside their purview that either could heavily impact your industry or provide new business approaches to follow.
- It Can Work Both Fast & Slow “Culture operates at two speeds–fast and slow,” says Terry Young [of agency sparks & honey]. “Monitoring macro trends helps companies build an arsenal of content that is ready to adjust to emerging trends, memes, or breaking news.”
- It Gets to the “So What” Make sure that whomever you are looking to for help can provide what you need to get to the “So Here’s What We Do Now.”
- It Doesn’t Get Carried Away Remember how Segway was going to hit $1 billion in sales faster than any other company in history? As Walker Smith says, “While your head is in the clouds you need to keep your feet on the ground.” (From a Futures Company perspective, the way you do that is to look at the 360 degree picture of how change happens – some layers of change, such as infrastructure or social behaviour, are slower than others.)