While no one is claiming it was possible to predict the COVID-19 pandemic if the past year has taught us anything – it’s the value of horizon scanning and building strategic foresight and futures into business planning. In an age of Big Data many organisations have let their inherent capacity for foresight weaken, relying instead on past performance, or costly analytics that are mostly backward looking. Like pedestrians who over-rely on their smartphone’s maps, many companies have seen their organisational ability to read the landscape atrophy.
2020 has provided a harsh wake-up call that this anticipatory sensibility needs to be reawakened, and reinvigorated. In these turbulent times, the desire to get the future ‘right’ needs to be set aside in favour of practicing future awareness—by cultivating a systematic approach to collecting and making sense of environmental and broad market signals, and practicing the lost art of frequently playing out the “So what, then what?” implications of these signals.
Too often today, leaders in business, government and other sectors feel compelled to solve the whole puzzle, or maintain the costly pretension that they have the answer to all uncertainties. Worse yet, they get caught out trying to predict or arrive at a high-probability forecast for which many variables have yet to be uncovered. The number of organisations clamouring to know exactly what the world would look like when COVID-19 was ‘over’, assumed to be in months, was understandable when the pandemic began unfolding earlier in 2020. Yet, many jumped to scenarios and models that lacked substance, beyond presenting fuzzy archetypes many years out, or detailed but incorrect predictions. The smartest organisations planned for what they could know, and focused more effort on isolating and researching what they didn’t or couldn’t yet know. They worked, and still work, to solve the puzzle in part through investing in better insights and experimentation.