An Essential Role You Need To Fill: Corporate Futurist
Whose job is it in your organization to look at the far future? Whose job is it to look out 5-10 years and determine where your company will be, where the world will be, where your customers will be?
Some people might say, well, its the CEO’s job of course. It’s the CEO’s job to look at those futures – map out the companies strategy – and then steer the ship in that direction. Others may say it is the CTO’s job, especially if the company is technology focused, to take a look at the future of technology, and map our those strategies (in concert with the rest of the C-suite of course) and then take that direction.
Other’s may say its the CMO’s job, or the CSO’s job.
In my experience, typically no one in the C-suite, no matter the size of the company (although in some really forward-thinking startups) really does think that far out in reality. You would be hard pressed to find anyone in the C-suite truly thinking more than a few quarters out. Everyone in leadership typically stays in the short-term mode.
Not that there is anything wrong with that, its crucial that most of the leadership of the company steer it in this way since, at the moment, everyone seems to be focused on short-term revenues and costs. But without a corporate futurist, someone who is continually looking forward beyond this short term, then your company is likely not ready for that future.
I’m sure that you’ve read Clayton Christensen’s seminal work on innovation, The Innovator’s Dilemma, and maybe subsequent books as well. One of the things that struck me hard while I was reading that book is that I couldn’t understand how seemingly blind the senior leadership of these companies were to the impeding future – simple because they couldn’t conceive of that future.
As I was reading, I thought to myself – was there really no one in these companies thinking beyond 2 or 3 shipments out? Was there really no one mapping out future scenarios of the market and competitors? Was there really no one thinking about ways to move the company into those futures?
If any of those companies had a corporate futurist on staff, they would have been able to warn the senior leadership of the possibility of disruption (of course, heeding those warnings are another thing altogether). Its the job of the futurist to think further out – to map out those possible futures – and present them to the leadership for action. A good futurist “lives” in the future, not just in the future of your industry, but the future of the world, and can provide insight and guidance which you may not be able to find in the halls of senior leadership.
Since the futurist is free from delivering product and meeting current goals, they have the ability to truly map out possible directions for the company. They can provide insights no one else can, as they can work outside of the cultural and technical constraints of the company.
If you don’t already have a corporate futurist, you may not be doomed, but you won’t be as fully informed of the possible challenges which may be coming your way.
You can hire the services of a futurist to help develop scenarios or find an innovator within your company to take on that role. Free them of the day-to-day delivery, and let them build possible scenarios and futures for you. Let them dig up upcoming challenges, and keep you more informed on where things are going.
And when the disruption comes, and it will, you’ll be more prepared.