A few months ago, I spoke at a Foresight and Futures Trends conference. The sessions were the usual mix of provocative presentations, nicely designed slides and (mostly) engaged audiences.
But in talking with participants at the breaks, there was a common theme. People in strategy and trends and competitive intelligence roles all struggling with the same issue: how do we bring these ideas about external change back into our organizations?
The problem is larger than just the time and expense of attending a single conference. Companies now commission or create their own impressive trends reports. A few are investing heavily in locating staff in innovative regions, where they can tap into the latest thinking and practice about new technologies, business models and social movements.
But the problem remains the same. No matter how much you invest in expansive thinking, how do you bring the ideas back to the core so that they make a difference?
For me, there are three gaps creating this chasm between foresight / trends and action:
A focus gap: trends reports and conferences are wide-ranging, offering many, broad, diverse ideas. But the core typically wants to deal with only a few issues or ideas. Someone – or some process – needs to winnow down to just a few important issues.
A socialization gap: the benefits of trends and foresight work tend to accrue to individuals. Conference attendees are informed; readers of new reports gain insights. But making a difference in the core needs those insights to be shared. Any change needs buy-in, often from many people in our large organizations.
An ownership gap: even when trends work is presented back into the organization, it is often packaged, or “delivered”. But change mostly happens when decision-makers in the core “discover” insights for themselves. Bringing ideas back from the outside must be carefully orchestrated to allow decision-makers to contribute their own views.
Anyone responsible for trends work in their organization needs to constantly think about effective ways to close these gaps. When I spoke at that conference, I argued that scenario work is as good a device as any to solve this problem. Scenario creation takes many trends and winnows down to a few key ones; it is conducted through engaging, interactive working sessions with many people; and it is specifically designed to allow people to discover insights for themselves.
Next time you commission some trends work, or go to a foresight conference, think about the best way to bring it home.