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Innovate for the Future

I am still on the topic of the correct starting point for innovation. In the previous delivery I discussed two very simple ways of making sure you focus your innovation efforts on the most profitable challenges and opportunities.

It’s easy, figure out your organisation’s biggest frustrations or your customer’s biggest frustrations. In this article I want to look at two other proven methods to spot unknown opportunities, namely trend spotting and scenario planning.
Trend spotting and scenario planning
Henry Ford, the inventor of the automobile assembly line, is credited with saying that: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. The highly opinionated Steve Jobs also famously said: “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them”.
That specific statement of Steve Jobs lead to many conflicting opinions in the media, but I don’t want to choose sides here. However, the message here is not that you should ignore your customers – customers can and do inspire innovation across multiple industries – but rather that sometimes you don’t always get the best ideas or insights through asking your customers.
Sometimes you have to think for yourself and use other methods to anticipate future needs and requirements, because as globalization increases and the pace of change increases, you need to be identifying trends and making sense of those trends consistently, or the competition will beat you to it and carve away your market share.
Well, since none of us have a crystal ball, two prevalent methods of having insight into possible future needs is trend spotting and scenario planning. These methods are interrelated and are good departure points for an organisation’s innovation efforts.
Trend spotting does not really require a definition, but I’ll go with the explanation that it is about identifying the next big thing – for your industry. Traditionally, this practice has been the sole stomping ground of qualitative and quantitative research firms, but not any more. The good news is that trend spotting itself has become a trend. There are numerous businesses and websites that specialise in trend spotting and it can range from free information to a very specialized investigation. It truly has become a science in its own right.
Scenario planning is a strategic planning method with its origins in military intelligence and it consists essentially of the following parts: (1) A process of visualizing what future conditions or events are probable, (2) what their consequences or effects would be like, and (3) how to respond to, or benefit from them. You can appreciate the link between trend spotting and scenario planning, with trend spotting being a fundamental input to scenario planning.
My purpose here is not to make you a trend spotting or scenario planning expert, but to connect the dots between these methods and innovation.
The objective of these methods is to improve innovators’ ability to discover emerging phenomena that will have a long-term impact on consumers’ everyday lives. Through a structured application of these methods, innovators can derive reliable insights as to what “job the customer wants to get done” in the future, and subsequently develop more valuable innovations timeously. Since innovations take time, it is about organisations better aligning their innovations with future consumer needs. You need to look further out in time because even though the demand cycle has sped up, many organisations haven’t improve their product or service development cycle (as discussed in a previous delivery), so if you only look a year or two into the future, but it takes 18 months to two years to get an idea through the pipeline, you are behind the curve.

Next Time
Two fields that are very much related to “forecasting the future” is Systems Thinking and the use of “Big Data”. I will spend the next few articles to demystify these concepts and explain how an understanding of these concepts can be a powerful ally to your innovation efforts. I conclude with a quote from Alan Kay: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it”.

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