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Elise Levanto: Companies need to predict the future skilfully and systematically

A predictive approach gives companies time and room to manoeuvre to take advantage of and even direct the changes taking place in the markets.

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Prediction is the buzzword of the day, and a range of future scenarios and reports are available to companies. Such information about the future is valuable, but it only becomes of real benefit when the information is applied in practice within the context of each respective company – i.e. when it is interpreted, incorporated and transformed into new business opportunities and measures. Corporate culture must be prepared for change, and processes must set aside space for future information. Only in this way is it possible to ensure that the information really is utilized, including with regard to performance.

Trend reports are an important source of information for companies that are endeavouring to make sense of the changes in their operating environment. In particular, consumer trends are available with different emphases but macro-scenarios that describe the dynamics of development within operating environments are even more common. Attention is focused on understanding and predicting change because the world is vastly more complex than before. Climate change and the financial crisis for example, surprisingly, took many companies by surprise.

Trends are not superficial

Trends that shape society are not superficial; they exert a fundamental change on people’s values and lives. This type of change should be genuinely reflected in a company’s activities. It is not enough for a company simply to pick out product ideas from future materials while making no attempt to change its product strategy or product markets. A good example of this is greenwashing, where companies seized the opportunity brought about by climate change in their search for a quick profit rather than attempting to devise ground-breaking innovations, strategies and ways of working that conform to the principles of sustainable development.

Trends, therefore, are much more than the tip of the iceberg; they constitute intellectual capital that when used skilfully and systematically, enhance a company’s competitiveness and risk management. Successful products and services must match the changing needs of people and society.

Manage change before it manages you

If a company neglects to analyze the cause and effect ratios of different trends and does not identify weak signals, and fails to act on the message they are giving, it does not alter course in time. This kind of reactive approach backfires down the line and leaves the company at the mercy of numerous external changes. On the other side of the coin, a predictive approach gives companies time and room to manoeuvre to take advantage of and even direct the changes taking place in the markets.

Timing change and its optimal synchronization with a company’s strategy constitutes perhaps the greatest challenge in monitoring trends. Predicting change calls for adopting several methods that can be used to monitor the direction of trends as well as the rapidity and extent of change. Predicting with absolute accuracy is not essential; what does matter is that a company gives thought to future change and its impact on markets and corporate strategy and that the company is prepared for different future trends. Alan Kay aptly sums up this proactive approach: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

Being prepared for the future should be intrinsic throughout corporate culture and a visible element in a company’s strategy and processes. And this closely involves a mindscape where change is welcome.

Elise Levanto
Consumer Futures Team Leader
Nokia

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Training

Sitra aims to boost the ability of Finnish decision-makers and change-makers to deal jointly with the key social challenges and opportunities of the future. The objective of our training function is to generate new ideas and new solutions. Our activities aim to create learning environments that enable thinking about and developing things together.

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