Who should be deciphering the future and helping shape how a business understands and prepares for it?
The first inclination might be to think about a specific part of an organization for the function. It’s important though to identify the individuals well-suited to this challenging role. From that perspective, five capabilities are vital to successfully champion this effort:
- Having a Natural External Perspective
- Creating solid insights about the future depends on starting with a view outside, not inside the business. It’s a natural orientation that not all people share. Someone in a trend-interpreting role has to be a sponge for gathering, processing, and extrapolating information on markets, customers, competitors, and a broad set of inputs on the economy, demographics, and other environmental factors.
- Being an Integrator
- Being able to do something with a broad set of future-looking inputs requires someone with a solid perspective on the business and what drives its success. This has to be coupled with the ability to understand how other industries and markets affect the business today and imagine how they might in the future. Finally, it demands a strong command of frameworks to integrate meaningful interpretation of broad, and typically incomplete, forward-oriented data sets.
- Possessing Both Left and Right-brained Orientations
- Ideally solid quantitative metrics (i.e., demographics, demand forecasting, industry sizing trends) are available to help form relevant predictions. Often though, numeric information isn’t available. In any case, analysis has to be coupled with creating compelling stories to drive strategic actions anticipating and preparing for the future. “Whole brain thinkers” are essential, since they provide left-brain quantitative and analytical skills coupled with creative, communications-oriented right-brain perspectives to help make on-target, forward-looking action happen.
- Displaying Strong Intuition
- There’s no single clear picture of what the future holds. Creating credible future scenarios requires tremendous amounts of interpretation and extrapolation. Some of this can be learned; much of it can’t. Trend watchers and prognosticators need to be able to instinctively “know” what all the information they’re seeing means. If it’s a broad intuitive sense, that’s fantastic. Even if it’s industry-specific, that can be fine too. I used to work with an economist who had been in transportation for many years and had tremendous instincts for our market. I’m not sure he could have been dropped into another industry and had the same feel, but for our market, he could look at a competitor’s quarterly numbers and tell you exactly what was and would be happening in its logistics operation with high certainty.
- Building Powerful Relationships and Networks
- It’s quite a list to this point, isn’t it? It’s challenging for one person to excel at all of these skills. As a result, the fifth essential capability is to be an outstanding relationship builder. This includes the ability to recognize the talents necessary in others who can help shape a view of the future along with the interpersonal skills to cultivate and share value throughout the network of experts that’s needed.
There are certainly other skills and capabilities which make for a strong trend watcher and interpreter. But if you can find someone in your business solidly embodying these skills, don’t wait for a clearer view of the future. Get them into the job right now!