Anticipation – It’s hard to out-run the future if you don’t see it coming

A. Face up to strategy decay. Like people, strategies get old and die—and in recent years, strategy life cycles have been shrinking. Great strategies get copied (“strategic convergence”); they reach their natural limits (as markets saturate and inefficiencies become harder to find); they get supplanted by better strategies (that are more effective at delivering customer value); or they get eviscerated, when well-informed customers use their knowledge to slash away at margins. Sooner or later, every strategy dies, and the signs of advancing age are always visible—if you’re looking for them.

B. Learn from the fringe. What’s true for music, fashion and the arts is true for business as well: the future starts on the fringe (not in the mainstream). As William Gibson once said, “The future has already happened, it’s just unequally distributed.” To see it coming, managers have to pay attention to nascent technologies, unconventional competitors and un-served customer groups. A good rule of thumb: spend an hour a day, or a couple of days a month, exploring emerging trends in technology, lifestyles, regulation and venture capital funding. The future will sneak up on you unless you go out looking for it.

C. Rehearse alternate futures. It’s not enough to spot trends, you have to think through their implications and how they’ll interact—and then develop contingency plans appropriate to each scenario. The more time a company devotes to rehearsing alternate futures, the quicker it will be able to react when one particular future begins to unfold. “Hey, we’ve already seen this movie and we know what comes next, so let’s get moving.”

– Gary Hamel

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