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Viewpoint: Planning for an Uncertain Future

by Randall Craig on November 23, 2011

Filed in: Blog, Make It Happen Tipsheet, Management, Strategy, Viewpoint

Tagged as: , , ,

In 1997 there was no Google. In 2002 there was no Facebook. There was no Twitter in 2004, and the iPad only made it’s debut in 2009. There is no indication that the pace of innovation will slow, so how can you plan for the future when the target is moving , and moving quickly?

At a corporate level, three-and-five-year strategic plans are being shredded by external market shifts that change the very assumptions on which the plans are based.

At the personal level, many are finding it tough to keep up, and are “opting out”: either purposefully avoiding science and technology, or lashing out at society and joining – or sympathizing with – the Occupy movements. (We don’t see, interestingly, any Occupy Facebook movements, despite the fact that the Facebook ownership group are amongst the richest on the planet.)

There may not be a simple answer to the question of how to plan when change is constant, but here is some perspective that might help:

  1. Be the change: If there will be change, it is far better to be setting the agenda, than reacting to it. This suggests that organizations that are flexible, entrepreneurial and invest in “the new” will be more successful than those who are set-up only for the status quo.
  2. People are key: Dofasco, a large steel mill, used to advertise “Our product is steel – our strength is people.” While the name may have changed slightly (they were acquired), the slogan stands: A thinking workforce that can track the market and reinvent itself as conditions change is critical. Furthermore, within each organization there is an internal social network, teams, processes, and infrastructure — that functions because of the people. To do list: recruit the best, invest in them, and let them reinvent themselves – and the organization.
  3. Partnerships: No longer can one entity hope to have 100% of the skills internally for any eventuality – or to take advantage of any immediate opportunity. Partnerships can be set up for the long or short term, for all or some of the value chain, to provide a non-core capability, or to provide peak production capacity. Planning for an uncertain future requires an understanding that anything might actually be possible, when looking beyond your internal capability.
  4. Intellectual Property: We’re only now seeing the beginning of the patent wars between Microsoft, Google, Apple, Samsung, and others. These organizations have realized that a sustainable competitive advantage is only sustainable if they have something unique that differentiates them in the market. IP does this, and so does Brand. Not surprisingly there is a direct connection between the quality of the people, and the quality of the IP. In an uncertain future, IP is critical: can be exploited, licensed, and sold.
  5. Competitive Intelligence and Market Research: Especially amongst larger organizations, it’s too easy to focus on the internal, instead of the external. A sensitive antenna – market research and competitive intelligence – provides an early warning of potential paradigm shifts. And this early warning allows the organization to react accordingly.
  6. Directional Planning: While three-year strategic plans will always be done, a slight shift in approach can increase the organization’s resilience. Instead of choosing an endpoint, and then choosing tactics to achieve that goal, consider the opposite approach: Set the direction first and then forecast the year one-two-three endpoints. If there are any major market changes, then a mid-course correction can easily be made, and new end-points can be established.

Planning for an uncertain future is difficult, but it can be made far easier when the organization itself is built to thrive in a changing world.

This week’s action plan:  What are you doing as an individual to make sure that you survive and thrive in a world where change is constant?  Look through this list again through a personal filter:  Are you setting the agenda or reacting to others?  Are you investing in yourself?  Do you seek support from others?  Are you generating your own IP?  Are you aware of what’s happening in your field? Do you have a plan for your career (and your life)?

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to www.RandallCraig.com to register.

Randall Craig

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About 

Randall has been advising on Web and Social Strategy since 1994 when he put the Toronto Star online, the Globe and Mail's GlobeInvestor/Globefund, several financial institutions, and about 100+ other major organizations. He is the author of seven books, including the recently released "Everything Guide to Starting an Online Business", and speaks across North America on Social Media and Web Strategy. More at randallcraig.com and 108ideaspace.com.

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