How can you develop strategic thinking exercises to envision the future when it’s so easy to let previous experience cloud your imagination?

In an a mid-August 2017 article in The Wall Street Journal, Pasquale Romano, CEO of ChargePoint, Inc., discusses the future of electric cars and why the charging station model will break from the gas station model. Romano shared an important insight into the challenge of developing strategic thinking exercises to envision future strategy: “Until you drive an EV, you are colored by 135 years of going to the gas station. Under that scenario, you say ‘Where is the new company that’s doing EV charging on street corners or in my highway entrance?’ but that isn’t really how this works.”

Romano sees the future model revolving revolve around charging stations located where people are already stopping for extended periods. The quick-in, quick-out charging station won’t garner a significant place. Understanding this change, however, is challenging when your perspective hasn’t broken from the past.

4 Strategic Thinking Exercises to Envision Future Strategy

Inspired by his observations, here are four strategic thinking exercises to better envision future strategy for your organization when success depends on breaking (as best possible) from a historical perspective.

Strategic Thinking Exercise: Simulation and Role Playing

Challenge #1 – Extrapolating from Today: Romano stresses the futility of imagining a car charging model by extrapolating from the current auto fueling one. The key is to experience (or imagine the experience of) driving an electric vehicle with its differing needs.

Strategic Thinking Exercise: Create an interactive, day-in-the-life scenario to imagine the future. Do the homework upfront via research, forward-looking case studies, immersing users in prototypes or virtual reality experiences, and simulating the future ahead. Providing a robust future view helps people more thoroughly envision it for your audiences and organization.

Participants will take on roles as future audience members. Within the role playing, they will brainstorm specific questions, challenges, opportunities, and behaviors they will encounter. This lets participants envision a typical future day unfolding sequentially.

It’s not unusual for brainstorming exercises to stipulate that every starting idea is good. To help future-imagining Brainzooming participants detach from today as much as possible, we anticipate one person steeped in the forward-looking research taking on a unique role: Owner of the Future. This person will listen for present-day thinking that no longer applies, in the future. If they hear speculation inconsistent with the future, they’ll exclaim loudly, “The future doesn’t work like that!” Yes, the role is different. Played by the right person, we think it will lighten things up and focus ideas.

Strategic Thinking Exercise: Flipping Minimal and Abundant

Challenge #2 – Emerging Events Seem Microscopic: Before the next major event becomes major, it has minimal impact. Maybe 1% of the next big thing will be apparent while the status quo accounts for 99% of what we experience. At some point in the future, whatever the next big thing is will account for the overwhelming majority of instances, but not immediately.

Strategic Thinking Exercise: Quantify statistics about the current status quo and emerging situations, using them in an exercise where you flip the numbers. Associate the minimal numbers of the emerging development with the abundant numbers of the status quo, and vice versa. Once you blatantly reset the future view through a number flip, have participants imagine the future by asking:

  • What will be important for success in this scenario?
  • How will audience member expectations change?
  • Who else would want to become a supplier or supporter in this scenario?
  • What new opportunities could develop with so many things flipped versus today?
  • What new problems might emerge with many things the opposite of now?

Strategic Thinking Exercise: Constrain Thinking to a Completely Technological Future

Challenge #3 – Thinking Technology Impacts Will Come Up Short: As we conduct future-looking research, several things are clear: digital availability, automation, robotics, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things are all super-charging forward.

Strategic Thinking Exercise: While maybe not EVERYTHING will be digitized and automated, for the sake of imagining the future, you can comfortably say everything will be. Stipulating an all-digital future enables questions that make it more difficult to hold a today-centric perspective. Ask:

  • If a function is completely digital, with no human intervention, what will it mean for audiences? How will we provide our product or service in relevant ways?
  • If every object/thing can report what it thinks / knows / senses, how will that change how other things act? What will it mean for robots? For humans? What will the object / thing do with the information to learn and improve?
  • If robots handle that function (and every function before and after it), how will the experience change?
  • If AI continually improves the audience experience, where will it focus improvement efforts? What will humans do differently to cope or stay ahead?

Strategic Thinking Exercise: Accessing the Excess

Future Strategy Challenge #4 – Dismantling What’s No Longer Necessary: Romano notes that when electric vehicles predominate, there will be need for only a tiny percentage of the 168,000 gas stations in the United States currently. The impact of dismantling this excess is significant.

Strategic Thinking Exercise: While it is cooler to restrict future thinking to new, innovative ideas, the impact of currently valuable assets losing utility provides another path to imagining the future. Use today’s abundant things you flipped earlier and ask questions about what happens with them:

  • How could we retrofit them to provide value in a radically different future?
  • What other replacements will develop to provide the value and utility they currently offer?
  • If we blew them up and started over, what would we do with the space / materials / resources / time they now occupy?

What does your future strategy hold?

If you are trying to prepare your organization for an uncertain future, contact us. We can design in-person and online collaboration exercises to get as ready as possible for big changes in and around your organization! – Mike Brown

What’s Your Implementation Strategy for Uncertain Times?

Things aren’t getting saner and more calm. Are you ready to pursue an implementation strategy that works in uncharted waters?

The Brainzooming eBook 4 Strategies for Implementing in Uncertain Times will help you examine your strategy foundation, insights, profitability drivers, and decision making processes when few things ahead are clear. We share suggestions on:

  • Using your organization’s core purpose to shape decisions when things are changing
  • Reaching out to employees with valuable insights into what to watch out for and what to expect
  • Sharpening your command of cost and profit levers in your organization
  • Implementing processes to focus and sharpen decision making

4 Strategies for Implementing in Uncertain Times is a FREE, quick read that will pay dividends for you today and in the uncertain times ahead.
Download Your FREE eBook! 4 Strategies for Implementing in Uncertain Times

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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