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Why Cultivating Strategic Anticipation Is Vital For Future Business Success

Rising customer expectation, increasing global complexity and accelerated technological innovation are making strategic anticipation a necessity for large cumbersome corporates to compete in the future.

Strategic anticipation is the ability of organisations to develop the capacity to identify, understand and respond to future trends and uncertainties, enabling them to assess potential impacts and seize the commercial initiative.

This article provides practical processes to help organisations remain viable, flourish, and endure in an uncertain world by implementing a programme of strategic anticipation.

1. Create a structured and disciplined team approach to monitoring and identifying potential threats and risks emerging around the fringes of your business.
An example of this in action is the U.K. Government’s new Horizon Team, designed to explore what the future might look like and understand uncertainties more clearly. The Horizon Scanning Programme Team coordinates strategic future scenarios across departments, drawing on insights from experts inside and outside government to challenge conventional future thinking. This system makes the Government prepared to deal with scenarios or threats that may emerge in the future and is a key component of leadership and governance.

2. Identify your changing customer needs and emerging technology requirements.
A great template for implementing this in practice was the digital transformation put in place by Mike Bracken during his time as head of the Government Digital Service.

In his first 18 months in government, Bracken observed endless policy cycles, revisions and exhaustive changes across departments and yet very little resource was focused on user needs. He shaped the new government digital strategy around those needs, iterating and testing quickly, which yielded fast results and positive user feedback. This proved the worth of the approach across government and embedded the digital focus around customer needs for all future digital product launches.

Another systematic approach is called ‘technology scouting’. The technology scout is either an employee of the company or an external consultant--usually a creative cross-discipline thinker knowledgeable in science and technology--who is responsible for scouting for better, more improved technology which can deliver the company strategy more effectively.

3. Successful strategic anticipation should be multidisciplinary.
It requires a very broad spectrum of knowledge, collaboration, and inputs to help people within the company to make sense of what is out there. This includes participation from not only senior stake holders, marketing and technologists but also the quiet creative mavericks who can see how the future of your industry might evolve.

4. Anticipation is not just about drafting a new future but also testing it.
To be better prepared for major disruptions, U.K. brands are investing in their own innovation labs. Examples include Tesco, Innocent Drinks, and M&S. M&S Digital Labs launched in 2014 and consists of a small nimble team using lean start-up techniques to validate new technology ideas by testing them quickly, learning fast in a controlled in-house environment.

5. Find the start-ups in your sector and seek to collaborate.
A new corporate concept for future-proofing business is collaborating with smaller startups which can also inspire new ways of working. A good example is the recent collaboration between British Gas and Hive. In 2011 British Gas partnered with a small start-up to launch the Remote Heating Control (RHC) product, the precursor to Hive. RHC achieved 30,000 sales but what was astonishing was the discovery of how often customers used the product. RHC turned out to be a high-contact product with 50% of customers interacting with it daily to control their heating. British Gas realised it had accidentally hit on a product that not only had the potential to help customers save £150 per year on the average energy bill, but could also improve customer engagement. This collaboration, while initially being perceived as risky, proved to be a hit and reinforced British Gas’s credentials as an innovative, forward-thinking company.

Getting a clearer view of what is out there and anticipating the future reduces the feelings of uncertainty and creates confidence senior leadership functions of a business. The marketing function is central to future growth strategy and thus the CMO has a significant part to play in implementing strategic anticipation to ensure that the chosen systems work.

And not anticipating change can potentially be fatal. In 2000 executives from a little-known upstart called Netflix visited the head office of Blockbuster Videos to suggest it run Blockbuster’s digital streaming business. They were laughed out of the room. By 2010 Blockbuster had filed for bankruptcy and Netflix laid the foundations of revolutionary streaming product to emerge as a $28billion dollar business. 

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