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What’s Next in Your Business? How to Anticipate the Future of Your Business and Create it

The business graveyard is full of companies and industries that didn’t, couldn’t, or wouldn’t look at the future to anticipate what might happen and take appropriate action. Blockbuster Video and Kodak were one-time industry leaders who were guilty of this failure. And consider the hotel industry, the taxi industry, and the retail industry— all of which have been disrupted by nontraditional competitors and practices that existing firms didn’t anticipate.

Think your company is immune to disruption? Consider the results of a survey of the leaders of more than 600 companies that McKinsey conducted. Eighty percent of respondents said they thought their current business model was at risk in the future. And only 6 percent said they were satisfied with their efforts to innovate for the future.

To plan and run a business, your eye has got to be on the future.

What If?

Two of the most powerful words in any language that spark imagination and creativity, are “What if?” They allow you as a business leader to anticipate and address strategic changes that may threaten your business or offer incredible new opportunities. Try modeling different strategic scenarios, and then ask your team, “What if?”

It’s also a powerful technique to address issues and problems with your team and keep the conversation centered on new ideas. Whenever someone jumps in to play devil’s advocate on a new idea, simply intervene and ask, “What if it were possible? Suppose we could make it work? What would it look like, and what would be the outcome?”

Anticipate Change

A great tool to help anticipate changes that the future might bring is the What’s Next exercise. The What’s Next? exercise is a simple four-step process that can help you avoid being blindsided by competitors or surprised by changes involving your customers.

  • Step 1: What is? First, discuss the facts and the perceptions you have about the current conditions with your team in a dedicated meeting. What do you believe to be true about the marketplace, customers, competitors, your team, your company, and the economic conditions?

  • Step 2: What’s next? Taking into consideration all that’s known or believed about current conditions, what do you think will happen next? Discuss all possibilities without judging their probability. Is there a competitor, a technology, or a trend that — if ignored — could represent a disaster to your business? If anticipated, could it be a windfall for your company?

  • Step 3: What if? Now explore how to capitalize on the challenges and disruptions in your business, industry, or conditions. In this step, focus on an issue that surfaced in the What’s Next? conversation and say, “Yes, that might be true. If it is, what if we…”

  • Step 4: What now? The final step requires action. By asking “What now?” you ask what you need to do right now. These then become the next steps you take to ensure the company’s future success.

As a company leader, you must be constantly on the watch for disrupting technologies that can damage your business. Using What’s Next? to anticipate changes in your business or industry can allow you to capitalize when others falter.

The What’s Next? exercise requires your team to create strategic and tactical responses to a change in your competitive environment. The signs are probably already on the horizon — if you look and listen closely enough.

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