From a Whim to a Mission

From a Whim to a Mission

Periodically I find myself updating the Book of the Future story*. It changes to reflect my current perspective on the business.

As I’ve been telling the Book of the Future story a lot recently, pitching The Applied Futurist’s Toolkit around the country, I thought I’d capture the latest version here. It explains how this business started as a vehicle of convenience, but has developed into a mission: to change the way we design and operate organisations in the UK, to make them more agile and responsive to the fast-changing world.

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Three years ago when I started Book of the Future, it was a business of convenience. I was leaving CANDDi and needed a vehicle through which to bill for my time. I’d been writing and broadcasting about technology and the future for six years at this point. I knew I wanted to translate my blog into a business but didn’t really know what to call myself.

My friend and branding guru Stewart Aitken nailed it: “You’re an Applied Futurist!” he said.

And so I was. But at that point I didn’t really know what it meant.

Fortunately it wasn’t long before old clients and friends got wind that I was now an Applied Futurist and started asking me questions.

The first one was straightforward enough: “What does the future look like for us?”. ‘Us’ in this situation could mean their company, their client, or their marketplace.

I started off using off-the-shelf tools to answer these questions but quickly became aware that they weren’t fit for purpose for most of the engagements I was being asked to take on. While tools like Scenario Planning are enormously powerful, preparing and delivering them was the work of months. Attaining any serious output from them meant taking large numbers of senior managers off line for long periods.

Some organisations can afford the time and money to do these things. But very few can afford to do them frequently. And given the increasing pace of change, it became clear that a more rapid method of examining future trends would be required. One that could be repeated on a six or twelve-monthly cycle.

Intersections, our foresight tool, was born.

The second question people asked me was “How do I tell this story?”. They either had a vision of the future, or were compelled by the one that Intersections had generated for them. But they now needed to show how this vision would impact their stakeholders and communicate their response in a way that compelled change.

After a few engagements I found that this process too could be systematised, and so I developed Arcs.

The third question came from a large public sector organisation. Deep in the latest wave of cuts, the Chief Executive asked me to redesign his organisation from a blank sheet of paper, knowing this would be very different to what he would be left with after the cuts were complete. He wanted a benchmark against which to compare.

I created the Stratification framework for an agile, customer-centric organisation that would be capable of responding rapidly to the output of foresight processes like Intersections. And over the course of a large engagement with a FTSE100 client, I found that this same framework was applicable elsewhere, refining and building on it to create a more complete model for agile organisations.

Not long afterwards, around two and a half years into being an Applied Futurist, something became clear: every organisation I talked to was facing the same issues. Whether they were public sector or private, small or large, charity or corporation, they were suffering from a lack of foresight and an inability to respond to what they saw.

What I had created with Intersections, Arcs and Stratification is part of the solution to this problem. A problem that is near universal.

I’m very clear that it is not the whole solution. These tools don’t tackle much of the human challenge of change, or internal communication beyond the development of a story. They don’t tackle issues of finance or law, marketing or communications. They might propose changes in technology, partners or the development of new products but they can’t deliver them.

But I believe they are an important part of solving this problem of a lack of organisational agility.

Given this, I had a question to answer: do I try to build a big consultancy business to deliver these tools to all the organisations that might need them? Or do I license them to organisations who are already talking to lots of other businesses and trying to solve their other problems? Often other parts of the same problem that I was trying to solve.

The answer for me was clear, and so this year we launched the Applied Futurist’s Toolkit.

I’m pleased to say the reaction to date has been fantastic and we’ll be announcing our first batch of licensees before long.

If you are a consultant of some kind, who spends their days working with other people’s organisations to help them to solve issues of strategy and finance, marketing and communication, structure and law, then take a look at the Applied Futurist’s Manifesto. It may be that we can help you to solve a larger piece of the puzzle.

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*Like all human beings, I editorialise the history a little to fit the new narrative. It’s not a conscious effort and there’s no fiction involved, just the relative scale and occasionally timing of events gets shifted around. When you’ve been writing as long and as much as I have, it’s second nature.

If you don’t do this for your business, role or proposition, I think it’s a healthy process to get into. Especially if you’re trying to pitch a new start-up. You need a compelling story to tell people off the bat, not just about what you’re doing but why you’re doing it.

 

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This article is by Tom Cheesewright. This post forms part of the Future of Business series. For more posts on this subject, visit the Future of Business page.

Tom Cheesewright

https://tomcheesewright.com/futurist-speaker

Futurist speaker Tom Cheesewright is one of the UK's leading commentators on technology and tomorrow. Tom has worked with a huge range of organisations across a variety of markets, to help them to see a clear vision of tomorrow, share that vision and respond with agility. Tom draws on his experience to create original, compelling talks that are keyed to the experience of the audience but which surprise and shock with unexpected facts and examples.

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