Strategic Futurists; Value Systems Specialists

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Strategic Issues and Trends - Beware the near history!

Wednesday 5 December 2012

The Australian Strategic Planning Institute uses the Organisational Evolution model to help organisations ensure that their approach to Strategic Planning is dynamic, adaptive and effective. One element of that model that sits in the Strategic Phase is 'Strategic Issues'. A Strategic Issue is anything that demands your organisation allocate resources towards dealing with it or addressing it effectively. In order to identify and determine what Strategic Issues exist, many organisations rely on 'Trends' as a key indicator. Which is fine except when the trend suggested as 'emerging' has in fact been around for quite some time.

For the past decade I've been imploring organisations not to rely on Trends as their sole or even major means of being informed about the world around them. Anyone who has sat in any of my workshops or key note speeches in the past decade would have heard me say 'there is no such thing as a future trend - all trends are historically derived'.  Just recently I heard an 'old timer' in the futures field use that phrase at a conference so its great to know you can teach old dogs new tricks!

One organisation that sends me regular updates of 'trends' from around the world has just released their Top 10 trends for 2013. I normally like their work and the effort they put into deciding on catchy phrases to represent the trends they see.

I am, it would be fair to say, very much disappointed with what they've just put forward as I explain here:

Trend 1 - 'Presumers' are those who will participate in finding and launching new products and services'.  This idea is okay, other than it is an idea that has been around for at least five years in its current form even if ease of doing so has gotten better with new online modes. In 2008 one person I know was already creating jean designs relying on 'presumers' to design, vote, fund and buy short run versions of jeans. T-shirt designs have been doing so for ages too. Which means if you are relying on the 2013 'trend' of presumers, you're already at least 5 years behind.

Trend 3 is 'Mobile Moments' where the mobile phone is a lifestyle choice. In the 2004 National Geographic Channel TV series 'Future Matters' the idea of 'wearable electronics' (WEs) was discussed wherein your phone would become embedded in your clothing and the phone would move from being something to do with 'making calls' to an everyday item of normal behaviour. That makes awareness of Trend 3 almost a decade old

Trend 4 is 'New Life Inside' where products can be turned into something else once they've finished their use for the consumer. One of the first products I became aware of was a mobile phone case that could be planted in the ground so it can turn into a new tree. That was 2006 or so. Again, if you are relying on a trend like this one to inform you for your Strategic Issues, you could already be six or so years behind.

Trend 6 is Flaunting the new IT cultures. The music industry has been doing this for hundreds of years. Paul Simon's use of African music in his 1986 Album Graceland is one standout example.  The movie industry and fashion industry have also borrowed heavily from cultures around the world, giving them a moment in the sun, some of which stay with us for a long time.

Trend 8 is 'Local Manufacturing' which picks up a push that could have been identified towards the end of 2000 in early signs and certainly clear signals in the rise of farmers markets through the mid decade point. The idea of 3D Printing and in-home manufacturing was covered in the previous mentioned Nat-Geo 'Future Matters' series in 2004 and in Australia at the Supply Chain & Logistic conference a couple of years later

There are some interesting ideas covered - the idea of big data mining, transparency in products, the emergence on the online and app happy medical health monitoring is clearly on the more recent ascendancy. So like all claims about trends a caveat: If you drop the leter 'r' from the world Trend you get a VERY useful word because 'tend' brings with it a note of caution. Trends sound 'real' - they're not neccessarily so.

The fundamental challenge for your organisation is be careful about how you use or consider trends, when determining what your TRUE Strategic Issues are. You might well be allocating precious organisational resources towards something that is in fact old, rebadged or has already 'left the dock'. There may be much value in them for you and as always we'd encourage you to extend your scanning capability using models like VSTEEP and tie that into your ongoing decision frameworks before you bet the farm on any 'trend'


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