The Intentional Futurist in the C-Suite: Watch These Signals

The global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a wake-up call for business leaders who can no longer rely on simply learning from the past. Companies that can detect change as it happens, learn how to reasonably anticipate its results, start in a better position and end with a better outcome. This means using every tool and technology in the C-suite arsenal to become more predictive and less dependent on strategies based on patterns emerging from historical data sets.

It’s time to become an intentional futurist.

Take Toronto-based BlueDot, whose algorithm predicted a COVID-19 outbreak a full week before the World Health Organization. BlueDot has this potential because its algorithm is fed with extensive real-time data from government healthcare sources, airline ticket records, livestock health reports, and news reports in 65 languages. The company system is updated every 15 minutes.

Surprisingly, most business leaders, according to Accenture’s Business Futures research, do not feel ready to make sound decisions because (and we all) still face an uncertain future. Only 6% feel completely confident in their ability to predict and respond to future disruptions.

As part of our research, we identified business change signals to provide leaders with vision and direction through decision fog. The most important are the following:

Learning from the futureCompanies are beginning to use data analytics and artificial intelligence to find patterns and create strategies that anticipate the future. Instead of focusing on the past for insights, the best organizations are becoming more predictable.

Our research indicates that while leaders understand the need to learn from the future, implementing this is a challenge. More than three-quarters of CEOs surveyed have increased their use of real-time data over the past year, but less than half said they have enough skills within their workforce to support their efforts.

Virtual Reality: The pandemic has upended our sense of location, both socially and economically. Supply chains collapsed, countries went into deep quarantines, and a new brand of nationalism redefined politics, suggesting to many that globalization was going in the opposite direction. But many of the signs that have emerged from our research show that the world is becoming more interconnected in the wake of the pandemic, not less — location is less important, not more.

In our research, 88% of CEOs surveyed said they invest in technologies that will enable their organizations to create virtual environments; Ninety-one percent of them will increase those investments in the next three years.

These are technologies that blend the virtual and physical worlds. Remote work, remote learning, and our remote social lives caused by the pandemic have increased the need for virtual environments. Current virtual reality technology mostly engages our senses of vision and hearing, but over time, it will engage all of our senses. Virtual worlds will become increasingly realistic, imbued with a greater sense of physical smell and feel, as well as sight and sound.

In the long term, the distinction between the physical and virtual world will continue to blur. Better training in education, technology, science and health will reach every corner of the world. For companies and other organizations, opportunities include stronger and more diverse pipelines of ideas and talent. Think of surgeons who are training from different countries and assemble in 3D form around virtual patients to learn from expert surgeons around the world.

Offer Unlimited: Some of the leading organizations – responding at least in part to the massive disruptions in global supply chains over the past year – are breaking the physical limits of supply. how? They take production to the point of demand – and again, they make the site less relevant in a more interconnected world.

For example, Winsun, a Chinese technical construction company, is using 3D printing technologies to print building components for buildings — ranging from 10-square-meter COVID-19 isolation units to 1,000-square-meter homes — on site. The result: a 60% reduction in materials and 80% in working hours.

Company leaders need to focus now on redefining the role of each part of their fulfillment network, working with partners, and aligning product design with limitless supply chains.

pushed to the edge: Companies preparing to lead in this next phase of globalization are shifting decision-making power to the people on the “periphery” of their operations around the world. They quote the principle behind “edge” computing – increasing speed by moving processing closer to the point of use. By decentralizing power, organizations can create impulses of innovation and accelerate decision-making on the fringes of their operations.

Nike is a great example. Early in the pandemic, Nike’s digital sales in China jumped more than 30% in one quarter due to moves made to respond quickly. One example of this is how quickly merchandise destined for physical stores can be redirected to e-commerce sites. Nike has turned this local success into a “practical guide” that management has deployed worldwide to help its people respond to the pandemic with exceptional speed and agility.

Netflix is ​​also pushing the authority to the limits of its operations to speed up production. It has become one of the world’s fastest growing companies by delegating decision-making to what it calls “informed captains” – employees at many levels make important decisions after gathering a lot of information. Pushing decision-making to the fringes of the organization allows Netflix to create content that suits the rapidly changing tastes of viewers around the world. Last year, 83% of the company’s new subscriptions came from outside North America.

Now is the time to create a flatter organization, delegate decision making locally and focus on upskilling the workforce to take on more technically advanced roles.

I look ahead

Company leaders are experiencing significant change in every aspect of their organization. This urgency to “change at every turn” has upended the normal process of planning and managing change. The path to growth has never been more complicated. But, with clear signals along the way, leaders can better anticipate, plan, and adapt to changes in real time — becoming intentional futurists.

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