Thinking for the Long Term

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Some refer to the past half-decade as the “terrible teens.” Globalization and a myriad of crisis brought home by instantaneous media and global connection are creating fear and uncertainty about the future. Indeed, new technologies are providing both hope and fear as they promise possible solutions or possible chaos. Robot Workers, genetically engineered babies, increasing life-spans and decreasing career and corporate life spans create confusion and beg for some sort of coherent long term planning by governments as well as industry.

Thinking for the Long Term

Those who study this situation are proposing that change and innovation cannot be just the arena for captains of industry but must become part of an overall plan for humanity. At the same time, we see a generational shift in leadership and consumer behaviors. Gen Xers and Millennials, raised on social media and immersed in a digital world seem to be moving away from the familiar life expectations that fueled the last century. Where they will be taking us is a question that some far-sighted companies are quietly considering behind closed doors.  The key word is “far-sighted.”

We all know about the myopia of quarterly earnings and bonus driven pay packages. While at the same time, we all know about the “next election” mentality of government officials. So, who is looking over the onrushing horizon?

LS: N Global is a subscription based service developed by the Future Laboratory to help understand markets and consumer forces they feel are shaping the future. Indeed, as professional soothsayers, they make it their business to closely watch trends and innovation. In pursuit of the future and its potential solutions, they have come up with an interesting concept of how to approach the tectonic shifts that many feel are headed our way.

The 3 step approach to the “Long-Near”

It’s generally believed that companies need to be strategizing much farther out in the future; thus the “long near.” As part of The Future Lab’s suggested strategy, companies need to consider a 3 step approach: Whole System Thinking, The Optimized Self, and The Immortal Brand. To get the full story of these concepts However, the following is a brief explanation.

Whole System Thinking

Most brands do not make it past the fifteen-year mark. And even fewer brands have a lifespan longer than a human being. The key to brand longevity is the ability to innovate within the context of the social, political, economic and physical environment. It’s a simple Darwinian concept that applies to all things that occupy space in the natural state of entropy in our universe. Evolve or perish. It takes imagination and open-mindedness to seize the future and most boardrooms are more concerned about seizing security than helping to lead the company and its customers into the future.

Two interesting business strategies offered up by LS: N Global are:

  1. Move away from a one-stream revenue model. In the future, successful business are going to be multi-revenue streams. It’s going to be about finding value streams in the most unlikely places. That sense of rethinking revenue is moving away from short-term thinking. Today, even the iconic McDonalds is in the process of re-inventing itself and considering to break out its extensive real estate holdings to move into a possible Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT). Burgers, fries and commercial real estate.
  2. Move beyond problem/solution cyclesThis requires managements to make unorthodox connections to see things differently. How do we think laterally or see things from the side? To gain new perspective, some companies are working with indirect experts to work and think about the long-term morphing opportunities.

The Optimized Self

The proposition is that our species seeks to optimize life by always seeking better ways to do things and to more fully experience life. That may be a bit of a stretch as the ole 80-20 rule would point out (80% of the “real work” gets done by 20% of the population-no matter the size). But who can argue with the fact that we all want it better, faster and cheaper? Now, with the advent and intrusion of technology, our species is constantly bombarded with information of all types that only add pressure to our already hectic work and private lives. Companies should see this growing trend as an opportunity when considering the future. Will customers change by backing away from the pressure? Or are there better ways to help consumers cope and actually leverage technology to take the load off and improve quality of life? In other words, trends need to be analyzed not only for the upside but also for the downside opportunities.

Brands must consider the emotional as well as the physical aspects of the human journey. Wearable technologies are good examples of that blend of helping consumers to optimize their lives.

The Immortal Brand

There are few who doubt that our current focus on the short term may threaten our corporate and personal futures. Events are moving fast at the same time the world is becoming more connected. Consumers and the public are beginning to break free from agendized media and form their own ideas. New ideas are being exchanged at the speed of light. So, what can companies do to think more long term?

According to LS: N Global, companies need to consider their brands in ways that can help to change consumer behavior to better adapt to the changes of tomorrow. Two interesting strategies put forward are:

  1. Target mindsets; not demographics.Understand the emotional mindsets in a 21st century consumer. Don’t forget about your 21st century employee, too. To retain relevance in a whole-system, self-optimized world, we’re really going to have to target mindsets and value opinions of others.
  2. Think beyond generations and focus on being timeless. Think about the great-grandson of the current customer you have. What might be their needs and aspirations?

Of course, who really knows what the future may hold. But its very uncertainty should be stimulus for . We all do it in our private lives (at least if you’re in the 20%). However, the impact of information and the interconnection of cultures and events make it much harder for individuals to make good decisions based on the onslaught of a new and confusing view of the world. With Big data and Big brains, our species can overcome the seemingly overwhelming problems that arise from complexity. And with new ways of thinking, company brands can be sustained for a millennium.


Additional Reading

Globalization….Down but Not Out

Globalization: Suicide by Comparative Advantage


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