Design thinking

The Future is Overrated

Stefan Moritz

Many boards are struggling to keep up with the glut of distracting tech concepts they need to follow these days. It feels overwhelming. You wonder if it is even possible to anticipate the future when change occurs so fast? The main problem for large businesses is that they move slowly; by the time they catch up, their customers are already somewhere else. However, I think I have some good news.

Last year I spoke with the CEO of a large service company. He asked me what the promising new trends are for 2016. Somehow it struck me that each year around the holidays, we stir the buzzword soup and see some major technology trend – probably Artificial Reality this year – moving up the Gartner Hype Cycle’s “Slope of Enlightenment.” It’s great to think ahead, but I argue that the future is overrated.

The future is already here

A Google self-driving car was recently pulled over by a police officer for going too slow. You can apply for a home loan on your mobile device and receive instant approval. We stream-read any book we desire on the beach and watch live content on the plane. Sometimes I gesture control my PowerPoint slides with a device that reads the electric flow in my muscles. Mickey Mouse knows your daughter’s birthday, thanks to the MagicBand she’s wearing on your Disney vacation. We play time-shifted chess at the bus stop. There’s a fridge magnet that orders your favorite pizza when you press it. All of this, and much more, is already available today.

If we can imagine it, most likely it’s possible

We’ve reached the point where often, technology is no longer the limiting factor. It’s our thinking and imagination that sets the boundaries. The first era of digitization was about transferring the way we do things into the digital realm. We have digital post-its and digital graveyards, and we manage much of our lives the same way as before – only now they are digital. The next phase I believe is to re-imagine how we run our lives entirely. Think of iTunes as the first step toward putting your CD collection on a digital shelf. Think of Spotify as a whole new way of experiencing music: you subscribe, you opt for moods, you have all kinds of songs at your fingertips. This digital service opened possibilities we didn’t even know we wanted. Which takes us to a very crucial point…

On a recent project we helped a global company figure out how customers may expect to experience a new offering in the future. We couldn’t ask them about it since the product didn’t exist yet, but even if it did, consumers may not be able to imagine or articulate how they might want to interact with it. So we invented a new research technique that works really well to connect the future with deep human needs. Many companies think about customer involvement in innovation in very traditional ways. But I believe nonetheless the customer can be the focus we need to see the light.

The value of knowing what customers will expect in the future has never been greater.

In this storm of change, the customer is the best compass

When you seek profitable growth for your business, it might very well come from attracting new customers. That was the focus for many service businesses in recent decades: customer acquisition. However, if your customer experience is not meeting their expectations, the investment in winning them will be wasted. People used to be easy to please, but expectations are on the rise influenced by experiences with services in other areas. So I would argue that a great approach is growing along with the expectations of your existing customers. They will tell their friends or colleagues and you will get new customers anyway. The only person that sees the complete picture of your company is the customer. Many opportunities are right in front of you once you start digging in to the deep needs of your customers, the jobs they try to get done, the value that they get from using your services. Many companies know what their customers want. But they don’t know why. And if you don’t know you simply can not innovate.

Leverage todays opportunities is what counts

Even if you know where you have significant business opportunities, the hardest and probably the biggest challenge is your capability to implement them. Successful companies look at three horizons simultaneously: 1) operational excellence, 2) growth, and 3) creating the future. At Veryday we’ve developed a framework that helps integrate future opportunities constantly but makes them happen today. Working systematically with a framework like this is a question of dedication, commitment and leadership. It may require changes to incentives, processes, structures and even cultures. But we know that design is a fantastic catalyst and that such transformations are possible in both small and large companies. The starting point is recognizing the need to do something dramatically different and perhaps the biggest threat to success is complacency.