The Art of Strategic Futures

By John Sanei, Author, and Singularity Faculty Member

We live in disruptive times. Technology is evolving faster than ever before and pandemic, wars and an unprecedented climate crisis are wreaking havoc on life as we knew it. Coping with these rapid paradigm changes in the environment can be overwhelming and many businesses get caught up in making incremental adjustments without really moving forward. SunTec Confluence 2022 delved into the ‘Art of Strategic Futures’ with John Sanei, Author, and Singularity Faculty Member.

As a society, we have been conditioned to crave certainty. Economies of scale, profitability, linear growth, these are established concepts that we know how to work with and want for a feeling of stability. Unfortunately, right now, predictability is a luxury we no longer have. The process of transformation typically has three phases. First, that of sadness and the inability to let go of established practices. The familiarity of convention is comfortable and secure, and the thought of leaving it behind can be unsettling. The second phase is that of strangeness. Change is inevitable and moving out of established comfort zones is unavoidable. This leads to a situation where nothing makes sense, and one is caught up in trying to adjust. It is safe to say that at the moment, the world is stuck somewhere between sadness and strangeness. We have some time to go before we get to the third stage – adventure. Here is where we must dissociate from the urge to predict what is coming next and strategize effectively and innovatively to meet new demands. The adventure phase is when we must forget the past and imagine the possibilities before us.

Transformation in work is inextricably tied in with human attributes and skills – both physical and mental. For example, 600 years ago, human society was largely agricultural. People needed to be physically strong and fit to be able to work in the fields all day long. And so, physical health and strength were valued and required for a person to thrive. But this changed with the onset of the Industrial Revolution 200 years ago. Physical strength was no longer that critical as machines were taking care of the hard labor. The ability to work with machines and improve outcomes was more important and as a society we focused on intelligence, IQ, and knowledge. This is the world we are still living in where predictability and linear growth are important, and education is the key to success. But we are also in a stage of flux – rapidly moving from the industrial era into the quantum era when Artificial Intelligence (AI) is replacing human knowledge and capabilities. From communication to transportation, and energy, changing operational models will lead to a future economy that is free. Artificial Intelligence will drive this new digital economy and there are already several examples of AI executing the most unexpected of tasks. Consider GPT2 that can create original text based on some keywords, or DALL-E that can draw anything described in text. Now, it is time for us to inculcate new skills, namely – intuition, creativity, imagination, and fascination.

The difference between the world today and that of the future can also be described thus – today we live in a complicated world while the future world is complex. A complicated world is one where patterns are repeated, for example production lines in factories. Problems in this ecosystem can be solved using math, accounting, or Excel spreadsheets because it is rooted in linear predictability. Economies of scale and efficiency are key here. And everything in this world will eventually be automated. The complex world of the future also has patterns, but they are not predictable or repeated. Math and Excel spreadsheets therefore cannot control outcomes here as patterns are dynamic. This world requires technology that can perform complex, specialized tasks like DALL-E that can create art out of words. Economies of learning and robustness are key here.

The question is, how can organizations of today address the current disruption and prepare for the future quantum era? The answer lies in building two organizations within one. The first one comprises innovators who focus on the problems of today. They continue to do what they did last year but better with a focus on economies of scale and profitability. They work with a one-to-two year timeframe and focus on driving revenues and profits for the organization. The second organization comprises disruptors who focus on innovations to make current business models redundant by creating new ones. They work with a two-to-five-year timeframe and operate on economies of learning and experimentation. Their work is not tied to current revenues or operations. This team will be instrumental in helping the organization strategize and prepare for the future.

Change is inevitable and a necessary part of growth. Today we are living in disruptive uncertain times, but it is important to remember that life is based on memories of the past and a vision of the future. Our world today holds an equal number of challenges and opportunities, and it is up to us to focus on understanding and embracing change to embark on the adventure of the future.

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