Yes prediction is difficult, but when we innovate it is essential. We are thinking not only about the market need as it is today, but as we think it will develop over time. Especially if we are innovating in a market where new products and services may take years to be commercialised.
We need to understand how the interplay of consumer wants and needs, technology, and social, environmental and political drivers will shape the markets we serve over time.
Fortunately, you don’t have to develop predictions all on your own. There are many people from governments, trade associations, universities, NGOs and consultancies actively publishing visions of the future.
Many techniques have been developed to explore possible futures. These are some of the most popular.
1. Foresight studies
These use a variety of processes to build a consensus amongst experts on long term futures. They are often used to inform policy debates in government.
The UK’s Government Office of Science has published a large number of studies on a 20-80 year horizon, covering everything from sustainable energy management to infectious diseases, and the future of food and farming. These are in-depth studies of key societal challenges built on the latest expert thinking.
Scenarios are less in-depth extrapolations of what we know now, and more stories about possible alternative futures.
Often developed by experts with the help of the public, they describe the different ways in which society or a market might evolve as different forces become dominant. Since we often don’t know which changes will happen at what speed, scenarios don’t give a specific future, rather examples of how things might turn out.
The American futurist and author John Naisbitt coined the term megatrends in the 1980s. Megatrends are the big slow waves of change that transform our world. They don’t go away and they can’t be ignored.
There is much that is uncertain about our future, but a lot of climate change is already baked into the system; the world’s population is living longer; certain key resources are under pressure; the global middle class continues to grow.
Any strategy for the future of a business needs to think about the implications of these and other megatrends.
4. Technology roadmaps
Technology roadmaps are much more focused and shorter term than foresight studies or scenarios. Often done at the level of an industry, they show how current and emerging technologies can be combined to create new products and services that meet future market needs.
Like any map they don’t prescribe the route, they show the options, and leave you to work out what the best path is for you and your company.
So what should I do?
The important thing is that there is a lot of good material out there, freely accessible. Reports about your current market and the market you want to grow in, the technologies you use and the technologies you would like to use.
Events such as Innovate 2016 on November 2-3 in Manchester are an excellent way to hear from national and international industry leaders on the latest technology developments in the fastest growing sectors globally. Bringing together over 2,500 innovators, investors and experts the event will look in particularly at Manufacturing of the Future, Cities of the Future, Health in the Future and Technologies of the Future.
Use this to build your own vision for your company and your future.
Richard Miller is Deputy Director - Innovation in Industry, Innovate UK