The Limitations of Experts

The future will be a combination of persistence and novelty – some behaviours will persist, new behaviours will emerge. Anticipating which trends will persist, which new trends will arise, and what the implications and opportunities from these changes might be, is essentially the job of a corporate futurist.

The weakness in traditional corporate strategy typically lies in the absence of any planning for the emergence of future novelty. Instead, existing trends are extrapolated and plans are developed based on a business-as-usual scenario.

Now there’s no doubt that anticipating the rise of new behaviours is the harder of the two futures to foresee. However, since change is inevitable and the future is not linear, the business-as-usual scenario is actually the least likely to eventuate.

So how can companies improve their search for future novelty?

A step in the right direction is to recognise the weakness in relying too heavily on industry experts as guides to the future of your industry. Whilst experts have superior knowledge of the past and present, their insight into the future is usually only as valid as the next person’s. Often it is less so. Their perceptions are so tied up in the conventions of today and yesterday that they find it hard to break free and see future novelty. Since there are no facts about the future, there are no experts about the future.

So the strength of the expert – their paradigm expertise – becomes a weakness when thinking about the future. Their depth of knowledge proving to be a barrier that prevents them from seeing future disruption. Unfortunately, with paradigm depth comes paradigm blindness!

If you want to improve your company’s future planning and innovation performance, rather than relying on traditional sources, try cultivating a group of perception pioneers. Perception pioneers rarely have an in depth knowledge of your industry – and this is their advantage – they don’t carry the baggage of paradigm depth. Instead, they offer you a different perspective – they see the future differently. They can help you to anticipate the emergence of novelty.

Detecting future novelty does not rely on data – by its very nature of being on the fringe, there will be little statistical evidence pointing to its future significance. Instead, it relies on being sensitive to the silent epidemics that are simmering beneath the surface of today’s trends.

And this is the advantage that perception pioneers can bring to your company.

By regularly tapping into their diversity through formal strategic conversations that become part of the ongoing planning and innovation process, companies can continually challenge their own assumptions on the future, leading to fresh and unique perceptions.

This source of future insight is not only far cheaper than most approaches employed today, it is by far the most effective way to discover future novelty.

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