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Thinking Ahead: How futurism can help you build a better business or organization.

Avatar photo by Casey Woods, Executive Director | May 17, 2023
2023 Futurism Article

I’m kind of a nerd. I admit it. Growing up I watched and read a healthy diet of science fiction that fed my personality. As a Gen X’er, the science fiction was a lot different than what we see in the modern genre. Instead of persistent dystopian futures, science fiction often talked about more utopian societies that worked past some of our worst tendencies and promoted allegories to show that growth and improvement was possible. Instead of the “go it alone” person trying to burn a system to the ground, the more hopeful tone of sci-fi was based on teamwork to build something better.

What does this have to do with business or organizational growth? Sci-Fi is a form of futurism, and futurism is critical for scalable growth and adaptation in both businesses and organizations. Imagine a mental exercise where you think about the community you want to live in that contains a thriving version of your business or organization. What does that region look like? What do the people there do for fun, work, and personal fulfillment? How is your business or organization contributing to that hypothetical community?

The dreaming part is harder than you might think. What will the world look like in five, ten, or twenty years? If you can think of yourself a decade ago, would you have anticipated the present? Futurism isn’t clairvoyance, and it doesn’t have to be 100% correct, but the process of thinking through a future community and intersecting with it through a scope of work generates constant organizational improvement.

The “doing” part is always harder than the “dreaming” part. If I asked 100 people for a business idea right now I would get at least 100 businesses cited. If I went back and asked those same 100 people if they were actually going to start their business idea, that number would be MUCH lower. Intersecting with futurism requires that businesses and organizations break up strategies into much smaller “chunks” that can push them to take advantage of future trends. There are some risks associated with being proactive (hindsight is always 20/20), but there are risks associating with being stagnant and expecting the “good old days” to magically return, too.

Incorporating futurism into strategic planning and operational development can help small businesses and organizations in rural communities stay ahead of the curve and adapt to future trends. Here are seven exercises they can use:

  1. Environmental Scanning: Encourage teams to regularly scan the external environment for emerging trends, technologies, and market changes. This exercise involves conducting research, attending conferences, and staying updated on relevant industry publications.
  2. Scenario Planning: Develop multiple plausible future scenarios and discuss their potential impact on the business or organization. This exercise helps identify potential risks, opportunities, and required adaptations.
  3. Trend Analysis: Analyze ongoing trends in various industries, demographics, consumer behavior, and technology. This exercise assists in understanding how these trends might shape the future and what adjustments may be necessary.
  4. Future Customer Profiles: Imagine and create profiles of potential customers in the future. Consider their needs, preferences, and behaviors. This exercise can help businesses align their products, services, and marketing strategies accordingly.
  5. Innovation Workshops: Organize brainstorming sessions or innovation workshops where employees can freely explore new ideas and solutions. Encourage them to think outside the box and challenge existing assumptions about the business.
  6. Technology Assessments: Evaluate emerging technologies relevant to the industry or market. This exercise helps identify how technologies such as artificial intelligence, automation, or blockchain could disrupt or enhance operations.
  7. Partnerships and Collaboration: Foster relationships with other organizations, academic institutions, or research centers to gain insights into cutting-edge developments. Collaboration can help businesses access resources and expertise that may not be available locally.

Remember, futurism is an ongoing process, and it’s important to continuously revisit and update these exercises as new information becomes available.

At Emporia Main Street, we are currently looking at the impact AI is having, and will continue to have on small businesses and organizations as a force multiplier. We are looking at potential area developments and large scale employers to determine what the future of our local economy and economic priorities will look like. As consumer interaction and expectations change with businesses/organizations, we are conducting internal audits to determine if we are “keeping up”, and highlighting what we think we need to do to intersect with changing consumer behavior in the future. We understand that consumer dynamics will shift as more Boomer’s retire and Gen Z becomes more prevalent; and we need to overhaul our systems and strategies to intersect with generational shifts. We have adjusted our Promotions Team Meetings to a “drinkers and thinkers” format and integrated a BHAG (big hairy audacious goals) segment into all organizational meetings to foster some foresight discussions. We are actively assessing new tech and integrating it into our scope of work (the seven suggestions above were written by an AI program, and the article image was generated by AI). We are working with Main Street America and the Center on Rural Innovation to establish a broader network of peers with different perspectives on future opportunities (it’s good to get outside your bubble).

What will your business or organization do to incorporate futurism into your plan of work? For more information on this topic, check out Future Good.

About the Author

Casey Woods, Executive Director

Before accepting the director position in March of 2009, Casey worked in both retail and agricultural jobs in the family businesses. A lifelong resident of the Emporia Area, Casey was a ten year volunteer for Emporia Main Street prior to his appointment as director. During that time he served as the board president and chair of the Economic Vitality Committee.

Casey also serves as a partner in PlaceMakers, LLC, a consulting firm that routinely works with both large and small communities, and their businesses, to promote sustainable economic growth through community and economic development practices. Casey consults with businesses, organizations and communities to understand their market capacity and fill vacant spaces. He has been involved in two projects that included crowdfunding as a part of their overall business funding strategies, Radius Brewing and Twin Rivers Winery & Gourmet Shoppe.