TechRepublic's Teena Maddox asked author and Northwestern University professor Robert Wolcott to explain how senior leadership stays relevant as technology rapidly changes around them. Walcott is Clinical Professor of Innovation & Entrepreneurship in Executive Education; Co-Founder and Executive Director, Kellogg Innovation Network, and author of Grow From Within: Mastering Corporate Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
Wolcott: In a world of accelerating and increasingly volatile change, any incumbent organization, those that are successful today, must aggressively invest in the future to remain relevant. Now let's be clear, they also have to remain exceptional at what they do today, that can't fall, otherwise the whole game is over, but you have to invest for the future otherwise you won't have one.
The challenge is that the day-to-day requirements of competition in the present, in your core business, will always win out in arguments against investing for two years, three years, five years out. This is where it requires the commitment, the true commitment, of senior management to protect some resources, some money, but also most importantly, the attention of some of your best people, your most limited resources, not capital. It's the attention of your best people, where senior leadership's responsibility is to ensure that some of their best people are focused on investing for the future.
Now not just iterating on your core business, that's important, but truly figuring out where your customers and perhaps your customer's customers might want to be in five years or seven years. By the way, just asking your customers isn't good enough. The reality is if your customers are telling you they need something, they're also telling your competition. Thus, we must figure out ways to understand what customers want before they're able to tell us.
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A way we do this on a high level is first figure out what kind of company you aspire to be in five to seven or 10 — it depends on your industry — what company you aspire to be in the future. After you have that strategic frame, that basic concept of where you want to go, then think about foresight, insight, action. Foresight is where might the world go in the future, not where will it go, not where we predict it will go, because that is too limiting, but the variety of plausible futures that the world might take.
Then, once you have this notion of foresight, draw out insights relevant for your company, also relevant for your customers, your customer's customers, all the players across the whole ecosystem of your industry, because those relationships and money flows will change and then once you've defined the insights, define actions that you can go out and take to do and this is the key, build a portfolio of options in the future.
Anytime we address high uncertainty, we must consider optionality. That's it. A frame for what you want to become, foresight, insight, action, to build a portfolio of options to keep you relevant and thriving in the years to come.
Teena Maddox is a Senior Writer at TechRepublic, covering hardware devices, IoT, smart cities and wearables. She ties together the style and substance of tech. Teena has spent 20-plus years writing business and features for publications including People, W and Women's Wear Daily.