As the world recovers from a global pandemic, leaders face an unprecedented challenge: To identify what works for a new and evolving today and what will be required to thrive tomorrow.
The economic fallout of Covid-19 reaching into every corner of the globe has been a wake-up call: Relying on patterns from the past is no longer enough.
Companies that can spot change while it is happening and learn to reasonably forecast its outcomes will start at a better position and end with a better result. This means that decisions made over the next 12 to 18 months will have a major influence in determining the difference between thriving and struggling to survive in the next five years.
Despite living in this era of disruption, our research reveals that most business leaders do not feel equipped to make sound decisions as they continue to face an unsettled future. In fact, only 6% of executives are completely confident in their organisation’s ability to foresee and respond to future disruption.
The ‘Intentional Futurist’ imperative
Today’s environment requires leaders to be built for change. Since leaders may not be able to predict future unexpected major events, making use of every tool and every piece of data can help businesses become more attuned to and prepared for global shifts and opportunities.
This is where the concept of being an intentional futurist comes in.
An intentional futurist, as we call it, is a twist on the traditional definition of a futurist. The intentional futurist is someone who relentlessly seeks data, trends and insights to anticipate change before it happens; to see change before it happens.
So, just how can leaders anticipate and become intentional about the future? Here are the signals of business change that can provide leaders with visibility and guidance through the decision fog.
Learning from the future
Businesses are starting to use data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) to find patterns and create strategies that anticipate the future.
Rather than focusing on the past for insights, the best organisations are becoming more predictive. It is time for leaders to look forward, to constantly seek new data and insights garnered from inside and outside the organisation’s four walls. This includes using AI-based analysis to find patterns, anticipate trends and detect new sources of growth opportunities by giving them greater confidence that they are on the right path to growth.
For example, China’s MYbank thrives by using AI to scrutinise real-time data. MYbank now takes less than one second to approve or reject lending applications, which in itself takes less than three minutes to submit on a mobile phone. Taking such an expansive view allows enterprises to make decisions faster and with greater confidence. It also enables them to tackle previously intractable challenges and stay one step ahead.
Prepare for globalisation’s next phase
As virtual environments enhance our physical worlds and redefine our sense of place, organisations are creating new ways for people to work, consume and socialise.
Innovative organisations are working to blend virtual and physical worlds, to build what we call “real virtualities”, which are immersive physical environments that redefine the spaces where people work, learn, socialise and shop. Our research reveals that 88% of executives are investing in technologies that would enable their organisations to create virtual environments, with over 90% looking to increase those investments in the next three years.
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Current virtual reality technology mostly engages our sense of vision and hearing but over time, it will engage all our senses. Virtual worlds will become increasingly realistic, imbued with a greater sense of the physical, engaging smell, and feel as well as sight and sound. This shift brings many opportunities — for one, virtual goods are becoming a real source of economic value while enabling us to meet sustainability targets.
In the long-term, the distinction between the physical and virtual worlds will continue to blur. For businesses, the opportunities include stronger, more diverse pipelines of ideas and talent. Such technology will reduce the hurdles to remote work and allow many more employees to relocate without leaving their employers, liberating companies to scour the entire world for talent.
The pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated long-standing inequities both between individuals and between industries and countries. Society is holding companies responsible for their entire ecosystem.
There is a growing consensus that the interests of the society and investors are best served by organisations that are purpose-run. In fact, Accenture’s research shows that companies stand to benefit from being forward-thinking. Those that invest in sustainability and digital transformation are 2.5 times more likely to be among tomorrow’s strongest-performing businesses.
Companies are being engineered to be purpose-run, and incorporating sustainability lies at the heart of new pathways to growth. According to our study, companies with high ratings for environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance had operating margins 3.7 times higher, on average, than those of lower ESG performers.
In the years ahead, the relationship between financial performance and sustainability is expected to grow. More than four in five (83%) executives believe that rethinking the management of their organisation to further a multi-dimesional view of value creation will be important to their business success over the next three years.
The evolving business environment is proof that leaders have to be built for change, and this is why becoming an ‘Intentional Futurist’ is critical. There is no crystal ball for business, but intentional futurist leaders will not just survive, but thrive, as the world continues to change rapidly and radically.
Valentin de Miguel is the senior managing director and the strategy and consulting lead for growth markets at Accenture