Yogi Berra once said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.” Although he was a baseball player, his gift for the quip gave the world many quotes that are relevant to other disciplines, including business. The aforementioned quote might be Berra’s most germane contribution to the strategic planning process. The pace of change keeps accelerating and so it becomes difficult to strategize for an increasingly uncertain future.
Rapid change becomes more salient when we consider that history is rife with smart business people who were wrong about the future of their industry. For example, Ken Olsen, the founder of Digital Equipment Company, said, “There is no reason a person would want a computer in their home.” Olsen made this statement in 1977, four years before the IBM PC emerged to eventually become a household fixture. In 1946, Darryl Zanuck, an executive at 20th Century Fox, said, “Television won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.”
This is where a form of strategic storytelling known as ‘scenario planning’ can help. Scenario planning is a process that extrapolates from current trends and events to produce visions of the future that are plausible because they are based on facts. It recognizes that while the future can’t be predicted, strategies can be rehearsed against a range of possible futures. This helps businesses make better decisions in the face of increasing uncertainty.
Change driving the future
Scenario planning uses ‘change drivers.’ These are trends or events with the potential to profoundly impact the future, usually related to a strategy or a particular strategic question (ie, should we expand our brand into India; will Millennials have a different attitude towards disinfecting compared to previous generations). One rich source of change drivers is Mintel Trends, a platform that identifies a wide variety of trends relevant to consumer lifestyles and product innovation.
For example, in the household category, brands might want to anticipate what the future of convenience will look like by a particular date. Mintel Trend ‘Who Needs Humans’ looks at the advancement of automation as a tool that replaces human labor in the home and throughout society. Home automation can certainly drive convenience and allow us to recoup some of the time we spend on chores.
Another convenience-oriented Mintel Trend is ‘Life Hacking.’ Garments that are resistant to stains and odor are a life hack because it reduces a need to wash clothes. While both of these trends drive convenience, clothing that doesn’t need to be washed as often would also reduce the need for automation. This results in two convenience-oriented trends that could drive very different consumer outcomes in the laundry category.
This is an intentionally-simplistic example, but the fact is there are hundreds of trends and events that will shape the future of household care. Changes in how people care for their homes could also be driven by the rise in single-person households, home downsizing, aging populations, economic growth, technology trends, government policy and competitive dynamics in the household market. These variables can change home care regimens as well as the products that are used for household chores. Changing the trajectory of just one change driver, while holding everything else constant, can lead to a very different future.