Exploring What's Possible With an Innovation Insurgent
By Jorge Barba
To imagine a future is easy, to imagine one that matters is another story. The world is changing fast. I see it everyday in the articles and stories that get shared on my self-curated Twitter feed, as well as the conversations I have with people trying to change the world. For example, articles on how a future without cows is near, another on how our future food intake will include bugs, and another on how a self-driving car was pulled over. These are just articles related to the future of food and transportation, dig deeper and you'll get a picture into how various industries are changing and how others are being created in front of us. Why is this important?
Because as business leader you need to consider possibilities in order to future proof yourself. You do this by looking far and wide, asking questions and connecting the dots. Ask yourself, are we deliberately making taking time from our day to day work to discuss "possibilities"? I doubt you are.
The Big Bang Is When Possibilities Come True
I've been blogging for 8 years about my passion: innovation. Which, to me, is a better future delivered. The path to deliver that future is non-linear, it doesn't follow a straight path. There are many roads one can take, with their own obstacles. Anticipating these things is an art, but it has to be done. I've been fortunate to have a been a part of a few startups where imagining unforeseen scenarios and maneuvering around them was my calling card because it is very common for me to engage in "possibility" discussions with friends and collaborators.
With that said, even though I've written almost 1000 posts about innovation, there's been something missing in the pot. So, I decided to start my own podcast about innovation, new ideas, and how the world is changing; where we simply ask: what's possible? I called it The Big Bang.
So far, we've discussed topics that have weight in our future. For example, we chatted with Arnold Beekes about how a world that is changing rapidly is better suited for Generalists than specialists. We had a wide discussion with Rohan Light on how analytics is changing the way decisions are made in business. We also discussed how once virtual reality gets wider adoption people will exchange reality for a made up reality. And, we've recently discussed the skills we'll need in a future where we'll delegate tasks to robots. Taking it further, we recently discussed how in the near future we'll no longer have to search for work; rather it will find us, but with serious consequences.
All of these, and future discussion, are related to future possibilities. And, unlike maverick startups, it is these types of conversations that are missing inside most large organizations. So, when I'm asked about how to jumpstart innovation inside traditional businesses, my responses is always with a question: in what ways are you blocking it? Innovative businesses have a few things in common, one of key trait is exploring possibilities.
How Do You Explore What's Possible?
Yes, even large organizations can be, and are, innovative. All it takes is one question: what if? But to get to that game-changing question you need to ask provocative ones that shake the status-quo. Here are 4 ways you and your team can begin exploring possibilities:
Ask Questions That Anticipate Great Challenges
Uncertainty is the norm, and we all have to deal with it. How do we do that? The easiest way is to begin asking yourself questions about what could be. Simply put, future-proofing yourself begins pondering the impossible. Questions are only the beginning. The next step, is to turn those questions into hypotheses that we can then test in a cheap and speedy way.
I've recently written about how a group inside the CIA, The Red Team, is tasked with considering possibilities. Basically, The Red Team is a group that asks itself "what if?" and develops scenarios that help leaders shift perspective. To explore possibilities you need to shift perspective, so you could create an alternative analysis group similar to the CIA's Red Team. But, the point is that beyond tasking a dedicated group to develop alternative scenarios, any business should develop the habit of taking some time from business as usual to ask "what if".
Explore Other Domains
Today, industry barriers are blurring. Competition is non-linear, adjacent. To foresee and anticipate how a market might play out or be created requires an entirely different skill set from the one that business schools teach; it requires sense making. The leaders equipped with sense making pattern thinkers, which means they have insatiable curiosity. To feed that curiosity they explore far and wide, while also digging deep to understand root causes. Ultimately, they want to find an answer to the following question: What's happening in another part of the world, domain, organization, that we could adopt and adapt in our environment?
Create An Intelligence Network
In order to chart the best way forward, you must understand emerging trends: what they are, what they aren’t, and how they operate. Such trends are more than shiny objects; they’re manifestations of sustained changes within an industry sector, society, or human behavior. Trends are a way of seeing and interpreting our current reality, providing a useful framework to organize our thinking, especially when we’re hunting for the unknown. Fads pass. Trends help us forecast the future. Smart leaders understand that the future isn't found in the mainstream, rather on the fringe. So, to complement the previous point, smart leaders also develop and nurture a network of agents that share insight from the fringe. The most simple way to go about creating an intelligence network is using Twitter, as you can find experts in various fields sharing their insights.
Lastly, ideas are a dime a dozen and playing with them in our heads is just a start. To get insight into what's possible you have to put ideas in play. Simply put, without experimentation there is no innovation.