Assumptions about your business environment underpin every choice your management team makes about the future. Frequently, our beliefs about how quickly change will happen, or the extent to which the environment is susceptible to disruption, are to some degree inaccurate. Knowing this is what motivates us to pay attention to leading indicators, and be aware of the need to learn. This is, of course, because we don’t know the future. Change is constantly occurring, the accuracy of our beliefs about the business or competitive environment are always in flux and partially flawed. For this reason, it is critical to challenge assumptions in the planning process.
Let’s also acknowledge that we have some degree of control over how the future plays out. Because of this, your plans and strategies don’t have to be a reaction to what other players in your environment are doing. Some of the best strategies are those that redefine a market space, and do so in a way that is most beneficial to you, and not your competitors. While in years past, it was the domain of large organizations with physical (retail, supply chain) infrastructure girth that seemed difficult to topple, this is no longer the case. Quite often, innovation and agility are driving new value because these organizations have less of a stake in protecting old ways of doing things.
When the world changes at the pace that it does, we can no longer afford to build strategy without purposefully testing assumptions, backed by research. Failing to do this leaves organizations vulnerable because it works backward from the idea that we already know enough about what is emerging competitively, and it limits motivation to increase our vision. In 2008, after the market disruption, strategic planners were rocked to their core, questioning how our environmental analysis processes failed to see the sky falling before it did. And yet, many companies have proceeded beyond this point without fundamentally correcting this flaw.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin
Make a list of the beliefs you have about how your industry will change over the coming years. Talk about it with your peers and partners. Let your research team look for outliers. Look for strategies that allow you to use the future against your less adaptive competitors. This is what strategic planning is about.