In our latest Tricord newsletter I wrote about planning in uncertainty and ended with the question, “How often do you think organisations should think about its future?” Jim Collins suggests this is a regular activity in companies which beat their industry index by 10 times (10X) over the long term, through what he calls “productive paranoia.” To be clear this is not about fear and indecision but rather staying highly attuned to threats and changes in the organisations environment, and continually asking, ‘What if’…especially when all’s going well!
However my experience of many organisations is that organisational culture is oriented to energetic “fire fighting” rather than proactive thinking about the future. The drivers for this may be external changes such as regulation and guidance from the centre in the public sector, by innovative competitors, or by internal culture where business professionals are addicted to fire fighting, to “show how good we are at solving problems, and that it will help us get ahead. ” I will discuss organisational culture in my next article, “Thinking the Unthinkable” but for now I want to focus on the frequency of futures thinking.
Charles H. Fine argues that each industry has its own evolutionary life cycle or “clockspeed.” This is measured by the rate at which the industry introduces new or next generation products / services, processes, technologies, and organizational structures. As you would expect each industry has a particular clockspeed, e.g. highly competitive technology based industries have high clockspeeds, while heavily regulated industries such as nuclear power stations have lower clockspeeds. However with the pressures on organisations through the recession and in particular those in health and social care dealing with the “prefect storm”, organisations will need to increase their clockspeeds to be successful and sustainable.
So what does this mean for you as leaders? At the recent European Organisation Design Forum conference in Vienna , Stu Winby, a leader in the field of rapid prototyping said that organisations with the highest failure rates will be the most successful i.e. those that continually experiment with new innovations, designs etc. Other strategic commentators suggest you should scan within and outside your industries for effective business models, build new capabilities that support rapid product development, have a customer focussed mind-set, and expand into adjacent markets where your organisations unique value adds may set it apart. Are you proactively failing to create new value? What do you think?

Jim Collins (2011), Great by Choice
The Telegraph (2004), ‘Firefighting’ is something to be stamped out
Charles H. Fine Clockspeed: Winning Industry Control in the Age of Temporary Advantage”
EODF 2013 Vienna Conference
Booz and Co.