Putting the Future on the Table
I am aware that large organizations are not strangers to strategic planning or crisis management. They have the requisite speakers and programs and exercises. Much of it is quite impressive.
There's one thing, however, they often do not have: People with the sole responsibility of identifying problems that aren't on the current radar screen but which will be appearing in five to ten years or more.
Now you may quickly note, "Isn't that task carried by the other functions?" And you'd be correct but those functions hold other responsibilities as well and those other jobs can either defuse and distract or can produce the leaden hand of practicality that crushes the ability to sense faint signals.
The environmental movement was bubbling in the Fifties but few people noticed it. The civil rights movement was boiling over at the same time and even then many underestimated its impact. The auto execs in Detroit scoffed at competition from Japan until it was at their throats. Currently in Europe ,you can see a nervous realization of the potential impact of radical - as opposed to moderate - Islamic immigrants and yet that problem has been growing for years.
Just one task: Spot the future issues. Identify the eventual developments. Tell us what might happen if China turns into a fascist megapower, oil is no longer needed to power vehicles, marriage is replaced by polygamy as an institution, the Latin American nations aren't able to produce sufficient jobs, movies go directly from producers to consumers via the Internet, there's permanent drought in the Southwest, or any number of changes occur that might have enormous impact.
I recall conducting some workforce projection workshops for an energy company back in the Eighties. In the course of my research, I ran across the far-sighted view of a diplomat from Singapore. He said that the invasions of the future would be conducted by immigrants, not armies. When I talked about immigration to the classes in those days, the issue was sort of a parlor topic reserved for professors, consultants, and demographers. People were interested, but they didn't personally witness the connection to their jobs and communities.
Now immigration is a topic that people discuss around their kitchen tables.
Large organizations would be wise to bring together a small and diverse group of thinkers and give them one job: Find the kitchen table issues of the future.