There is no greater fear than the fear of the unknown. Strategic foresight and future thinking exist to help tame the imaginary line connecting now and then. Competence alone is not enough; character and perspective are also required in equal doses. This means that working with the future needs a lot more than hype cycle analyses and predictions about the future of this and that from self-anointed guru-ninja-hackers without any proper training in foresight. Developing strong characters is fundamental to ensuring an ethos of good ancestry.
Practising future-back management is critical to enabling breakthrough innovation and leapfrogs when the road ahead seems rather foggy.
Nurturing a sense of perspective becomes the antidote from getting stuck in antiquated ways of working, thinking and behaving. Marketing’s new research and developments can indeed be quite distracting given their high frequency and volume. In trying to make sense of the new and generate brand buzz from it, marketers end up missing out on rather transformational opportunities – those where the future can be more evenly distributed.
This is rather disconcerting since marketers are often some of the most well-rounded and best-informed professionals in their organisations, with a sharp sense of ‘what’s next’. Still, many get caught by the glitz of the novel, instead of putting their energy in the grittiness of the foresight process.
In fact, when it comes to crystalising the definition of the 21st century marketer, Google conducted an experiment that involved interviewing 30 board members from Fortune 1000 companies, having accumulated more than 1300 minutes of audio and over 100,000 words about the role of the CMO (Think with Google 2020), which was then summarised in one long, important paragraph:
“The 21st century CMO is expected to be a marketing miracle worker, an alchemist who combines classic art of branding with the latest advances in data and measurement. All this while you serve as the connective tissue of the C-suite and stay a step ahead of the rapidly changing landscape of digital technology, cultural trends and shifting consumer expectations – things becoming ever more important to the stock price. Customers matter more than ever and, since you’re responsible for them, your role should matter more than ever too. But board members do not seem to have one cohesive definition of the role.
So, what are you to do?
Internally, steer expectations for your role by defining growth, you have some control over. And recognise that the talent of your team is half the battle to achieving that growth. Hire the best measurement people, because marketing will be held to some metric that is currently beyond reach, and you’ll need them to invent it. There are many ways you can impact revenue – but be prepared to show the ‘I’m indispensable’ maths. And do not forget the most visible CMOs also take big risks. Only three percent of board members interviewed were marketers. Likely, they do not hear you. Listen closely and find the overlap between what the board is interested in and your responsibilities. And, instead of building slides about everything you do, build one slide that puts you in a position to start a conversation around those common interests and goals.”
What is interesting to note is that futures thinking is all over in the paragraph above and yet, nowhere on it. As haiku-esque as a statement, this is the closest to the truth. Strategic foresight and futures thinking are not explicitly mentioned, but implicitly dominate the subtext, with clear emphasis on character, competence and perspective too. Therefore, the opportunity is to nurture the Phewturecast seed, and develop the gravitas required for marketers and their peers to encourage and normalise the allocation of foresight investment. If education is key to opening more doors for foresight, appropriate use of language is the red carpet welcoming the long-awaited guests that can help reshape the future for the better.
For the ambitious marketers out there, this is just the beginning of your futures literacy. Use it and pierce the future through the present.