Day and Shoemaker wrote in 2005 an interesting article on the importance of taking into account what happens at the periphery of one’s company. This is a key issue when dealing with the future.

First of all, one figure : two thirds of corporate strategists have been surprised by at least three high impact events in the five years preceding the article. By itself, the figure is staggering when you think that a big part of these people’s job is to try to asses these type of events. The authors counterbalance this by saying that one should be neurotic either and work on useless signal, and they also offer a quick&easy way to assess this.

In order to deal with this challenge, they summarize a few key elements :

1. Learn from the past. Basically, if one has missed numerous events in the political realm, hence one should work on this domain. If this is easily understandable, it nevertheless raises an issue : what happened before might not be what happens tomorrow. This kind of « linear thinking » seems a bit awkward when dealing with the future. In fact, we have even pushed the idea of « freeing the future from the past » in our book

2. Find analogies. Has another industry faced issues that could happen to yours? We can only agree on that point. And further more, have these industries found answers to these issues ? This type of analogies are often used in design thinking and innovation and are a great thought experiment.

3. Check who is good in one’s industry at picking up weak signals. We understand the idea here, but this implies that this organization has managed to do it before and will systematically do it. Maybe there was just one smart guy in there and nothing much to copy or benchmark. We would limit the work to an understanding of what the competitors or other stakeholders are working on.

4. More interesting in our opinion is the cognitive bias of « over rationalizing things ». We have all heard managers discarding an information by estimating that it will have no impact. So listing all these things and trying to really see if there is a bias in the things that are being rationalized away is an interesting proposal

5. Same thing with the « maverick » employees or clients. For the authors these are the people who have insights about the periphery but who are rarely tapped into. The issue then is how to have top management accept that these people might have spotted something and how they should be used.

And of course, the authors propose to work on « unthinkable scenarios », i.e wild cards ones. These approaches are great in allowing people to think differently about tomorrow and to prepare for it (some authors even suggest to develop an organisation’s improv capacity this way). Again, the challenge is to have the top management work on something that they might not feel tangible: the « are we working on something that will be useful in the near future » feeling…

All the tips developed here are reasons to pay attention to imaginaries of the futures, a way to shed light on periphery !