Future Frames – A Leadership Perspective

By Sathyajit Rao posted 09-29-2020 20:03

I often get the opportunity to speak at industry events or present at webinars, and the brief is to inspire leaders with an "ah-ha" moment based on a vision for the future--a vision that will stretch imaginations, challenge biases and question status quo. I often run to handwritten notes that were the making of the book Future Frames, ideas from my research and consulting journey with industry innovators, think tanks, and heads of government and conversations with change makers. As I accelerate efforts towards shaping this body of work and put it together for my book, it is important to revisit and speak to leaders who will be featured in the writings. Authors rarely make money (unless they are the likes of J.K. Rowling!), but the opportunity to provide a unique perspective is compelling.

The Shock and Its After Effects

This opportunity was just as compelling for the authors of the best-selling 1970 book Future Shock, Alvin and Heidi Toffler. They hypothesized that information overload, a by-product of rapid technological innovation, social change, and a super-industrial society, would generate unprecedented stress, leaving people disconnected and disoriented. Too much change in too short a time would force what they called a “future shock”, perhaps even driving societies into a state of inaction, with no collective will on what to do next. So true then and even more now! In the 2020 book After Shock (written as a reflection on the 50th anniversary of Future Shock), the world’s foremost futurists reflect on how the future will present even larger multi-dimensional challenges, especially in the age of exponential technology, the platform economy, AI/ML, and polarization in thinking. Individuals, corporation, governments and societies have to figure out the profound effect of these mega trends on our collective futures.

Beyond Super-Cycles – Transformational Shifts

The reality is that few companies, institutions, nations, and government leaders have succeeded in anticipating what’s next. The vision of what needs to be done comes from leaders. For some , anticipating the future might be clairvoyance, serendipity in a “dorm” moment and a network of friends, or the benevolent smile of lady luck. But for the rest, there has to be a way of looking at the convergence of complimentary and competing forces, as well as estimations of technology maturity and obsolescence. How do we make sense of changes beyond economic and commodity super-cycles? How can we develop a frame of reference, ask the right questions, and prepare for alternative versions of the evolving future? Developing a framework can be invaluable in preparing for transformational shifts and an uncertain future. From Manufacturing 4.0 and Utility 4.0 to Precision Medicine, frameworks help evaluate competing mega forces, social action (and inaction), and possible outcomes from our own unique perspective. The ability to understand potential disruptions and examine their impact on industry, business, environment, life and our collective future can be the difference between billions or bankruptcy, sustainable development or climate catastrophe. How do we make business plans, drive digital transformation, change the course of environmental degradation, advise our children on career decisions, lead fulfilling lives with our families, contribute to society, safeguard our retirement investments and envision a collective future?

Framing Questions and Not Formulating Answers

How can one develop a framework to think about the future that is flexible enough to not only establish a baseline but provide the opportunity to recalibrate and refactor based on changing realities? How does one develop the right answers for one’s unique situation? The answer to these questions is in the eye of a beholder. The idea is not to paint a vision of a unidimensional future but to stretch the mind to step aside from established beliefs and biases through narrative, expert opinion, and a reference framework. The answer is to develop a multidimensional view of the future, a kaleidoscopic one that flexes through the interplay of megatrends, micro booms and technology convergence, yielding insights to critical business & societal challenges.

The Future Will Unfold Quite Differently From the Past

Future Frames will help companies, societies, and individuals understand issues, coalesce implications, develop plans and capitalize on opportunities for these next transformations. Future Frames will provide a perspective on transformation with a data foundation, replete with examples of digital and industry transformation, innovation insights from business leaders on the frontlines, and the author’s own two decades of experience working with companies, governments and technology solution providers. This is not a Hitachi-sponsored effort. Instead, Hitachi Vantara (my current employer) has graciously provided me the flexibility to complete the work that has been a decade in the making on my personal time. The journey to the future can be arduous, but it will certainly unfold quite differently from our expectations. Only the periodic milestones we see on the journey will provide us a sense of confidence in our current path or compel us to correct mid-course. Only by asking the right question and reframing the reference can we develop winning decisions. The compass for this journey will be Future Frames.

Leaders always start by Inspiring the Next.

1 comment



05-05-2022 13:25

Good Read