Learning from the future
Strategic foresight expert Diana Wolf-Dolgner on how companies are overcoming economic and social upheaval to actively shape the future.
Ms. Wolf-Dolgner, what does a Future Manager do?
A Future Manager creates a link between the often very abstract scenarios of futurology and the practical needs of company executives. What will tomorrow’s world look like and what role can we play in it? What opportunities will it open up for us and where will risks arise? These are questions that this discipline tackles.
Why is it so important today to deal with the future systematically?
The interaction of fundamental forces – or megatrends – is causing dramatic change. Similar to waves reinforcing each other, these trends gain strength, size and influence when they interact with one another. Through computerization and internetization, for example, we are experiencing how rapidly the requirements for the digitalization of all areas of life are being formed. This rapid change can be fatal for companies who rely on conventional, outdated patterns of thought and decision-making. Hardly anything has such a catalytic effect on other megatrends as connectivity. Information and networks are the main drivers of digital transformation, manifesting themselves in the developments of countless megatrends; including artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, the sharing economy, robotics and augmented reality. There’s no escaping it.
What does this mean for companies? How can they survive?
First of all, companies need an integrated understanding of the fundamental changes in their environment. A well-founded, fact-based analysis looks at many of the megatrends behind the upheavals in business and society. The megatrend mapping method provides participants with a kind of future gallery. Analytical and scientific aspects are combined with a creative approach. Methods like these form the basis for companies to deal with new developments creatively and develop scenarios. Ideally, this takes place in interdisciplinary teams involving strategy, human resources and the communications department. After all, it is not just a question of developing a common vision of the future and finding new playing fields, but also of providing employees with security and orientation.
Nearly every business is dealing with connectivity and digitalization. Do you have any advice?
For one, I often see companies focus on digitalizing their existing business processes without questioning whether their product or business model itself is future-proof. I also constantly notice that, despite all the emphasis on process digitalization, companies give comparatively little attention to their most important asset – people. What will these changes mean for employees? Are managers prepared for the future? This is where future management comes in and helps us from becoming passive, but instead keeps us to master the transformation proactively and successfully because “the future belongs to those who make it.”
Do you have an idea what role glass will play in a connected future?
I have come to appreciate the extremely versatile application potential of the material of glass. It plays a critical role in countless innovations – from high-performance computer chips to super-fast data transmission and foldable devices. To me, that sounds like a great deal of potential to help shape a connected future.