Framing the Future – Which Instruments are at our disposal?

The previous articles in our series “Navigating Complexity” discussed the essence of changes and options for action in our VUCA world. This issue will present instruments, which help to make complexities and interrelations of forces of chances more transparent, and thus enable developing powerful frameworks of the future. As a result urgent needs to act, options for action, and new potential areas of growth become more visible based on an advanced understanding of the mechanisms and interactions of ongoing change processes.

By Dr. Friedhelm Böttcher and Dr. Karl-Michael Schumann

Strategic Mapping – Orientation by Visualization

Effective Navigation systems need to make complex interrelationships transparent, and simplify complexity in a way that the essentials are quickly recognized and understood. At the same time they need to ensure that the relevant and determining links between the key factors are not lost.

In this sense, Strategic Mapping [1] can create compact, visualized representations of complex interrelationships which offer unique opportunities. The challenges of creating and managing business growth in a VUCA world have proven Trend Maps and Innovation Maps to be particularly useful.

Trend Maps visualize a landscape of trends and counter-trends that are partly already effective and partly still to come, and which might transform entire industries and business sectors. By displaying the development of these trends along a time axis, it is possible to predict when certain trends will likely become perceptible and by when they will have reached their maximum effect. Practitioners of Trend Maps can draw conclusions about which transformational developments might affect their company and industry and initiate measures in good time.

Our Trend Maps are based on simple trend catalogues, which are regularly updated via surveys and workshops among the wider community of our cross-industry network “future_bizz”. They are subsequently adapted and optimized to match the particular needs of individual companies.

Figure 1: The landscape of the future presented by a Trend Map provides opportunities for predicting transformative developments for initiating responsive measures in good time.

Innovation Maps function as central navigation systems to sustainably create and growth businesses in our VUCA world. Every Innovation Map is based on a Trend Map. The Innovation Map contains …

  • A description of the present situation by visualizing (a) the most important physical and non-physical assets of the business, (b) the recognized business opportunities and challenges, and most importantly (c) the innovation gap, which represents the requirements and challenges of the company’s innovation portfolio relative to its business growth goals;
  • a picture of the future, derived from the trends that are important for the company;
  • areas of potential business growth evaluated in terms of growth potential and innovation level;
  • a roadmap that highlights how the company intends to exploit its areas of potential growth and to close its innovation gaps.

The effectiveness and efficiency of a navigation system depends to a large degree on its ability to involve the key employees of a company in their entirety, so that they collectively (a) recognize changes, challenges and opportunities in their markets (and in their wider business environment), (b) define their common goals, and (c) coordinate their actions. Jointly recognizing and agreeing on priorities is a crucial factor in a situation where available resources are scarce, and where competition exists between the needs of day-to-day businesses and future-oriented growth activities. Effective collective action presupposes that common images of reality exist and that these images are constantly updated via multi-directional communication [2]. The quality and quantity of future-oriented interactions among the key employees of a company have a profound impact on the usefulness of its navigation systems, and therefore on the long-term success of the company as a whole.

This is where Strategic Maps come in. Strategic Mapping requires intense interactions at the map-creation stage, but also during discussions of the maps, which are printed out as posters as a means to stimulate debates of the future-orientation of the company. The Maps become working tools. They are written and noted on. They are thus the subject of permanent change and they make the change process transparent.

Figure 2: The Innovation Map exhibits pathways to sustainable growth in a coherent form

So there are proven tools to help us sustainably grow even in our highly complex VUCA world. There is value already in simply recognizing this fact.

However, these tools will not deliver their full potential if applied bureaucratically so that decisions are delayed or watered-down. In order to reap the full benefits of Strategic Mapping, many companies must lean to act with higher degrees of Agility. But how can agile organizations be realized? This will be the subject of another article in this series on within the next few weeks.

And by the way: How do you judge your chances of navigating your business in our changing world with the outlined approaches of Strategic Mapping? We look forward to your feedback and suggestions.

List of sources

[1] See also:
[2] Weick, K.E.; Sutcliff, K.M.: “Managing the Unexpected”, Wiley, New Jersey 2015, p.21f

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