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The future is here: how your organization can get a grip on it

Peering into the future

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The Five Futures Glasses

By Pero Micic

Palgrave

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266 pages, $54.00

There's a mystique about forecasting the future that suggests futurists - like diviners searching for water - need extrasensory perception to discern the unseen. But Pero Micic, who specializes in future management, stresses in The Five Futures Glasses that the future is here today. The trends, technologies and issues that will determine our future in the next 10 to 20 years are already visible, and it's just a case of sorting through them.

To grasp that future, we need a system. And he provides it: five ways for your organization to systematically peer into your future, without hiring a high-profile futurist or shaman.

Each offers a unique way of thinking about the future. To help, he names each set of lenses with a tint to help us remember its purpose. If that sounds reminiscent of Edward De Bono's Five Thinking Hats (once popular in many companies for tackling decision-making), you're right. Even some of the colours are similar, although this approach focuses on future analysis, not a broader range of issues.

THE BLUE FUTURES GLASSES

This is what we commonly associate with forecasting the future, based on the approach of economists and demographers. It involves looking at current facts and figures and developing some assumptions about how those may carry forward. "People use the blue futures glasses to satisfy their age-old need for advance information without having to fall back on a crystal ball or other mystic aids," he writes. Typical methods include forecasting and the development - and discussion - of scenarios that project possible futures. You are not so much forecasting the future, he stresses, as diagnosing the assumptions you have developed about the future.

THE RED FUTURES GLASSES

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Were you surprised by the housing crash in the United States and the resulting recession? Have you ever been blindsided by an action of your competitor? The red futures glasses helps you to prepare for future surprises by thinking in advance of what might disrupt your business or what positive opportunities might unexpectedly arise. Whereas the blue glasses require thinking of probabilities, here you think about improbabilities.

An effective way is to reverse some of the assumptions you developed for the blue glasses projections, and imagine how you would be affected if the reverse occurred. Or play with some of the forecasts you have developed, imagining your growth, for example, was to quadruple. He warns, however, not to go too far: The surprises must be plausible.

THE GREEN FUTURES GLASSES

Use these glasses to think creatively about the future, and what opportunities you might open up for your business. It allows you to expand the potential for success and increase the number and quality of the ideas when you develop a vision and strategy. Toyota used these glasses in the 1990s when it decided to take an idea first patented a hundred years earlier, the hybrid engine, and see if it could make a more environmentally sustainable engine. When using the blue glasses, it helps to have lots of experience to sift through assumptions about the future; but with the green ones, it's advantageous to look at future possibilities with the eyes of a beginner, using creativity techniques.

THE YELLOW FUTURES GLASSES

With those creative ideas in mind, you need to craft the desired future for your company, devising a corporate vision through your yellow glasses. And the author stresses it's vision, not visions - it must be a clear, well-integrated approach, not a collection of everyone's pet ideas. Too bold may also be dangerous. "The best strategic vision is probably somewhere near your current business. In contrast to the widespread desire for sensation, the vision is not better the more it leads you away from your company's current competence," he advises.

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THE VIOLET FUTURES GLASSES

With the vision outlined, you need to figure out how to attain it by developing strategic plans. This is the work of planning and project management, and of processes and systems, as you develop strategies and the requisite actions. It's crucial to develop solid strategic goals, which ideally can be visualized easily by everyone in your firm and be measured; develop a path to achieve each goal; hand over appropriate resources; and assign a goal manager to oversee it.

It's a simple-to-understand system to approach a sometimes foggy area for managers, although the book does delve into many complexities and the rather plodding, academic writing will bog many readers down. Mr. Micic is particularly knowledgeable about vision and strategy, and offers many useful suggestions to help in those thorny areas.



In addition: In Crash Course (Random House, 306 pages, $32), Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Paul Ingrassia tells how the U.S. auto industry rose to ascendancy and has been sinking since at least the 1980s. The companies were so rich that after strikes and tough bargaining sessions with unions, the auto makers offered many employees benefits beyond what the companies could actually afford. More of the book is focused on history - the founding of the auto industry and subsequent growth - than I suspect most readers would want. But it is an intelligent book, and offers a solid analysis, albeit tinged by the author's anathema to the auto workers union. As well, it offers detailed reporting of the government bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler (and how Ford managed to stand apart). Things have started to turn around for the auto companies, but this book recounts when that seemed to happen before.



Just in: Consultants Eric Taylor and David Riklan bring together a host of sales experts with diverse advice on Mastering The World Of Selling (John Wiley, 383 pages, $23.95).

Digital marketing consultant Aaron Goldman shares 20 lessons drawn from one of the world's best-known brands in Everything I Learned About Marketing I Learned From Google (McGraw-Hill, 339 pages, $31.95).

In Women Count (Purdue University Press, 131 pages, $25.50), executive coach and philanthropist Susan Bulkeley Butler, with writer Bob Keefe, sets out an agenda for how women can help each other to think big and change the world.

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About the Author
Management columnist

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. More

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