By Les Wallace, PhD
“Nothing ages faster than the future.”
The early 21st Century taught us that while we can’t always predict the future, having a future tense focused board of directors reduces surprise, enables nimbleness in response to sudden change, and seizes opportunities ahead of the average organization.
- Spend 50 percent to 75 percent of each board meeting on strategy: review and update a strategic objective, discuss a significant trend—bring an article, book, or data to look over.
- Explore issues and opportunities at your annual retreat with paradigm shifting questions: “If money were no object what would we do?” “What would our younger customers/constituents like us to do?” “If we had to merge/partner with someone to stay in business who might that be?”
- At your strategic planning retreat begin with “strategic thinking:” challenging assumptions about your current models, looking for innovation across other organizations and industry domains, talking about some of the highest risk innovation going on in your industry. [see “Strategic Thinking” matrix p.2]
- Bring an outside trend expert in your domain to speak at your annual strategic planning meeting to stretch your thinking about the future.
- Explore your value proposition to constituents by doing a deep dive into your constituents / customer’s / member’s answers to a twice a year “value” survey. Satisfaction is how happy they are with service and access, “value” is what need they want you to meet and how their needs are changing.
- Expect executive and key administrative staff to push new developments your way on a board only web site—especially have them report on trends they noticed while attending professional meetings.
- Target a specific topic/issue for investigation when you go to an industry meeting and seek out those who are making innovative moves to pick their brain—report back at the next board meeting.
- Attend professional meetings outside your industry but on topics pertaining to your interest in future trends (e.g. leadership succession, human resources, web/internet applications, mergers, government regulation).
- Put together a “think tank” of advisors with whom you meet twice a year to discuss the future of business in your domain. No, those casual chats with peers at the regional meetings don’t cut it—get a diverse group of thought leaders and have them think out loud about the developing future they see.
- Provide books and journal or magazine subscriptions for your board as a means of stretching their thinking about the future. Some suggestions: “FastCompany” magazine; “The Futurist” (World Future Society); “The Economist” magazine; “Out of the Blue: Wild Cards and Other Big Future Surprises” (John Petersen); “Blue Ocean Strategy” (W. Chan Kim); “Peripheral Vision: Detecting the Weak Signals that Will Make or Break Your Company” (George Day); “The Extreme Future,” James Canton; “The Meaning of the 21st Century,” James Martin.