INC. magazine recently interviewed Faith Popcorn, CEO of Faith Popcorn’s BrainReserve, to discuss the intersection of futurism and strategy. Popcorn is a noted futurist who has assisted dozens of Fortune 500 companies in seeing the opportunities for their brands in the years ahead.
In the interview, Popcorn describes futurism as observing the future – looking for both patterns and outliers as one projects ahead 10, 20 or more years. She makes use of a technique called “backcasting” as well. This involves envisioning the far future, based on an array of inputs such as quantitative forecasts, interviews with her TalentBank (a global network of futurists) and her proprietary TrendBank, which documents shifts in 17 key cultural currents. She and her team then plot, in smaller time segments, how brands and businesses can thrive in the landscape of tomorrow.
Popcorn believes that companies who don’t incorporate futurism into their system will not be around long-term. As she sees it, if you don’t know where you are going, you can’t get there. Futurism helps businesses succeed because it requires them to pay attention to what is emerging over the next few years, not just the next quarter.
One of the best ways for a larger legacy company to see the future is to acquire a smaller disruptor, says Popcorn. She uses the examples of Unilever acquiring Ben & Jerry’s, the ice-cream brand, as well as Colgate-Palmolive Co.’s acquisition of Tom's of Maine, with its natural personal-care products. Popcorn says that it is difficult for larger companies to disrupt from within but acquiring an innovative new, smaller company can bring new thinking and energy from the inside out.
Popcorn shares several trends that will make an impact on the business world. She notes that there is a shift underway from knowledge transfer to knowledge enhancement. She shares that Google has become our culture’s hyper-charged brain, available to elevate what we know at every moment.” She also notes that marketers need to be cognizant that making things bigger (whether through mergers and acquisitions or through big data) does not always make them better. She believes that businesses must always also be focused on their consumers’ life issues – such as childcare – when planning their next steps.
Beyond that, she advises companies to weave futurism into their work. She says it’s a powerful force that can actually protect companies and keep them on the right track for sustainable success in an increasingly challenging business environment.
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