A study of CEO activity found that they had time to consider the future only 3% of the time ordinarily. That is not good enough – but it is hard to resist the pressure of the present.
So another important skill to develop is the ability to have a broader vision of your world. Consider the former US basketball star (and later politician) Bill Bradley. He was highly regarded as a player, not least because of his apparent ability to see what was ahead of him on the court but also what was behind him. He anticipated the immediate future but also had a much wider view of the court.
When asked how he managed to do that, he explained that his field of vision was much greater and it had not come about by accident. He had worked on it as a child, exercising his eye muscles. Over time he developed a wider field of vision, a much broader sense of the court.
So a question for marketing leaders is: how good is your peripheral vision? We are sometimes prevented from seeing clearly, Professor Chandy believes, by boundaries in our minds. Whether geographically, or technologically, or by industry sector – we see boundaries. And “the uniqueness trap” can makes us think we are different, with little or nothing to learn from elsewhere.
Good innovators, Professor Chandy says, carry out a kind of “concept arbitrage”: they can carry concepts across contexts, taking ideas from one place (in technology, geography, or by industry) and redeploying them somewhere else. If you can look far away from your current context, with that broader peripheral vision, you may find opportunities are there. Look at places to copy from, edit from their context, then copy and paste to your own.
It will not be an easy future, Professor Chandy admits. And when it comes to the future, it has been said, there are three types of people: those who let it happen, those who make it happen and those who wonder what happened.
These will be formative years for many future consumers. How will they see the world? This could be a powerful question to ask. Ordinarily inertia is a powerful thing, but now many of us will have been broken out of our habits. And some of these changes may last. CEOs who grew up in the depression and came of age during World War Two retained more conservative and risk-averse instincts. People who grew up during the oil crisis in the 1970s were less enamoured of car driving. And so on. The age we live in shapes us.
One important principle is to keep investing in R&D even in the most difficult times. Research has shown that businesses that keep up this kind of future-focused investment come out of downturns stronger. Marketers can seize this moment to focus on the future, anticipate future customer needs, be open to new ideas wherever they appear, and harness the winds of change. Hold your nerve and this may be the start of a new journey, not the end of the road.