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Are you planning your time with discipline and positivity to think about insights, trends and foresights?

A great question for all leaders to ponder, posed at the start of the final module in our Leading in New Worlds programme. The focus was on Reimagining the Future, and leaders were challenged to think about the future landscape and what it means for them and their businesses, and to constantly ensure that they were horizon scanning and thinking big picture. It’s too easy to get immersed in the day to day – with a to-do list longer than is ever possible to get through, targets to hit and constant leadership challenges to tackle, leaders can easily drift into short to medium term operational mode, and simply don’t get time, or prioritise time, to do big picture thinking and planning. Future gazing can get left to an annual or periodic strategic planning ‘event’ rather than being something leaders think and talk about with frequency.

Yet the leadership skill of horizon scanning has never been more important – the events of the last year has demonstrated this in abundance. The ability to gaze over the parapet and the confines of your world, to anticipate and predict the future, and to then apply that insight to plan and contingency plan is absolutely core for any leader, and particularly if you’re responsible for the future direction of your business. Failure to do this leads to risk of stagnation, irrelevance and redundancy – we can all think of big global businesses that have failed to predict, plan and move with the times, with dramatic consequences. Conversely, we’ve seen examples of businesses during Covid who have not just innovated quickly, but have scanned ahead to be ready for the predictable second wave, and in so doing have either moved to protect their business, or seized opportunities to maximise their revenue, or even diversified their income streams.

We learned about the difference between insight (looking ahead to the immediate 1 to 2 year future), trends (the medium term, 3-5 year future) and foresights (the longer term, 5 to 10 year future), and how leaders should be creating capacity and space to consider all three. A PESTLE exercise was used as a brilliantly effective framework to consider the Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal and Environmental landscape, and leaders were invited to think about not just what might happen, but what is likely to be relevant from them and their businesses. It was fascinating to hear the differences between sectors and industries – sharing perspectives and different ways of thinking helped leaders to think even further ‘out of the box’ and gain more insight to apply to their leadership.

We got even more practical as we considered how to lead horizon scanning conversations with our leadership teams, working with a number of tools to do this. Leaders found Edward de Bono’s Six Hats Thinking Model a super useful exercise to bring to their teams. It’s a powerful tool to resolve an issue or to discuss an issue or resolve a problem – and it can work well in horizon scanning discussions. It ensures that the team are fully exploring the issue from different perspectives, with each ‘hat’ representing a different angle or mode.

Leaders remarked that the final session was both highly thought provoking and practically useful – not only did the workshop help them take time off their metaphorical ‘treadmills’ to horizon scan and identify what their business needed to be doing to be ready for the future, but they came away with some powerful tools to take back to their leadership peers to continue the conversations, and fuel future horizon scanning momentum!