A Brief History of a Perfect Future

A Brief History
of a Perfect Future

What Companies Can Do

It shouldn’t surprise you that we recommend companies start their thinking about their role in the Future Perfect by writing a future history for their business in 2050. Having done many of these exercises with corporate clients, we can assure you people enjoy having the chance to get together for a day to imagine the future. Those involved get to be smart and creative, play off each other, and even challenge the bosses in the room. And these exercises always produce at least one surprising insight. We’ve seen whole corporate strategies launched based on a future history, while other strategies fall apart under the stiff scrutiny.

Think Big, Really Big

These future histories should certainly include the “E” (environmental) in ESG. What’s your net-zero strategy, both for 2050 and for the risks on the path that’ll take you there? Still, this exercise needs to be far broader. Think in terms of the Laws of Zero, the additional sorts of breakthroughs that’ll be particular to your industry and company (such as those we’ve described for health care and transportation companies), and the sorts of scenarios we’ve laid out (and that you’ll expand on) for how all the gains might fit together to support new lifestyles and consumption habits.

Then pull all the thoughts together into a single story that explains how you get there from here and that will stick with people. The CEO of a major company took a future history we wrote for him based on a session with his top team and referred back to it each year in his speech to the top 500 people at the company to remind them of their goal and of how they were doing.

You should also write the flip side, the Future Pathetic. Imagine all the doomsday scenarios based on customer behavior, on competitors, on technology, etc., being sure to include how rapid changes in government/investor/consumer emphasis on net-zero and green products might heighten the transition risk for your core products and business models. Think about how your 2050 future might intersect with other aspects of ESG and other stakeholders beyond shareholders, such as employees, surrounding communities, and supply chains.

Doomsday scenarios make for painful reading, but they can be at least as instructive as the sunshine-and-rainbows ones.

Start Small

Thirty years is a long way off, so, first, you need to pull the 30-year future histories back to more concrete, 10to 15-year visions. These medium-term visions are critical. The early versions of the potential tools and capabilities needed to explore and build these futures likely exist, though in expensive and rudimentary forms, so you can start experimenting now with the tools and capabilities that would be needed for your 10to 15-year scenario, on the path to your 30-year goals. The early versions of AVs, for example, were little more than golf carts with computers and sensors bolted or strapped onto them. Today, 17 years later, sleek minivans and sedans are autonomously navigating public roads.

Look for opportunities to connect with government innovation programs. You’ll spot opportunities to partner with and commercialize government work. You will also get early introductions to new talent because young scientists and engineers drawn to such efforts often drive vast new opportunities.

Much of this type of work we’re recommending costs very little. While companies historically have tended to do lots of planning and have then built extensive prototypes, we’re recommending a sort of lab approach—lots of little experiments where the goal is to learn and finetune your vision for 10, 15, or 30 years out.

If you think big but start small, you can learn fast through a steady stream of tests and can then continually course-correct.

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