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The 40% that matters: How Business Leaders Should Really Think about the Future

I don’t read or speak Icelandic, but it turns out that a member of our Futureproofing Guild does. In 2019, Hjörtur Smárason gathered 25 innovative thinkers to imagine what Iceland would look like in 2052. Incredible tales of imagination, inevitability and ingenuity followed, in a book  Hjörtur edited.  But, what struck me most last week about the book 2052 Snapshots of the Future, is that not one of the future snapshots described a global pandemic.

As futureproofers, we believe that’s just fine.


Futureproofing : Next believes leaders should assert tremendous effort understanding the dynamics of change in the market, but even MORE effort preparing our organizations to be in a state of readiness for response.

We don’t need to predict with certainty what WILL happen, but we need to be:1) BRILLIANT at seeing what’s changed, 2) INSANELY TALENTED at taking action, and 3) INSPIRING in articulating our commitment to a new tomorrow. 

The pandemic we’re in the midst of makes us wish we could be in control. We wonder if we should have seen it coming. We are tempted to point fingers. We revisit our models and try to recalibrate our methods of detection.

We look at warnings like the 2015 TED talk by Bill Gates, who reminded us that we were unprepared for a pandemic. And the 2010 talk by David Eagleman who presented an eerily accurate view of life at home as a global virus attacked

Futureproofing is thinking & acting in advance of the future; futurewishing is trying to predict it.

The 60% of the Innovation++ Pie … Seeing & Committing

The truth is that business leaders have modelled the future using many types of tools from: scenario planning to science fiction writing to simulation gaming, to virtual reality immersion And, we’re not knocking any of these as disciplines that allow leaders to imagine what might be.

Scenarios, sci fi, simulation and VR suggest the what-might-be. I believe that’s 20% of the work to be done to think about the future. Another 40% needs to be focused on 1) Creating a corporate culture that has sensors in the market 2) Instilling a mindset of corporate responsiveness, and 3) Equipping leaders to commit to a new future that embraces the forces that have changed.


And the missing 40%? I believe the most important preparation for leaders who need to deal with an uncertain future is to proactively imagine the future that they believe is possible and boldly rally their teams around the challenge of what’s changed to get to that future. In recent weeks, companies have rallied: LVMH shifted from perfume production to sanitizer production, Dyson and GM produced ventilators, Alibaba shipped face masks, Khan Academy created content for at-home schooling, Zoom provided an infrastructure highway of human connection, World Central Kitchen transformed restaurants into neighborhood food kitchens.

When leaders are insanely focused on the future we know is possible, we can move quickly from focusing on what-ifs toward what we really need: inspired action. 


Futureproofing : Next created a simple architecture and process that codifies the steps that make innovation work at corporate scale.

We’ve studied the impact of what’s worked and where leaders struggle with innovation at corporate scale. The result: we’ve created 36 new tools, and 18 new canvases that work tongue-in-groove with each other to address the most vexing aspects of the innovation challenge:

  • How to scan the horizon
  • How to master the right skills
  • Where to place the right bets
  • How to lead with confidence

1. Don’t Know Where to Start. STEP ONE: SEE.

The first step in the process focuses the discussion about the forces on the horizon with the purpose of formulating a clear view of the best direction to take the company forward.

Inside Now: Articulation of the company’s ambitions

Integrated Forces: Outside perspective on technology, customers, cross-industry shifts, and global forces

2. Don’t Know How to Catch Up. STEP TWO: LEARN.

Step two focuses on mastery.

Imagine Next: Equips leaders to define which information is mission-critical for future success.

Inform Next: Guides teams through the rigors of discovery, experimentation, and validation.

3. Don’t Know What to Pick. STEP THREE: DECIDE.

Step three focuses on setting priorities and assigning metrics

Inspiration: Expansion of ideas to achieve 10x impact

Impact: Powering corporate initiatives to move toward corporate scale

4. Don’t Know How to Lead. STEP FOUR: COMMIT.

Step four integrates best practices on making innovation work.

Implement: Developing commitment and support.

Immerse: Establishing the culture for success + discipline of market responsiveness

The Reason We’re Excited About This…

We understand that successful innovation has many ingredients even though most providers/projects are overwhelmed with only one or two of them.

With our tools, knowledge and experience, we have unqiuely recognized the indivdual compnents and try to apply them in one integrated way – marrying the front end 20%, with the back end 40% and the messy middle 40%. Have a look below. 

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Andrea Kates

Andrea Kates

Co-Founder, Futureproofing : Next / MD - iScale

Andrea Kates is a global corporate transformation specialist, tech startup CEO, and expert in “business innovation you can take to the bank”. She has worked on more than 200 corporate growth initiatives that have moved companies beyond innovation toward Futureproofing.

Andrea drives commercialization of innovation with a focus on the Future Of theme covering Mobility, Fintech, transformative AI, Future of Work and Business Model reinvention. Based in San Francisco and working with teams around the world, Andrea uncovers scalable directions for growth.

Andrea was CEO of the San Francisco SaaS technology company that pioneered the application of lean startup methods for large companies. She’s worked with fast-scaling clients including SuMi Trust (Japan), Ford (US/China), Stitch Fix, Fujitsu, JLL, CommonGrounds, Allstate and Cisco and delivered keynotes at CxO Forum (Tokyo), Dubai 2020, OpenBanking (Mexico), TED main stage, Aspen Ideas Forum.

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