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How to Anticipate Trends to Ensure Business Success

CEOs are not equipped to forecast the future direction of their industry. In fact, in our recent assessment of nearly 25,000 respondents across 175 countries, we found that predicting competitors’ potential moves and likely reactions to new products or initiatives ranks weakest among strategic behaviors. And out of six key elements of strategic leadership, the “ability to anticipate” consistently ranks at the bottom.

So what can leaders do to better anticipate changing conditions that may affect their future decisions? CEOs and other members of the C-suite can proactively prepare for change and ensure organizational success by following these five steps:

“Business leaders need to maintain a 20-year vision instead of a 4-year vision.”

1. Pay attention to and discuss mega trends. While some trends are fleeting or short-lived, “mega trends”—such as population growth or decline, emerging market economy influence or the launch of disruptive technologies such as the PC or mobile device—are issues that are not going away and will cut across several industry environments.

Given their far-reaching impacts, leaders must consider how such trends will affect their industry and, in turn, their future business model. Consider that by 2030, an additional 1.5 billion people will be living on the planet, the proportion of the world’s population over 65 will nearly double and the largest rural-to-urban migration in history will take place. As these trends emerge, CEOs should consider how their businesses are poised to gain from these impending circumstances.

Kevin Tsujihara, CEO of Warner Brothers, scans widely for signals of change. “We need to anticipate where the market is going,” he said. Similarly, Google CEO Larry Page, in an interview with venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, discussed the need for business leaders to maintain a 20-year vision instead of a four-year vision.

2. Prepare for environmental uncertainties. “Environmental uncertainties” are those key forces of change for which experts cannot adequately predict trajectory or direction. While unknown, there is opportunity to prepare for these changes by ideating around the highest-impact potential game-changers along with the outcomes or conditions they might create. This exercise will illuminate how major uncertainties, such as resource availability, disruptive innovations, technology adoption or regulatory pressures might radically change the landscape in which you currently operate.


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