How can you develop strategic thinking exercises to envision future strategy when it's so easy to let previous experience cloud your imagination?


Early in the marketing of electric vehicles, Pasqaule Romano, CEO of ChargePoint, discussed the future of electric cars at the time and why he expected the charging station model would diverge from the gas station model. Romano shared an important insight into the challenge of developing strategic thinking exercises to envision future strategy: "Until you drive an EV, you are colored by 135 years of going to the gas station. Under that scenario, you say 'Where is the new company that's doing EV charging on street corners or in my highway entrance?' but that isn't really how this works."

Romano envisioned the future model revolving around charging stations located where people were already stopping for extended periods. He didn't expect the quick-in, quick-out charging station to garner a significant place. Understanding this change, however, was challenging when one's perspective hasn't broken from the past.

4 Strategic Thinking Exercises to Envision Future Strategy

Inspired by his observations at the time, here are four Brainzooming strategic thinking exercises to better envision future strategy for your organization when success depends on breaking (as best possible) from a historical perspective.

Strategic Thinking Exercise: Simulation and Role Playing

Challenge #1 – Extrapolating from Today: Romano stressed the futility of imagining a car charging model by extrapolating from the current auto fueling one. The key was to experience (or imagine the experience of) driving an electric vehicle with its differing needs.

Strategic Thinking Exercise: Create an interactive, day-in-the-life scenario to imagine the future. Do the homework upfront via research, forward-looking case studies, immersing users in prototypes or virtual reality experiences, and simulating the future ahead. Providing a robust future view helps people more thoroughly envision it for your audiences and organization.

Participants will take on roles as future audience members. Within the role playing, they will brainstorm specific questions, challenges, opportunities, and behaviors they will encounter. This lets participants envision a typical future day unfolding sequentially.

It’s not unusual for brainstorming exercises to stipulate that every starting idea is good. To help future-imagining Brainzooming participants detach from today as much as possible, we anticipate one person steeped in the forward-looking research taking on a unique role: Owner of the Future. This person will listen for present-day thinking that no longer applies, in the future. If they hear speculation inconsistent with the future, they'll exclaim loudly, "The future doesn’t work like that!" Yes, the role is different. Played by the right person, we think it will lighten things up and focus ideas.

Strategic Thinking Exercise: Flipping Minimal and Abundant

Challenge #2 - Emerging Events Seem Microscopic: Before the next major event becomes major, it has minimal impact. Maybe 1% of the next big thing will be apparent while the status quo accounts for 99% of what we experience. At some point in the future, whatever the next big thing is will account for the overwhelming majority of instances, but not immediately.

Strategic Thinking Exercise: Quantify statistics about the current status quo and emerging situations, using them in an exercise where you flip the numbers. Associate the minimal numbers of the emerging development with the abundant numbers of the status quo, and vice versa. Once you blatantly reset the future view through a number flip, have participants imagine the future by asking:

  • What will be important for success in this scenario?
  • How will audience member expectations change?
  • Who else would want to become a supplier or supporter in this scenario?
  • What new opportunities could develop with so many things flipped versus today?
  • What new problems might emerge with many things the opposite of now?

Strategic Thinking Exercise: Constrain Thinking to a Completely Technological Future

Challenge #3 – Thinking Technology Impacts Will Come Up Short: As we conduct future-looking research, several things are clear: digital availability, automation, robotics, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things are all super-charging forward.

Strategic Thinking Exercise: While maybe not EVERYTHING will be digitized and automated, for the sake of imagining the future, you can comfortably say everything will be. Stipulating an all-digital future enables questions that make it more difficult to hold a today-centric perspective. Ask:

  • If a function is completely digital, with no human intervention, what will it mean for audiences? How will we provide our product or service in relevant ways?
  • If every object/thing can report what it thinks / knows / senses, how will that change how other things act? What will it mean for robots? For humans? What will the object / thing do with the information to learn and improve?
  • If robots handle that function (and every function before and after it), how will the experience change?
  • If AI continually improves the audience experience, where will it focus improvement efforts? What will humans do differently to cope or stay ahead?

Strategic Thinking Exercise: Accessing the Excess

Future Strategy Challenge #4 – Dismantling What’s No Longer Necessary: Romano projected that if electric vehicles expand to predominate personal transportation, there will be need for only a tiny percentage of the 168,000 gas stations in the United States currently. The impact of dismantling this excess is significant.

Strategic Thinking Exercise: While it is cooler to restrict future thinking to new, innovative ideas, the impact of currently valuable assets losing utility provides another path to imagining the future. Use today's abundant things you flipped earlier and ask questions about what happens with them:

  • How could we retrofit them to provide value in a radically different future?
  • What other replacements will develop to provide the value and utility they currently offer?
  • If we blew them up and started over, what would we do with the space / materials / resources / time they now occupy?

What does your future strategy hold?

If you are trying to prepare your organization for an uncertain future, contact us. We can design in-person and online collaboration exercises to get as ready as possible for big changes in and around your organization! – Mike Brown

Download Your FREE eBook! Figuring Out Your Direction in Uncertain Times

strategic thinking in uncertain timesThings aren't getting calmer. Is your organization identifying relevant, flexible strategies for prolonged uncertainty and dynamic conditions? The free Brainzooming eBook Figuring Out Your Direction in Uncertain Times will guide you in examining your brand priorities, developing new insights, identifying strategic innovations, and expanding flexibility. We share multiple, actionable exercises to:

  • Determine your organization's new important and narrow priorities
  • Identify diverse stakeholders, experts, and collaborators to expand strategic thinking
  • Anticipate critical issues and operate more flexibly
  • Explore self-disrupt opportunities before external factors trigger massive change

Figuring Out Your Direction in Uncertain Times is a FREE, quick read that will pay dividends for you today and in the uncertain times ahead.Download Your FREE eBook! Figuring Out Your Direction in Uncertain Times

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