It’s great when organizations, and people,  think about their future.  Many do not.  In their book, Competing for the Future in the mid-90s,  Gary Hamel & C. K. Prahalad said,

“In our experience, about 40% of senior executives time is spent looking outward, and ofthis time, 30% is spent peering 3, 4, 5 plus years into the future.  And of the time spentlooking forward, no more than 20%is spent attempting to build a collective view of thefuture (the other 80% is spent looking at the future of the manager’s particular business).Thus, on average, senior management is devoting less than 3% (40% x 30% x 20% =2.4%) of its energy to building a corporate perspective on the future. In some companies the figure is less than 1%.”

This statement resonated with me at the time and is the reason that Dysart & Jones Associates has had a successful strategic planning consulting practice for almost 20 years.  We created an accelerated planning technique that we use to facilitate expedited planning with clients, we wrote an article on Standing in the Future in Special Libraries (precursor to Information Outlook) in 2000, we teach and talk about planning in many venues — most recently at the SLA conference last month  in Philadelphia with Thinking Strategically: How to See the Big Picture/Possibilities.

But how do we, and how should you, get insights and ideas to create strategic and  innovative directions and priorities to be ready for the future?

1. Be deeply aware of your context and environment, not just your own operation but your organization’s, your industry’s, your community’s as well as the technological, social, political, and economic realities and possibilities.  Have you studied your organization’s strategic plan or your community’s master plan?  Have you read what industry analysts are saying about your industry or emerging technologies?

2. Be open to seeing things differently & adjusting your “frames” with openness, flexibility and adaptability, by clarifying assumptions and questioning the status quo, by getting the facts, and by focusing on the future.

3. Practice good strategic & critical thinking which raises the right questions – clearly & precisely; focuses on the real problem or decision to be taken; gathers & assesses relevant information; uses abstract ideas to interpret info effectively; develops well-reasoned conclusions & solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards; relies on recognizing & assessing  assumptions, implications, & consequences; communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.

4. Create a positive vision of the future, a preferred future that is a stretch from the current situation — stand in 2015 and imagine your organization at the top of it’s game, with highly skilled colleagues illustrating future ready competencies, with clients that rave about your services and call you “indispensable” , with perfectly working technology & processes that allow efficient & effective collaborative work spaces, with supportive stakeholders who fund your operation and are willing to try your new ideas.  Isn’t that where you want to be in 2015?  Explain what you just envisioned to a colleague or friend using the present tense and you will definitely want to be there.  Try it.  Now.  And remember what Eugenie Prime, formerly with Hewlett Parkard, exhorted a few years ago — “No puny visions!”

5. Be curious, listen & read.  See opportunities. Go to conferences where you can mix it up with all types of information professionals (SLA Annual and Regional ConferencesInternet Librarian, Library Directors Digital Library Summit, Computers in Libraries to name a few, and yes I have a vested interest in those as Information Today has been a wonderful client of mine for almost 20 years and allows me to grow and learn from great speakers and participants), or go to leading industry conference that influence those in your organization whether it’s pharmaceuticals, food, medicine, etc.  Ask questions, talk to people, learn as much as you can about your environment so that you can see opportunities or gaps that you can fill.  As Winston Churchill said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”  Watch for difficulties and pain points; jump on those opportunities and create new services to alleviate those challenges.

This post was recently written for SLA’s Future Ready Blog and is posted there as well.  Also follow the future ready gang on Twitter at #FR365 and hear highlights, insights & advice from the Future Ready blog from SLA President Cindy Romaine at Internet Librarian 2011 (session B302).