Early warning (Part 3)

April 18, 2013

We have a little idea of what does not work. So, let’s start at the beginning, and focus on what works, not what sounds good. What kinds of forces are we looking for early warnings on? The answer is we don’t know. If we did, we would not need a warning – we would already be watching. So how do we compensate for that?

One option is not to designate one specific officer will be in charge of doing this and with coming around with a Cassandra-like view of long-term trends (and who will soon vanish back into the wood work). It is the job of everyone involved with the business to consider what long-range forces will affect the business. And by this, I do not mean the situation where something that is everyone’s job is really no one’s job. What I mean is that people in strategic planning and competitive intelligence, at a minimum, have to be involved with this – in addition to everything else.

So where do you start?

How about looking into the past? What shocks have hit your business in the past five years, whether for good or for bad. Now, which of these were foreseeable at the time and, more specifically, which were actually foreseen by anyone. Those which were not foreseen may still be logical early warning targets. Those which were not foreseeable in the past may be foreseeable now – think about that.

Now look throughout your own enterprise. Where are there other groups of persons that are looking forward and what are they doing? By looking forward, I mean, not only competitive intelligence, but people involved with strategic (long-range) planning, research and development, regulatory compliance, and finance. You should meet and work with these people and try to find out what forces and trends they are worried about that are not being monitored, that is, which ones are falling between the cracks.

Now take a look at adjacent industries. By that, I mean suppliers, customers, distributors, potential entrants into your market space, companies that make substitute or complementary products, and industries with similar technologies and regulatory issues. What long-term trends are they worried about? Here, consider things such as technology, regulations and legislation, terrorism, aspects of the global economy, outsourcing, changes in industry structures, and constraints on natural resources such as water and power. If people in those adjacent industries are concerned about these, should you be watching them as well?

Now – stop! Don’t allow yourself to become overburdened — this could become an endless (and pointless) chase.

Feel better? Looking at your own industry’s publications may be little helpful, but that is not likely. So, do not spend a lot of time there. Better, consider publications in the adjacent industries. They can sometimes useful, particularly if you look for opinions and editorials where people are more than happy to pontificate.

Now go outside your industry and its adjacent industries. Look at global publications such as The Economist, trans-industry alert services, or futurology type resources such as those of the World Future Society’s.

In addition, keep your eyes open where ever you are. Trust me, experience shows that you will have a better idea of the long run threats that face your industry and what should be the subject of early warning surveillance than someone whose job is to create teams and report back on a one-time basis.

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