Ten Top Tips: Fortune-telling for business

Catherine Garland gives advice on how businesses can better future-proof their strategy by looking in new places and directions.

by Catherine Garland
Last Updated: 27 Jul 2012

Ask new questions to new people

Companies often don’t realise their research is stuck in a rut. They run the same focus groups and ask the same questions of the same people year after year. Broaden your horizons and ask new questions to new groups of people inside and outside your organisation - especially the young, bright ones who find it easier to embrace change.

Watch the competition you didn’t realise was your competition

And learn from them. Not just the competition you know, but the innovators and start-ups in other sectors. Who would have thought Apple would one day challenge Sony? Or HMV? Your future competitors may well be in a completely different industry. They don’t pose any threat today - but who might they be?

Data, data, data - shaken not stirred

Businesses have access to more and more data. Use it - but with a twist. Look for new trends and the likely impact of any disruptive change by combining different data sets. Purchase habits with weather patterns - or commuting times. You will need to employ special people ("data scientists") to do this – it will be worth it.

Learn to share

83% of Generation Y (teenagers and 20-somethings) will trust a company more if it is socially/environmentally responsible and 79% want to work for a company that cares about how it impacts and contributes to society. These are your future staff and customers. They are looking for you to demonstrate that you are not only making a profit but sharing the value that you generate not just in terms of cash but also knowledge, technology and people.

Enjoy the discomfort

When technology is used best, it challenges people to work differently and forces us to change our habits. Employ people who can take you outside your comfort zone and engage with new technology to help your business transition to where you need to get to.

Change the physical space

Our physical environment shapes our habits, and these in turn shape our thinking. Move things and people around, and allow your people to work in different places and at different times. Sometimes change really IS as good as a holiday.


Nothing opens the mind more than travelling to different parts of this diverse planet. When you travel on holiday, do at least one activity that deliberately is aimed at chasing an insight that will help your business.

Read, watch, listen

Make it a habit to expose your mind to content that doesn’t directly relate to your industry or even to business. There are thousands of great publications, blogs and websites out there to keep you up to date with what’s coming.  Try The Economist, TED, Popular Science – or find what piques your interest amongst blogs and niche media. Get your team to report back on what they’ve seen and how it has helped them to think differently.

Hire and train for the future

What business will you be in and who will you need to make it work? For example, do you have enough "data scientists" – the ‘hot’ breed of employees who have the technology skills and a fair bit of ‘magic’ to extract competitive advantage from information?

Use stories to make sense of it all

Some of what you learn will have a huge impact on your business; some less so. The same data can help you reach different conclusions. Use you business knowledge to create scenarios or narratives not just facts. How will your customers live and work in the future? How will they commute? Or will they work from home - in another time zone? How will this impact your sales team? Your customer service centre?


Catherine Garland is a research partner at TomorrowToday

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