Why you need a Chief Futures Officer and what he would tell you.

I recently read an interesting article in the Guardian on the importance of having a Chief Futures Officer. After my immediate “What?!” it suddenly dawned on me. What do the disruptors (Netflix, Vimeo, Amazon, Uber) of the world have in common?

These companies think forwards, and then even think of so far into the future that I’m probably not even alive in their future vision. They’re thinking about the next big thing, the next piece of technology that will captivate the world. Apple’s rumoured to be looking to developing a car, well that’s years away. Uber probably wants driverless cars. I can’t wait for that.

So I started thinking what made Netflix different to other companies who were around when they entered the mainstream. Re-wind a few years and Blockbuster was their biggest competitor at the time, they both let you rent movies, it’s just that Netflix was mail order and Blockbuster was in-store.

Then something crazy happened. Netflix launched a streaming service, 2007 for Netflix was not like 2007 Blockbuster had foreseen. Shades of Orwell’s 1984? At the time, Blockbuster was 22 years old as a company and in the midst of turmoil as the directors argued over un-paid bonuses, totalling around $7 million.

Fast forward
No more than a few years later, and with $1 Billion worth of debt, the then-Director Carl Icahn sells off almost all his shares and is on the brink of collapse.

We can learn a few lessons from the demise of Blockbuster, but we’ll only talk about one, agility. The fact Netflix turned the movie rental market on its head in effectively one day, shows the agility and determination for them to succeed as a brand.

The fact Blockbuster once tried to buy them out for a mere $50 million is a testament to the fact that they were doing something right. To say that Netflix is now worth over $7 billion is winning awards left, right and centre for original content such as Breaking Bad and House of Cards, shows that to succeed you have to have the right people, the right culture, but most of all you have got to be agile.

Fast forward a few years, it’s 2015. Amazon, Vimeo are now producing original content — what a surprise, spurred on by Netflix, their multiple awards and press attention. A once online store, Amazon, is now making TV shows.

We have this same agility in our app development & design industry. At Dreamr, we specialise in mobile app development and we are experiencing a shift in how consumers and even our clients consume content and make purchases. Companies come to us wanting an on-line store, it’s now requests for mobile apps. The Telemetrics 3rd Annual Mobile Path to Purchase Report detailed 10 billion online visits made on phones in 2014, versus 5.8 billion on PC.

Hello, you walk down the street on an average day and see every Tom, Dick and Harriet glued to their phones, buying things, keeping in touch with friends and consuming their daily lives through a little portal of data.
Sole Exchange, one of our trusted clients, had his market place for trainers created and published on the Apple App Store before even having the website live. Why? Sales made on phones to PCs were 60/40 in 2014. That’s why.

Consumers now have our products in their pockets, they sleep with our products, work with our products, some even shower with them, with an iPhone app allowing you to make instant purchases of electronics, games and even fish food.

You could say that Director of Sole Supplier, George has taken a leap of faith. Actually the fact of the matter is, if he didn’t do it now, someone else would and that’s scary. You have to pause and think of poor Blockbuster, who clearly didn’t take that leap of faith.

What now?
Now it’s not realistic for every company to make un-informed leaps of faith, and as a business owner myself that’s not the best thing to do. Making informed decisions about the future is pretty difficult, something a Chief Futures Officer could probably help you with, though.

When thinking about the future, it’s important to understand that we just don’t know what will happen next and how things will play out, and no matter how much research you do things can change at the drop of a hat. Competitors can suddenly release a new product (Netflix) and next thing you know, you’re old hat (Blockbuster).

What we can do is keep our finger on the pulse, know our market, know our customers. Be prepared to do or be the next big thing. Otherwise, the future looks bleak. What would you do tomorrow if your competitor launched a product or service bigger and better than yours?

If your Chief Futures Officer could tell you what to do, they would tell you to hire them.

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