Recently, I’ve been conducting research in a sector that’s under immense strain, and it won’t be letting up any time soon. Rapidly changing expectations among the groups they serve, threats to the underlying financial sustainability of their organizations, huge scrutiny from all sides… and yet this simple question tended to stop people cold.
Mind you, the answers were fascinating. But just about everyone – all articulate and super-smart – needed to stop and think about it. It created by far the longest stretch of silence in any given interview.
How often do we ask ourselves or each other that question? The last 10 years have brought huge changes to many sectors. Even if you aren’t in the kind of pressure cooker these folks are, you are still seeing changes, with more on the horizon. (It may be that some sectors that haven’t seen much change yet are in for the biggest jolts of all, when technology or demographics finally catches up with them.)
So, how about taking 5 minutes, putting your feet up on your desk, closing your eyes, and imagining someone conducting research has asked you this question. What would you come up with?
If you fast-forward a decade, what will the person doing your job – whether that’s you personally or not – have to contend with? What will still be true? What will be over and done with? What will be long since forgotten? What might be loud & resounding, which may now be just a tiny whisper in your ear? What will you, your organization, or your sector, have to have finally sat down and addressed? (What if you haven’t?)
Will your job even exist? What about your organization? How different will the sector be? Would you even recognize it?
There are always a lot of unknowns in trying to predict anything. There are multiple potential futures out there. At the same time, some things we can be relatively sure of. Technology isn’t going to get less pervasive. Climate change isn’t going to stop making its effects known. Demographics are going to run more or less according to predictions. So it does make sense to think about what the huge, deep megatrends mean, specifically for your role or organization or sector.
The people I was interviewing are in roles that require them to be smart, decisive, and action-oriented. They came up with some incredibly interesting – and highly varied – answers to the question of what the issues would be in a decade. (Sidebar: nifty question to ask if you’re doing qualitative research.)
It seems to me that it’s when we’re under the most pressure, when we have the most fires to put out, that it’s all the more important to sit back and think about the long run. We are told to create a 5-year plan for ourselves and our own careers, and when we do a strategic plan that’s the kind of thing we do for our organizations.
But every so often it’s good to push a bit further into the future, beyond what we can reasonably manage and plan for, extrapolate a bit beyond what we should be comfortable with, and see what we come up with. Given the variety I heard, asking others is a good idea, too.
The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the second best time is today.
What trees will you wish you’d (or your predecessor had) planted a decade ago? What’s stopping you now?
If you’d like to discuss how we can help you reflect on moving your organization in the right direction, please get in touch.
Image by Flickr user Philippe Put, used via Creative commons license.