Seeing Is Not Foreseeing

Seeing Is Not Foreseeing

Succeeding as a business leader requires some clairvoyance — the ability to predict the future and even shape it. It’s one thing to derive insights from what we see our customers doing and saying now. It’s another much more valuable thing to foresee what they’ll be doing and saying tomorrow.

The products Steve Jobs envisioned didn’t respond to an observable market demand. They responded to a market need that the market didn’t know it needed until it saw those products. Jobs peered into the future and anticipated how digitized music would revolutionize an industry.

Leaders like Jobs, Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook have managed to “skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been” — what Walter Gretzky told his son Wayne long before he became a hockey legend. But these business leaders are the exception, not the rule.

Like these visionaries, we are expected to use our intuition and hypotheses to figure out what’s next (before someone else does) and how to capitalize on opportunities and mitigate risks that the market hasn’t even dreamed of yet. Perhaps easier said than done, but predicting the future is our job.

Vision — having a hunch about the future — isn’t enough. Yes, vision inspires innovation, but the focus and confidence to drive innovation requires data. Without it, business leaders who want to innovate are held back by the fear their intuition might be wrong. Data provides the clues necessary to set priorities, make decisions and act.

One of the best types of clues is the insight, a penetrating truth that can help you build your business or start a new one. Insight is rooted in a deep understanding of what drives the actions, thoughts or behaviors of our target audiences — consumers, customers, intermediaries or employees. At Maddock Douglas, we frame an insight in a three-part statement:

  1. I do (or feel, or want, or value) [X]…
  2. Because of an important reason [Y]…
  3. But an obstacle [Z] stands in the way.

Insights articulated this way allow us to quantify and identify the ones most relevant to our target audience, unlike those who wait for the market to tell them what they want and need. But having understanding insights about today doesn’t reveal the unmet needs of the future.

A few years from now, consumers are going to have undeniable wants and urgent needs that don’t exist today. We’ll start to observe evidence of these pain points in what people say and how they behave. Slowly at first, little hints emerge. Eventually, they will become undeniable truths. They will become full-fledged insights.

The question is, how can we detect those future pain points long before consumers know they are going to have them?

Insight is about the here and now. Foresight is about the future (where the puck is going) and being ready when it arrives. A foresight is a probable, penetrative truth that could help you build your business in the future. It is rooted in prediction of the most likely motivational forces behind actions, thoughts or behaviors that will become an insight (with a pain point begging to be solved) in the future.

Having foresight allows you to anticipate those truths so that once your target audience feels and wants and needs something, you are already there and waiting with a solution. And your competitors, who were waiting for people to ask, will be playing catch-up.

Here’s a foresight that would have been relevant to ride-hailing pioneer Uber before their service was widely known:

I’m willing to pay a nonprofessional driver for a ride [X] because it would be much more convenient than a taxi [Y], but I can’t trust someone I don’t know anything about to drive me [Z].

How did Uber solve this foresight? They developed ways to boost riders’ confidence in the safety of the service. They did it by providing driver profiles with names, photos, make and model and license plate of the car, driver reviews, and GPS tracking throughout the trip. Explosive growth followed.

Here’s a foresight few people would find personally relevant today — and would be hard to imagine feeling relevant in the future:

I want to own an autonomous vehicle [X] because it would make commuting much more relaxing [Y], but I just can’t justify the huge expense [Z].

Solutions are currently evolving, but today the headlines about AVs frequently focus on when things go wrong and accidents happen. Most people today think that riding in an autonomous vehicle sounds nerve-wracking rather than relaxing, but once safety concerns have been resolved, and rest assured they will — companies like Waymo and Tesla are already working on it — the most successful AV competitors will already be addressing other pain points like affordability to ensure they can achieve the explosive growth many futurists predict.

This is just one example of foresight that sees what’s coming and anticipates what the market will accept and even demand — before almost anyone knows it. The Holy Grail in all of this is correctly predicting a future need or demand and then being ready before the future arrives.

No one — not even a visionary — can rely on intuition alone. It takes cold, hard data to confidently make decisions and set (and reset) a course.

The good news about data is that today we have the technological tools and processes to quickly triangulate genius. We can use prediction market research to quantify which foresights are most likely to become reality (and when, why and how).

Being there when the future arrives raises the central question in all of this: how do we know where the puck is going before it’s been launched? It isn’t from gut instinct alone. It’s data. And the ability to collect and analyze clues to the future has never been greater.


Updated August 29 —

Check out the webinar replay that explains how to create foresights: Getting from Insight to Foresight