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Business Lessons From … Comics?

By: :: Published: February 25, 2014

We know that anticipating is a key element of strategic thinking. While leaders often rely on traditional sources of predicting the future, such as forecasting trends and sensitivity analyses, they do not necessarily account for the major shifts, surprises and changes that happen in our given dynamic environments. To truly prepare for the future, organizations need to supplement their traditional methods with some non-traditional ones as well, such as scenario planning or peripheral vision.

Consider this recent article, “Weird But True! Netflix, Skype, Kindle Predicted in 1965.” Here author Paul Joseph Watson brings to light a 1965 edition of the British comic book Eagle that accurately predicted the rise of the Internet and Internet-based services such as Skype, Netflix, Kindle and Google well before the world wide web was publicly available. Beyond being an interesting story, what can we learn about planning for the future from this example? It turns out, a lot. It demonstrates that leaders should:

  • Forget present limitations
    When some organizations plan for the future, they look to the past and merely extrapolate trends based off of what they think will most likely happen. For real growth, successful companies look to the future and work backward to figure out how to achieve that future. The less bound by the past they are, the more they’re able to create a culture of innovation, creativity and problem solving. More importantly, they play a role in shaping their future instead of simply reacting to it. 
  • Embrace child-like creativity 
    Children tend to not be constrained in their imagination and creativity. As such, their ideas serve as great inspiration for what’s possible and offer a different perspective on solving problems. They don’t worry about why something won’t work, but get excited about what could be. Organizations should use the same sense of imagination and excitement, something often forgotten amidst the day-to-day focus on execution. 

    Similarly, leaders often overlook the young talent they have in their own organizations. They should strive to be disciplined in incorporating different generations in their decision-making and innovation. Involving youth in planning and ideation efforts can often lead to fresh and different perspectives necessary for a fast-changing world.

  • Look for signals in non-traditional places
    Inspiration can come from anywhere. Just like any other skill, future innovation and creativity requires practice. Reading the same materials or doing the same thing every day isn’t likely to spur the generation of truly progressive ideas. To stretch their thinking, leaders must regularly look to non-traditional sources such as social media, forums, publications from outside their industry, popular TV shows, and, yes, even comics.

How do you approach thinking about the future and planning? Are you relying solely on traditional tools and methods? If so, take a page out of this comic book and take your strategic planning a step further by stretching your perspectives. Through such disciplined thinking, you may move in a direction sooner than anyone else, see opportunities you did not realize existed or prepare for a threat earlier to better minimize risk. Keep the above lessons in mind as you plan for the future, and perhaps someday you’ll turn an idea into reality that was once thought to be only fantasy.

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