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The digital leader’s role in charting their organization’s future

Kenny MacIver — March 2021
In many industries, digital virtuosity now determines an organization’s long-term success. With their visibility into advanced technologies and business models, tech leaders have a big responsibility for reading market trends and guiding their organization’s future, argues futurist Amy Webb.

Whether a CIO, a CTO or another leader of IT, those at the top of technology are often regarded by their management teams as best-placed to understand, anticipate and forewarn about how major changes in digital technology might impact the organization’s future. But, as quantitative futurist Amy Webb advises in our Big Thinker video series, organizations that are serious about anticipating future trends still need to establish a distinct strategic foresight group — albeit with it taking major input from digital teams.

“As part of your day jobs [as tech leaders], you are already looking for forces, signals and trends that help indicate what the technology future could look like. And you have to get others in your organization into the habit of doing the same thing: to use data and evidence — not gut or personal insights — to spot and understand the potential impact of future trends,” says Webb.

Channeling your insight

She suggests digital leaders should systematize that by maintaining a matrix of the signals and trends they are picking up on. That will help determine which ones will take time to mature before being impactful on the organization and its markets and which ones require action.

“If you get into the habit of not just tracking signals and trends but also figuring out what do we monitor, where do we need to create some decisions, and what actions do we take, then that’s going to create a flywheel of continual tracking and smart decision-making. And that is going to set your organization up better for the future,” she says.

Mapping their organization’s future

But she argues such activity needs to be channeled through a strategic foresight group that, as a hub for future-gazing, is drawing input from across the organization.

Although digital leaders should play a big part, Webb says, there still needs to be a multidisciplinary group whose purpose is to track signals, trends and next-order impacts. “I work with a lot of CIOs and CTOs and I know that oftentimes you are relied upon to deliver the biggest and most important tech trends. So I know that a lot of you are being leaned on to do this work. But you need to say, ‘we can be a great resource, but the organization needs someone else [at CxO level] whose job it is to do this work, to elicit this information, to build the strategic models and to write the next order impact scenarios — somebody in the organization, whose responsibility is strategic foresight.’”

By working across the organization those in charge of strategic foresight are in a position “to pull in adjacently related information so they can understand what signals matter, what trends they should be tracking and how the data provides a map of what the organization’s plausible futures could look like.

• Portrait photography: Elena Seibert
First published
March 2021
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About: Amy Webb
A polymath, whose academic background and passions range from game theory, economics and computer science to classical clarinet, Aikido and sci-fi, Amy Webb is a quantitative futurist who, as head of the Future Today Institute, helps businesses, government agencies and social enterprises around the world to spot, make sense of and plan for (often-unanticipated) transformational changes. An in-demand keynote speaker, she is a professor of strategic foresight at the New York University Stern School of Business and the author of several bestselling business books, including ‘The Signals are Talking’ and ’The Big Nine.‘

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