Economic Developers: Are You Ready To Transform Your Thinking?

I am honored to serve on the Global Foresight Advisory Council which is a group of futures “thinkers” who are interested in perpetuating the use of, and democratizing Futures Thinking or Foresight Analysis in business and organizations around the world. An important goal of mine is to see Strategic Foresight used in economic development as a tool to provide more cogent and flexible views of the future of a community. One of my fellow Advisory Board members, Joana Lenkova of Futures Forward, a consultancy based in London, England recently posted a blog with the argument that linear-based retroactive planning and strategy methods must change into futures-oriented thinking to succeed in the 21stcentury. I couldn’t agree more. 

My question is, are you as economic developers ready for this change in thinking? Are you ready to change from site-based industrial age economic development strategies and tactics to futures-based thinking? As a profession are we ready to embrace the 21stcentury? 

Here is what Joana says about what Foresight-Fueled Strategy could look like. (Italicizedwords and in parenthesis are my additionsto Joana’s words):

  • “Business Analysts (Economic Developers) transform into Futurists. A company (economic development organization) doesn’t exist in its own universe. The extreme weather, aging populations, advancement in science, trade wars, are all factors impacting consumers. Strategists (economic developers) will be spending more time following trends, analyzing their impact and preparing strategies for multiple scenarios. The practice of extrapolating the past into the future will simply be wrong. We are enamored with AI and Machine learning and while they are great for data, nothing can compare (yet) to the creativity of the human mind. Scenario planning for the future can not only be based on numerical predictions, it has to include creative, even outrageous thinking to stretch our minds, show us the extremes, and the entire range of possibilities in-between, so we can make sure our strategies will survive in all possible future worlds.”
  • “A living discipline. For long-term success, the field demands a stronger integration of the formulation and implementation of strategy within (economic development) organizations as well as sourcing external talent. Consultants (Economic developers) must be held accountable not only for the theory but also the practical implementation of the strategy. The top-down approach, where the lower levels of a company (decision makers in a community or economic development organization) are simply “choiceless doers” will transform into a model of cascade of choices at various levels, encouraging proactivity, data, and feedback gathering among all layers of the organization. This new model gives the opportunity for quicker iteration and adjustments as needed.”
  • “Ambidextrous. Companies (EDOs’) will be looking for the right balance between exploiting the current (short-term) successful structures and resources and the exploration (long-term) of new ideas and markets. This search for innovation will come with higher tolerance to risk, experimentation and failure, lifelong learning, and tapping into external on-demand expertise, tailored to specific challenges the organizations are looking to solve.”
  • “Collaborative and Coopetition Driven. We will witness a rise in the formation of cross-industry partnerships and even current competitors becoming allies to tackle issues larger than a company or industry (community or region, or even state), co-innovating and creating profitable business models.”
  • “Sustainable. Corporate (Community) values will also be externally focused as ethical consumerism and the focus on well-being continues to rise and companies (economic developers) are being held accountable for their actions. If you are not seen to be ethical, caring, and working toward one of the Sustainable Development Goals, then your future may be at risk. These values are equally important to an organization’s employees.”

The world is changing exponentially. As an economic developer what can you say to your community about these changes and have some sense of confidence that you are right and are leading them in the right direction? A futures-oriented mindset will help get you there. 

Thanks, Joana, for letting me borrow from your post. You can read her entire blog post at the Kedge Futures School website.To find out more about Joana Lenkova  and what Futures Forward has to offer check out her website or read more on her blog

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