Developing Effective Business Foresight

Chase Llewellyn
Contributing Writer
Direct Energy/Success Academy

“Mental time travel,” or the ability to use foresight to predict the future, is a uniquely human quality that has played a crucial role in the development and success of our species. By analyzing our past experiences, learning sets of general rules and guidelines, we are able to put our actions and their results into context, yielding a safer and more successful existence with sustained, measurable results.

As our species has evolved, using foresight to apply those learned rules and guidelines, we have been able to predict emerging markets, technological advances, and business trends at an alarmingly successful rate. Conversely, due to a lack of imagination and poor leadership, not all titans of business have been able to accurately predict what lies around the corner.

The bright shining example of lack-of-foresight in the business world is none other than Sears, Roebuck & Co. (commonly known as Sears). Sears, as recently as 1989, one hundred years after the company’s founding, was the largest retailer in the United States. Not only was Sears the nation’s largest retailer, they were uniquely positioned for another hundred years atop the retail world, if not for what could be considered a series of disastrous decisions.

Sears, in partnership with IBM, developed Prodigy, an early 1990’s pioneer of the online services world. Prodigy should have facilitated the transition of Sears’s famed catalog from print to the internet, creating what could have become what Amazon is today. Instead, Sears discontinued the catalog, the most sophisticated mail-order business on the planet, and, after investing more than a billion dollars in Prodigy, sold their interest in the venture for a fraction of the cost.

The disastrous mistakes don’t stop there, unfortunately. Sears, in an attempt to add financial services to their portfolio, purchased Coldwell, Banker & Company and Dean Witter Reynolds, positioning themselves for the windfall that was the early 2000’s real estate boom and, utilizing their newly developed online services, corner the online financial services market that would soon be dominated by companies such as E-Trade and TD Ameritrade.

Sears also owned (and sold) insurance giant Allstate, as well as the credit card company Discover, missing out on what should have become a profit center for the retail giant as they established a stranglehold on the emerging retail, financial, insurance and real estate markets the internet would soon usher in.

So, how do we avoid the same sort-sighted pitfalls that Sears fell into? If Sears, once the nation’s largest retailers was unable to avoid these traps, how can we? The answer lies in preparation. Let’s discuss ways to better prepare for the future and build foresight.

Education

Build upon your knowledge of a particular subject. Study trends, repetitions and market patterns. Most importantly; ask questions. Find knowledgeable subject matter experts who keep an eye on the future, yet a firm grasp of the past. If sales of annuity plans account for a portion of your bottom line, stay up to date on the latest offerings and sales opportunities. As the old saying goes, “history repeats itself” so stay abreast of historical data and results to mitigate the surprises that lie ahead.

Training

Training delivers hands-on experience that simply reading a book cannot provide. Step outside your department or current role and offer your services to other departments. This allows you to cross-train and accumulate real experiences personal to your future decision making. Assemble a group to creatively and critically assess potential problems and develop ways to alleviate those issues while formulating a plan to grow into the future. This is where embracing technology will set you apart from your competition as you will be better prepared to meet your customers’ demands and face them head-on as your plans begin to become implemented.

Another option I find to be highly effective is developing a monthly training path. Assign each week of the month a particular topic relevant to your business and train on them. For example; week one can be sales, week two can be communication, week three you focus on safety, and week four you focus on technology in your field.

Implementation

Begin to make small, short-term predictions. Run through a number of scenarios and sort out the possible cause and effect of different actions such as what good, and bad, could come from these decisions. These exercises will be helpful in determining what might happen when decisions are implemented on a larger scale. With each bit of success, be it selling more home protections plans, properly explaining the benefits of a top-of-the-line water heater, or the sales of a new surge protector, set your sights further and further into the future. As you grow, lend your services and expertise to others, continuing the circle of education, training and implementation.

A clear vision of your goals and what is necessary to accomplish them is central to the development of sound foresight. Building upon your knowledge, hands-on experience, and testing your conclusions while envisioning yourself in the future will lay the groundwork for exceptional leadership and logical decision-making.

 

Chase Llewellyn is a marketing, sales, and design professional with 10 years of innovative and successful marketing campaigns in the insurance and franchise industries. In June 2015, Chase joined Direct Energy as the Marketing Coordinator for Success Academy, the exclusive training partner for the Direct Energy Branded Operations. In his current role at Success Academy, Chase is responsible for creating original and compelling marketing pieces as well as assisting in the production and implementation of online training courses. Direct Energy Services is one of North America’s largest home services providers and offers a wide range of services to homes including HVAC, plumbing and electrical services through our service brands of Benjamin Franklin Plumbing®, Mister Sparky® electric, and One Hour Heating and Air Conditioning®. ©2017 Direct Energy.

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