Rohrbeck Heger GmbH

The future may be uncertain, but your strategy needn’t be. Strategic Foresight teaches us that when you envision different future outcomes, your strategy is more robust.

by Sebastian Knab, Rohrbeck Heger with Emily Phillips

So, you’re working on your strategy and sustainability is supposed to play a major role. If you’re not sure where to start, you’re not alone. One way to begin is by envisioning possible futures by means of scenario-building. Here we’ll introduce our methodology for scenario-building and present four sustainability scenarios we’ve developed and used in several workshops. This will give you a jumping-off point and help to kick-start your process, so you can build a robust and resilient sustainability strategy that will support you in reaching your business objectives.

Join our Foresight & Sustainability Summit: Free, online, September 23rd 2021.

It seems as if “sustainability” is on everyone’s mind, especially when it comes to avoiding climate catastrophe. Scientific consensus from the past decades is coming home to roost, what with an unending litany of fires, drought, flooding, and storms filling the headlines. From boardrooms to breakrooms, the sense of urgency is growing: we have to do something. 

From boardrooms to breakrooms, the sense of urgency is growing: we have to do something. 

While topics such as achieving net-zero CO2 emissions and preserving biodiversity were once the purview of dedicated experts, these questions are now front of mind for those tasked with leading innovation initiatives and business strategy. And with good reason: we find ourselves at what feels like a tipping point. Pressure is mounting: new regulations such as the EU Green Deal are on the horizon while existing commitments such as the Paris Agreement will soon come into effect. 

In addition to pressure from governing bodies, many in the private sector are eager to convert their goodwill and desire for a sustainable, healthy future into actual practice, but are uncertain as to how best to approach the enormous task at hand. What could a sustainability strategy look like in practice? And how should it be developed? 

What could a sustainability strategy look like in practice? And how should it be developed? 

We’re in the business of managing uncertainty

One of the more challenging aspects of first forming and then applying a sustainability strategy is its inherent uncertainty: what will the future hold, and how can we do our best to ensure that we’ll not only survive but thrive in it? Well, we’ve got both good news and bad: the bad news is that no one really knows what the future will hold. But the good news is it is possible to implement a deliberate, systematic, and rigorous assessment of possible futures, assess their likelihood, and then identify the risks and opportunities inherent in each of the possible outcomes. 

It is possible to implement a deliberate, systematic, and rigorous assessment of possible futures, assess their likelihood, and then identify risks and opportunities inherent in each.

At Rohrbeck Heger, one of the many exercises we conduct with our clients in this process is scenario-building. The process starts by exploring key drivers of change, including technological and regulatory trends, customer preferences, and stakeholder/ecosystem behavior. The next step seeks to understand the different ways each change driver’s behavior could unfold, ultimately crafting (a) comprehensive, coherent picture(s) of the future. 

Join our Foresight & Sustainability Summit: Free, online, September 23rd 2021.

Whereas traditional strategy development treats uncertainty in a sensitivity analysis at best, we put it where it belongs: center stage. Working with scenarios requires that you acknowledge uncertainty and work constructively with it. By building different futures, you’re able to better prepare for what actually comes. You can identify safe bets and calculated risks, develop contingency plans, and become adaptive and agile if things unfold differently than expected – in short, build up strategic resilience.  

Whereas traditional strategy development treats uncertainty in a sensitivity analysis at best, we put it where it belongs: center stage. Working with scenarios requires that you acknowledge uncertainty and work constructively with it, building strategic resilience.

A sustainable future? Presenting our four scenarios

At our recent Future Atelier on Sustainability in the Supply Chain and Logistics industry, we plotted four possible scenarios for the world in 2030, represented in quadrants. When selecting the variables represented by the axes, we sought out two that we assume would have the biggest impact on the future of sustainability, but also – and this is an essential point – these variables are in themselves highly uncertain. Each quadrant in the image below represents a possible combination of the impactful and uncertain variables we selected:

  • The x-axis – Environmental regulations: Would governments come together to effectively enforce binding and comprehensive regulations to regulate carbon emissions?
  • The y-axis – Sustainable behavior: How sustainable would the collective behavior of individuals and organizations be?

Here’s what that looked like:

Plot Two Key Variables - Explore Four Possible Scenarios

In the following text, we dig deeper into these four quadrants, illustrating four visions of what the world might look like in 2030. While some of these scenarios might seem more likely than others, this exercise asks you to consider all four possibilities. We’ve put these scenarios to use clients and event participants from various companies; this exercise is ultimately industry agnostic and relevant to anyone building a strategy, no matter your business. While the specifics of how a scenario might play out in banking vs. healthcare will vary, the overarching “imagined world” acts as a constant.

Without any further ado, here are our four sustainability scenarios:

While some of these scenarios might seem more likely than others, this exercise asks you to consider all four possibilities. 

Scenario 1: “Self-healing” – Making the Green Economy Work

Scenario 1: "Self-Healing" - Making the Green Economy Work / Low Environmental Regulations and High Sustainable Behavior

Waking up and pulling back the blinds, the early morning sun heralds yet another scorching summer day. Above your head, the solar panels that cover the roof have been hard at work for a few hours already, generating the energy that powers your home. Checking your phone for the morning’s news, the headlines are abuzz with the latest long-awaited report from the IPCC: “2 DEGREES AVERTED” they read – a glimmer of hope after the dramatic coastal flooding, prolonged droughts, and month-long wildfires of these last 10 years. 

Sleepily you make your way through the house and check on the 3D printer’s latest work before the kids get to it first: a sheet of model airplane pieces for them to painstakingly assemble, printed with the same polymer that once built their stackable baby rings, then LEGOs, and now, magically transformed overnight into a new pastime. Your voice assistant chirps and reminds you that the electrically-powered autonomous delivery vehicle made its drop-off 15 minutes ago – there are groceries waiting by the door. Thanks to new local greenhouses, fresh produce is grown within a 25km radius, and available even in winter. You open the door, and the day begins.

In this scenario, which we’ve christened “Self-Healing,” technological progress will enable solutions that manage to successfully decouple continued economic growth from ecological harm. Consumers, fearful of ecological collapse and determined to contribute to a solution, undergo a strong shift in mindset and change their purchasing behavior in favor of sustainable consumption, forcing companies to adapt. Government regulation remains conservative, but thanks to breakthroughs in cleantech, companies embrace green technologies and can keep the growth paradigm in place while still achieving net-zero CO2 emissions. Not to be underestimated is the pressure from new green players, whose entrance into the market and leveraging of technological innovations puts the onus on incumbents to react or collaborate. 

Join our Foresight & Sustainability Summit: Free, online, September 23rd 2021.

This possible future, where individual choice and market solutions manage to halt the planet’s warming in its tracks, posits that powerful new efficiencies, unlocked by technological innovation, would transform today’s “business as usual” into a green economy, securing continued economic growth and avoiding ecological catastrophe, and this all within enough time. The “Self-Healing” scenario assumes that ethical business practices and individual consumer choices would ensure a verdant, affluent future, successfully “liberating the environment from the economy.” 

This vision of green growth is one we’re well familiar with and many of us hope for, a narrative and goal that has been adopted by corporate entities and government leaders alike. But what if it’s simply a pipe dream, so-called “greenwishing”? Let’s take a look at another possible future, “Deliberate Slow-Down.”

Scenario 2: “Deliberate Slow-Down” – Shifting to Post-Growth

Scenario 2: Deliberate Slow-Down - Shifting to Post-Growth / High Environmental Regulations & High Sustainable Behavior

It’s shortly before 8am: time to get to work and send the kids off to school. With backpacks, lunch sacks, and helmets you hustle out the door and squeeze the youngest into their now too-small bike seat, making a mental note to post an advert for it on the local kids’ equipment digital sharing marketplace. 

As you cycle to the school bus stop, you reflect on the changed world your children will inherit. After dire scientific predictions about rising temperatures and sea levels started coming true in the early 2020s, worldwide governments stepped up and set binding, comprehensive regulations in order to reduce CO2 emissions and avert climate catastrophe and ecological ruin. 

A decade later, a new way of life has firmly taken root and begun to blossom. What was known earlier as “the sharing economy” is simply the economy now, with renting and repairing taking the place of ownership and thoughtless disposal. And there are plenty of jobs, especially in care work: healthcare, minding children, and supporting the elderly, not to mention the boom in public infrastructure. The upkeep of public transportation systems, retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency, and maintaining renewable energy sources require many helping hands. 

You blow kisses to the kids as the electrically powered bus takes them to school and you head onwards to the park and ride station. Locking your bike next to the carsharing parking lot, the train shuttles you and other commuters into the city to start your workday. 

In this scenario, the gospel of efficiency has been replaced with that of sufficiency: creating more value with less in what can be called a post-growth society.  Dreams for achieving so-called “green growth” were simply that – dreams – and it was thanks to rigorous regulation, combined with consumers’ sustainable behavior, that managed to stabilize global temperatures and avoid the grim projections that shook the world awake just a decade ago. 

When tough regulations came into effect, they were based in part on a new consensus that given climate change’s imminent threat and wily, accelerating timeline, a decoupling of continued economic growth and maintenance of a habitable world were simply at odds with one another, largely due to insurmountable rebound effects. As a result, things are slower, now, but the air is cleaner and a precipitous drop in biodiversity, rising sea levels, and full thawing of the arctic tundra were averted.

By the early 2020s, the world was simply reaching the limits of growth, just as the famed 1972 paper posited, and in 2030 “a period of great transition: from growth to equilibrium” is well underway. For example, global shipping now relies on wind-powered sails in favor of air freight. Platforms that sell second-hand goods and companies specializing in repairing-as-a-service proliferate. In addition, “servitization” – replacing products such as cars with services such as mobility – is the name of the game in many industries. 

A global post-growth economic restructuring sounds too far-fetched? How about a scenario that many of us can imagine, and some would say we’re currently experiencing: good intentions that simply don’t do enough to mitigate destructive change.

Scenario 3: “Boiling the frog“ – just not getting there

Scenario 3: "Boiling the Frog" - just not getting there. High Environmental Regulations and Low Sustainable Behavior

Snagging a coveted seat for your train commute, your eye catches a clever new advert from a fast-fashion retailer as the train pulls away from the platform. The new limited edition eco collaboration is with one of your favorite designers; maybe you’ll find 20 minutes at lunch to pop by the shop around the corner from your office building and get a piece before it sells out. 

Leaving the center city station, you nearly trip over the latest installment from pro-eco activists, who, dressed in red from head-to-toe, lie motionless, covering the vast plaza beyond the revolving doors. Some passers-by hurl insults at those lying on the ground, accusing them of naïveté and rabble-rousing; after all, the government has recently issued yet another new measure to curb CO2 levels after the latest mass exodus of climate refugees from coastal cities. 

Later, taking the elevator up to your floor, you check the day’s calendar: as a Senior Analyst for Climate Change Adaptation, you’ve got a day full of meetings with your team as you prepare an upcoming workshop for the Global Supply Chain Director from a major international coffee brand. With severe droughts in 30% of their grower regions, plus the new pressure to comply with resolutions from the COP26 Glasgow Summit now coming into effect, they have their hands full as they struggle to secure the supply chain and keep the world caffeinated. Which reminds you as the elevator doors slide open: time for your second cup.

Join our Foresight & Sustainability Summit: Free, online, September 23rd 2021.

In this scenario, comprehensive, binding regulation on the part of international government agreements pushes companies to adapt their models to encourage Green Growth, but this is not matched by corresponding sustainable behavior on the part of people and other organizations. While steps to mitigate climate change have been taken (and good intentions reign among many), humans are the proverbial clueless amphibians, and the Earth is a great big pot, getting hotter and hotter as it starts to boil. 

As climate regulations become increasingly strict, any gains in efficiency are made redundant by ever-increasing consumption; strong rebound effects persist even among self-professed green advocates who, unwittingly or not, suffer from an attitude-behavior gap

In part due to cleantech breakthroughs’ failure to materialize, companies’ foci are split in two: on the one hand, trying to adjust to an ever-evolving regulatory environment, while on the other, building resilience practices so as to weather the increasingly disruptive effects of droughts, floods, fires, and storms. 

It couldn’t get much worse than a slow death by boiling, right? Not so fast – there’s one final scenario to explore.

Scenario 4: “Deliberate ignorance” – pushing nature around

Scenario 4: Deliberate Ignorance / Low Environmental Regulations and Low Sustainable Behavior

The lights in the office flicker once, and then with a great, heaving whine, the electricity shuts off. A collective sigh and exclamations reverberate among your colleagues. Another blackout, and the last one was only two months ago. At least it’s the end of the workday and you can hitch a ride home to the suburbs.

The thought of an unknown number of days ahead without air conditioning has you worried. Your aging parents have moved in with you and your family since they lost their home in the fires last April. The heat index has been so high that the greater metropolitan area doesn’t manage to cool down at night, and more and more elderly people have been succumbing to heat stroke and other complications. “I’ll set an alarm to check on them during the night,” you think, reassuring yourself. Gathering your equipment and hoisting your bag onto your shoulder, you change into your tennis shoes: no electricity means no elevator, and no elevator requires a climb down 43 flights of stairs. It’s a drill that’s become more and more familiar in recent years, ever since the local power grids started to collapse in the sustained heat of summer. 

Later, you and your colleague sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic, trying to get on the interstate in fits of stops and starts. You listen half-heartedly to their account of trying to get their hands on some real vanilla to make a favorite recipe for their partner’s birthday. “Hothouse strawberries could be delivered by drone, no problem,” they explain. But because of deforestation and continued droughts in Madagascar, 80% of the world’s vanilla supply has simply disappeared, making it nearly impossible to get your hands on the real deal. “It’s the least of our problems,” you think to yourself, as you lean back and close your eyes, trying to enjoy these last moments of air-conditioned cool.

This scenario assumes that all parties do nothing to mitigate global warming, and sustainability efforts on the part of governments, individuals, companies, and other actors fall entirely to the wayside. Scientists’ warnings are ignored and even lampooned as the post-factual era takes root. Growth has trumped all: unregulated economic growth and an inverse trend in game-changing green innovation breakthroughs herald a global thermometer that’s rising with no sign of stopping: the world is well on its way to warming more than 2.5 degrees Celsius. The ecological effects and their fallout are beginning to snowball: seawater rises higher, and the list of extinct species grows longer. In short: it’s an age of disruption that we can only begin to imagine but one that should not surprise us, as one catastrophe follows another. 

A note on scenarios

Scenarios are meant to provoke; after all, they’re what you get when you cross two variables at their respective extremes. There may be aspects of all four scenarios that sound familiar, or even very plausible. On the flip side, some of what we’ve described may seem highly unlikely, or even preposterous. So why bother with scenarios at all? For one very simple reason: so that you and your team can align on your vision of possible futures, a prerequisite for positioning and preparing your company for success in those imagined spaces. 

Why bother with scenarios at all? For one simple reason: so that you and your team can align on your vision of possible futures, a prerequisite for positioning and preparing your company for success in those imagined spaces. 

Assessing the four scenarios: how likely are they? 

More often than not, when we do this exercise and facilitate scenario-building, teams will be split in their assessment of the likelihood of one scenario over another, and even disagree on their company’s or industry’s preparedness should any of them occur. Oftentimes, teams will even realize that they are more prepared for a scenario which they deem less likely to happen! Scenario building and assessment, then, helps a team to explore different possibilities, support strategic discussion, and ultimately work together to align on a shared vision of the future. This shared vision supports their common goal to prepare their business strategy and stress test their innovation roadmaps in order to find out if they’re robust enough to weather different outcomes. 

During our Future Atelier workshop that examined these scenarios within the context of the logistics and supply chain sectors, we asked participating industry experts this very question: which is the most likely scenario? 

Here’s the results: 

Assessing scenarios: how likely are they?

Rated as most likely to occur we find scenario three, “Boiling the Frog,” which, in some respects, best represents “real life” in 2021. We can observe this scenario at play, today. Thus, we can rate it as fairly probable and claim that we’re somewhat prepared for it. Might this, however, lead to a bias in its likelihood rating? It may feel “comforting” (if being boiled slowly could ever be described as such), but we must remember that the future won’t necessarily look anything like the present. It can do us good to “think outside the box” and prepare for other future scenarios that look very little like what we know.  

We must remember that the future won’t necessarily look anything like the present. It can do us good to “think outside the box” and prepare for other future scenarios.

In second place comes Scenario 1: “Self-healing.” This scenario describes what many of us not only hope for, but expect to and believe will happen: “We’ll develop powerful, green tech and everything will be fine!” This scenario sells us the story that we can solve all of our problems while still remaining in our current thinking, never challenging the predominant paradigms. It’s no surprise, then, that it’s been rated as highly probable. But might there be dangers in betting on this and only this at our moment in time? 

Interestingly, Scenario 2: “Deliberate slow-down” has a relatively high rating – certainly curious when you consider that overall, very few people in the private sector actually expect this to happen, don’t want this at all, nor can they really imagine how this could possibly work in practice. Could it be that the probability score is too high, reflecting a lack of understanding on the part of those who rated it? Some experts make the case that de-growth and post-growth may be the only way to actually meet the ambitious climate targets that will prevent ecological collapse. It might be worth it for businesses to consider this possibility.  

The scenario with the lowest environmental regulation and lowest sustainable behavior, “Deliberate Ignorance,” was a clear “loser” according to the ratings. Comforting perhaps, yet consider this: airlines already have contingency plans for more extreme weather conditions. Agriculture must brace for less predictable rainfall. Coffee and chocolate producers are being forced to consider a world where deforestation and extreme weather threaten their supply chain.  

While many would rate this scenario as least likely to occur (especially considering its extremity), we are living in a VUCA world, and uncertainty is high. It’s perhaps prudent to consider different rolls of the dice when preparing a strategic sustainability transformation. And while most businesses would dismiss this scenario as “backwards thinking” – no one is seriously debating whether change must happen – there are other voices who say that we’re not doing enough and that we must prepare for dire global warming consequences. At any rate, we will find ourselves unable to avoid these challenges in their entirety.  

While many would rate this scenario as least likely to occur, we are living in a VUCA world, and uncertainty is high. It’s perhaps prudent to consider different rolls of the dice when preparing a strategic sustainability transformation.

A call to prepare for (a) brave new world(s)

As we’ve written before, “crisis is not a cause for despair but a trigger point to make way for thoroughly new ways of operating and envisioning success.” The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted humanity’s adaptability to difficult circumstances as well as its ability to work together, facing down a global challenge. The 2020s will be the defining decade for addressing climate change, with surging storms and raging fires only making us sense the high stakes more acutely. What we’ve done until now hasn’t been enough. Consider the fact that the private sector’s increased measuring and reporting has not translated into lower CO2 emissions, but instead coincides with the exact opposite: “It turns out that reporting is not a proxy for progress,” reported Harvard Business Review. 

Given the increasing pressure from nature and resulting pressure from societies and regulators, sustainability has arrived center stage in every strategic discussion. However, the only certain thing about the future of sustainability seems to be its uncertainty. How are regulators going to take on the challenge of pushing for sustainable development? How are consumers going to adapt their consumption patterns towards sustainable lifestyles? Is technological progress enough to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation? Strategic foresight teaches us not to hone in on easy answers to these questions, but instead to explore possible future scenarios, prepare for alternative paths, and build a resilient strategy to win the future.   

Emily Phillips contributed research and writing. 

Join our Foresight & Sustainability Summit: Free, online, September 23rd 2021.

Headquartered in the USA, the global snacking powerhouse Mondelez is the parent company of beloved worldwide brands such as Oreo, Milka, and Cadbury, plus local favorites including Russia’s Alpen Gold chocolate and Kinh Do biscuits in Vietnam. With a strong presence on all 6 continents, this manufacturer of biscuits, chocolate, candy, and more is valued at 90 billion dollars.

Rohrbeck Heger was pleased to welcome Serhiy Kalinovsky, Senior Manager at Mondelez, who leads the strategic foresight function at the multinational snacking company. Based in Singapore, he joined our third Future Atelier, a series of digital events exploring future trends, this time in the food industry, and an opportunity for our clients to share their experience in working with Rohrbeck Heger in building their corporate foresight capabilities. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity.

How did foresight at Mondelez get its start?

Mondelez’s CEO, Dirk Van de Put, is very vocal about promoting the idea of leading from the future. This idea is supported by strategic foresight: in order to be successful in the future, you need to first envision and understand what the future might be. Then, you need to pass the vision of the future to your team so that together you can create a strategy for the company that will lead to future success. And that’s exactly what we would like to support. Our strategic foresight ambitions, the department that I’m leading, is there to promote long-term thinking and spearhead a forward-looking culture in our company. 

In 2018, Dirk Van de Put unveiled a new Mondelez global strategy and a new company mission. The short version is “snacking made right.” The longer version is that we would like to “lead the future of snacking” around the world by offering “the right snack for the right moment and made the right way.” As you might have noticed, the very word “future” is already in the company mission! 

To act on that promise, we need to understand what the future of snacking is likely to be. And we’re not just interested in what it would look like in a couple of years from now. We want to understand the future of snacking in the longer term so we can be a successful company in that version of the future. 

We’re not just interested in what it would look like in a couple of years from now. We want to understand the future of snacking in the longer term

How did you build your foresight unit at Mondelez?

When we were planning to launch strategic foresight, we had a question: what kind of foresight unit are we trying build? We identified two models of deploying strategic foresight in an organization. We call the first model Oracle, a reference towards the Oracle in ancient Greek mythology. An Oracle is a person who predicts the future. Kings and heroes would come to the Oracle and the Oracle would enlighten them, tell them what kinds of events would be in the future. The Oracle model is especially popular with governments because they have vast resources and it’s beneficial for them to create a specific department staffed with experts and analysts that work on strategic planning. 

What are the advantages of this model? You can get a ready answer to your questions or interests pretty quickly, and with a great deal of expertise. But there are downsides. The rest of the company is detached from strategic foresight practices. And you need to deploy significant resources to build such a large strategic foresight unit. 

The second engagement model is what we call Prometheus. And Prometheus, also a figure from ancient Greek mythology, was a people’s champion. He stole the fire from Mount Olympus and brought it back to humanity, empowering them, right? Because fire is a powerful tool, it’s the enabler. So, in this model our foresight unit is small and leverages the knowledge, expertise, passion, and curiosity of the entire company to champion the strategic foresight approach.  And that’s exactly the model that we’ve deployed at Mondelez International.

Read further below

What does leveraging the entire company’s power look like in practice?

We have a small unit, basically just two people, me and my teammate. But we are currently building a strategic foresight community that is already thirty people and counting. We will be bigger in the future, a team that is trained, empowered, and has strategic foresight tools. They act as local strategic foresight champions in their business units and in their functions. 

We operate with a so-called impact-oriented trend management process. Strategic foresight has three phases: perceiving, prospecting and probing. Perceiving is about detecting change: horizon scanning and trend management. The second stage is understanding what this change means, which changes matter for our use case and for our company. Then we work with those trends that might significantly impact the future of our business. And finally, probing is acting upon the changes that we’ve prioritized from the trends at the previous stage. Essentially embedding trend management into the company’s strategic activities.

Do you use specific tools or practices within the company to execute on foresight?

In order to build a strategic foresight community, we have a tool that we call FTR. This is our own interactive trend management platform where we host the Mondelez trend framework. It is a holistic description of all the change that happens around us. And the platform has trend evaluation and trend prioritization modules, as well as the module that helps us to derive opportunities and threats directly from said trends. 

We can deploy scenario planning to understand the future state of the questions that are very, very important for our company. These trends, opportunities, and threats get either put directly into strategic activities, into different levels of company strategy, or they become part of the situational assessment of strategy formulation and the strategy revision process. In both cases, they have a direct impact on how we formulate strategies. And remember, all this strategic foresight machinery is managed by the foresight unit, but truly powered by the strategic foresight community. It is really instrumental in driving this process. 

And remember, all this strategic foresight machinery is managed by the foresight unit, but truly powered by the strategic foresight community. It is really instrumental in driving this process. 

What would you say are the greatest challenges to actually make strategic foresight create an impact within the organization?

I wouldn’t say that we have challenges yet, because at the moment our company is just starting to build foresight capacity. We started by talking to various stakeholders around the entire company and overall the company is very receptive towards the idea. Leading from the future is endorsed by company leadership, as I mentioned, and there is a lot of enthusiasm and support in the entire company, and an understanding that we need to become more future-oriented. 

Something I can advise to take into consideration as you build your foresight unit in your organization is to remember the importance of communication with various stakeholder groups. Frequent, consistent communication, plus alignment is important. It’s a big, big thing at Mondelez because we have about 80,000 employees, and numerous stakeholders. And while we are technically a part of insights and analytics, we have stakeholders in basically all the departments throughout the company. We’re talking about hundreds of different stakeholders. It’s absolutely critical to maintain good, clear, and transparent 2-way communication with all of them for the success of the project. 

What does Mondelez think about agility, using trial-and-error-based exploration of future markets?

This is something that Mondelez has thought about for a while already, and that’s why we have a “startup” within our company, called Snack Futures. It’s a small team that essentially has a blank cheque to explore the future of snacking. They experiment a lot with formats, with brands, with approaches, and put a lot of ideas to the test. Snack Futures is one of our biggest stakeholders within Mondelez for the foresight, because they are so future-oriented. 

Mondelez is truly global. Let’s say you want to gather foresight for a specific region, how do you do that?

This is the exact question that we are being asked inside Mondelez by our business units and local teams. We have multiple ways of incorporating the geographical dimension when it comes to trends in our platform. First of all, when we do trend evaluation, we can see evaluation coming from our colleagues in different geographies, sharing the perspective of their geography. This is the first way of understanding regional differences when it comes to the same trend. The same trends may manifest themselves differently and may have different dynamics in various parts of the world. 

The second dimension is that the tool we have allows us to create regional or even local country-specific trends. So, if this is warranted – because today I would say a vast majority of trends are either global or have a propensity to become global – but if it is warranted to create a specific local trend that is unique for a certain country, we can certainly do it. 

The third dimension is that for each trend we have a so-called “signals module” inside the platform that delivers fresh news and a fresh perspective about a trend. This tool is driven by artificial intelligence and has a geographical stamp. So, you can easily filter out what’s relevant for trends that are coming from China or Russia, for example.

Today I would say a vast majority of trends are either global or have a propensity to become global

What specific current trends stand out to you? What is super important for Mondelez, but also in general, when working towards the future?

I would say the usual suspects, so trends that are very big and impactful and that would define the trajectory of the future of food. First of all: sustainability. This is a huge trend. Of course, it’s not only relevant to the food industry. Second are a number of trends around the changing nature of well-being. What does well-being mean for people? What does it mean for our consumers? And another usual suspect is digitization and everything associated with it, like advanced technology, precision agriculture, autonomous logistics, etc. And what we call “retail 4.0” – the changing landscape of retail, including but not limited to the rise of e-commerce. 

Thank you, Serhiy!

Chris de la Cerda

Our Rohrbeck Heger Future Atelier event series gathers innovation and strategy professionals to discuss future-forward foresight practice. This installment: the future of food.

Our third Rohrbeck Heger Future Atelier focussed on a tantalizing topic: the future of food. Industry experts, representing global companies such as Danone and ABInBev, as well as regional players including REWE Group and Picard, gathered from around the world for a digital discussion on major trends that will define the food industry as it heads towards 2030. Participants also learned more about what it means to implement corporate foresight practice from the perspective of global snacking powerhouse Mondelez.

Future focus from the top: Mondelez’s leadership keen on foresight

We were delighted to welcome Serhiy Kalinovsky, Senior Manager, Strategic Foresight at Mondelez, who shared how the parent company of beloved brands such as Oreo and Cadbury’s Dairy Milk has adopted a future-forward mindset. How does his lean unit leverage the power of Mondelez’s 80,000 global employees to stay relevant in a shifting world and prepare for the future?

Mondelez is committed to “looking ahead in the longer term to stay successful in the future,“ explained Kalinovsky, who credits the Fortune 500 company’s CEO Dirk Van de Put as a driving force behind this initiative. As someone who is convinced of the importance of “leading from the future,” Van de Put has pushed for an internal company culture that is focused on answering the question, “what is the future of snacking going to be?”

In order to implement this top-down vision, Mondelez focuses on nurturing a bottom-up movement. Kalinovsky explains: you’ve got to “leverage the knowledge, the passion, of the whole team… by empowering, and educating, and giving employees tools so they can act as local foresight champions.“ By keeping its foresight team lean and building a larger foresight community within the organization, Mondelez seeks to unlock the power of its global workforce and channel this knowledge to maintain its competitive edge.

➔ Stay tuned for our full interview with Mondelez Senior Manager, Strategic Foresight, Serhiy Kalinovsky.

Rating trends: which are most impactful and predictable?

After Serhiy presented and answered direct questions, this diverse group of experts dove deeper into nine trends that will define the food industry towards 2030. To kick off this participatory round, our foresight consultants Bram Roosens and Frank van Doesum presented Rohrbeck Heger’s The Future of Food: 9 Trends to Watch Towards 2030. Moderated by founding partners Rene Rohrbeck and Tobias Heger, participants were guided in an interactive exercise to rate the nine trends based on two factors:

  • Impact: What impact do you expect this trend to have on the food industry? Select from no impact (“very low”) to disruptive (“very high”).
  • Predictability: How confident are you that the impact and timing of this trend can be predicted? (If the trend is difficult to predict, select “very low;” if you sense strong evidence for its trajectory, select “very high.”)

Once rated, the results were mapped onto a chart (Figure 1). For a crowdsourced activity such as this to be successful, there can never be too many cooks in the kitchen: by bringing different vantage points from a diverse group of experts you gain a better overall view of trends’ relevance from differing perspectives. So how did participants rate our 9 trends in terms of impact and predictability?

  • The most impactful trend was Carbon Pricing: although its predictability was rated as neither particularly high nor low, the consensus among those present was that the trend to make emitters pay for greenhouse gas emissions would have a very high impact on the food industry in the next decade.
  • With a similarly high impact but coming in with the highest predictability rating was the trend Animal Product Alternatives—this shift to plant-based and cultivated meat products will not only be impactful, but experts are also confident that this trend’s trajectory is easier to predict.
  • Not far behind in both impact and predictability was Precision Farming, a trend that refers to the collective consequences of the agricultural sector’s implementation of the 4th industrial revolution. With automation, AI, and other tech advancements, this new approach to farming will mean ever-more optimized operations. Experts agreed that this trend’s strong effects and predictable evolution will undoubtedly influence the food supply chain towards 2030.

Figure 1: Rating Food Trends on Impact and Predictability

Figure 1: The results of rating trends in the food industry

Some food industry trends require closer examination

While those gathered were generally unanimous in their assessments of The Obesity Pandemic (medium-high impact, medium-high predictability), Flash-in-the-pan Fandom, and 3D Printing (each squarely in the middle for both predictability and impact), three trends stood out for their variability, with a noticeable range in assessment among participants. Experts disagreed on the impact and predictability of the trends Food and your mood (the emerging practice of nutritional psychiatry) and Blockchain (its effects on transparency and provenance), perhaps signaling a lack of familiarity and/or understanding about these two topics. Might this be an impetus for further examination of the potential impact of these two trends on the food industry?

The third of these trends was, perhaps unsurprisingly, our “black horse”: AI for food. Despite its clear ranking as having both the lowest impact and predictability, there was a wide range of assessments on the part of participants. From our research on the topic, we at Rohrbeck Heger would caution against writing off this powerful player and its exponential development: with increased data gathering (whether from rows of crops or supermarket aisles), the power of AI to parse and assess troves of information about products and consumers could really shift the landscape by 2030. AI is something to keep on your radar and monitor in the coming years.

From increasing demand to meat alternatives to the as-yet untapped power of AI: the food industry will be faced with increasing complexity and will need to navigate a shape-shifting landscape as we head towards the 2030s. Trend analysis and its integration into corporate strategy is one essential way that we at Rohrbeck Heger support our clients such as Mondelez in their quest to stay competitive. To learn more about our work in the food industry and how we can help support your team become more future-oriented, get in touch!

Chris de la Cerda

The food sector will face numerous challenges in the coming decade. From the race to develop plant-based meat substitutes to the power of AI-enabled personalized nutrition, disruptive drivers of change are just around the corner, waiting to break through.

What will the future of food look like in 2030? From our research in the field, our Rohrbeck Heger foresight analyst team has picked its favorite 9 drivers of change for the food sector to watch over the next 10 years. Whether they will all come to be remains to be seen, but quite a few of them will fundamentally change the way we eat and how food businesses operate. This report outlines nine trends in total, divided into 3 parts:

  • Our 5 most surprising trends to watch
  • 3 “Question Marks”– something’s brewing, but it’s unclear how these will play out
  • 1 “Dark Horse” – although less likely to break out in the next decade, this trend will have a tremendous impact once it does.

If this has whetted your appetite, join us on June 23rd, 2021, for our upcoming online trend assessment workshop on drivers of change in the food industry!

 

Your contact at Rohrbeck Heger:
Chris de la Cerda
Foresight Consultant
cdelacerda@rohrbeckheger.com
LinkedIn

For our second RH FutureAtelier focusing on financial services, we identified top trends for 2021 and beyond, outlined the practice of corporate foresight, and explored what it will mean for the sector.

Financial services are a pillar of society. As such, their foundations have not changed for centuries: payments, lending, insurance, accounts—financial service providers offer individuals and organizations the opportunity to pursue their aspirations and ambitions, while managing risk and safeguarding rewards.

However, like the societies they serve, the financial service industry cannot stand still. From the untapped power of AI to the emergence of white-label banking, the industry must continue to innovate and optimize, not only to meet evolving customer needs and expectations, but to also increase resilience and ensure regulatory compliance.

In the latest installment of our virtual event series, RH FutureAtelier, we ventured into the exciting world of the future of financial services and insurance. Joined by Maren Kottler, Head of Corporate Foresight at die Mobiliar, Switzerland’s oldest insurance company, as well as industry experts from banking, insurance, and consulting, we enjoyed an engaging and collaborative session. Participants learned how foresight is a tool and capability instrumental for future-proofing the financial services and insurance industries against the tides of change.

 

The top trends to watch in financial services and insurance

The event began with an overview of our corporate foresight methodology and identified nine current and future trends that will define financial services in the years (and decades) to come. The top rising trends for financial services and insurance include:

  1. Increasing (private) data ownership regulations – Data may be the “new currency,” but what does increasing government oversight mean for banks?
  2. AI in banking – The potential to save on operational costs is tremendous, but what are its unforeseen implications, such as bias?
  3. Rise of decentralized finance – Could banks offer a more secure way to engage new consumer behaviors such as cryptocurrency exchanges and peer-to-peer lending, mitigating the risks of hacks and scams?
  4. Embedded finance – With financial services embedded into a wide variety of software and services, ownership of the customer experience shifts elsewhere. What will this mean for traditional industry gatekeepers?
  5. Retail investments replacing retail savings – Low-interest environments mean retail investment is replacing retail savings, but do consumers need more guidance?
  6. Rise of asset tokenization – New ways of monetizing and tracking the ownership of assets create investment opportunities and ways to securitize, but how will this be regulated?
  7. Consumer-centric banking – As new consumer groups mature and earn more money, and older generations live longer, what new services and products might they want and need?
  8. Women in finance – The changing face of the banking industry means space to grow: how will a new diversity alter product offerings and operational practices?
  9. Green finance / Eco-investing – Climate change is one of the biggest risks out there. Will the financial services industry meet the challenge with green initiatives and sustainable investments?

 

 

Identifying trends: how is it done?

Foresight is, in its essence, a discipline to anticipate and act upon change.While many companies have adopted a mature practice when it comes to planning technology roadmaps, supporting innovation teams, and venturing and accelerating new ideas, these activities account for only one part of corporate foresight practice.

At Rohrbeck Heger we’ve identified three stages that cover the whole span of foresight and innovation management: perceiving, prospecting, and probing (Fig. 1).

Figure 1: Perceiving, Prospecting, Probing

Perceiving Prospecting Probing

 

● Perceiving: the anticipation of change and identifying trends. Seeing what’s out there, what could happen, and what is happening.
● Prospecting: understanding what these trends mean for us as an organization or an industry.
● Probing: executing on these insights to gain a competitive advantage: innovation, venturing, accelerating, and roadmapping.

While the aforementioned “mature” steps (listed under “Probing”) are essential in order to convert strategy into practice, in this installment of our FutureAtelier we instead focused on the “Perceiving” stage, pictured on the far left of the above illustration.

An essential element—the foundation, even—for foresight is trend management and change detection. Plenty of teams are concerned with keeping abreast of trends within their industry, but often struggle to approach trend management with a structured and coherent practice. Our methodology begins by scanning widely for trends across a spectrum of issues: technology, politics, society, economy, and the environment.

“Plenty of teams are concerned with keeping abreast of trends within their industry, but often struggle to approach trend management with a structured and coherent practice.”

The signal in the noise: which trends matter?

Foresight-mature organizations, those that are really, truly future-proof, scan widely for trends and strictly manage them. To do so, they typically use a tool such as a trends radar to visualize, prioritize, and finally feed relevant trends into their strategy and innovation activities. But how to filter and prioritize identified trends in the first place? One method we use is a straightforward mapping exercise where we evaluate trends based on two parameters: impact and uncertainty. At the RH FutureAtelier we crowdsourced opinions to work with a variant of this exercise: impact and certainty:

● Impact: what impact do you expect this trend to have on your industry?
● Certainty: how certain are you about the evolution and/or trajectory of this trend towards reaching its impact?

To give participants a taste of what it’s like to put this methodology into practice, we polled all those present at the FutureAtelier event to evaluate the nine trends we identified for the financial services and insurance sector. We then mapped the results on a graph and participants split into two breakout groups to discuss the results.

An Impact-Certainty Assessment of Trends in the Financial Services Sector

To understand the map below (Fig. 2), we divide it into four quadrants. At the top left, we have the high impact/low certainty trends, which we call our “hedged risks.” These trends, potential threats and opportunities, require further research, thinking, and testing before being introduced into a strategy roadmap, for example. In contrast, those high impact/high certainty items show trends that we call “sure bets,” and should be quickly acted upon, directly incorporated into strategy. So, which were the “sure bets” and “hedged risks” among our top nine trends in the financial services and insurance sectors (Fig.3)?

Figure 2: Prioritizing trends Impact Certainty Matrix

Figure 3: Results from our 2nd RH FutureAtelier on Financial Services Impact Certainty Matrix - Results

Based on what we see in Fig. 3, our crowdsourced “impact/certainty” matrix determined that AI, consumer-centric banking, more women in finance, embedded finance, e-commerce boom due to COVID, card-based transactions replaced by real-time payments, and increasing (private) data ownership regulations will be the seven trends to classify as “safe bets”—that is to say, these trends rank as both high impact and high certainty. (Participants had the option to name their own trends in addition to the nine we originally identified.) While both regulation of cryptocurrency and climate change-specific trends (climate agreements, net-zero initiatives, green finance, and eco-investing) were rated as relatively certain to happen, they fell short of convincing the group of their high impact on the financial services and insurance sectors. We at Rohrbeck Heger were surprised by this result and would challenge this assessment. Considering how deeply most financial services, especially investment, are intertwined with the availability and flow of natural resources, the massive shifts we anticipate as a result of pressures to mitigate climate change (not to mention potential natural disasters, including pandemics) will have a great effect on the industry.

Foresight: making it work for you

It’s vital to evaluate what trends mean for an organization and to filter and prioritize what happens next. Rohrbeck Heger advises on several methods to derive insights and define actions using foresight.
But in general, we advise that our clients do four things in executing a foresight process:

  1. Collaborate and co-create. Bring together dissimilar opinions to develop true insights and challenge conventions. No-one has a monopoly on understanding the future.
  2. Structure it. The future is uncertain, but it doesn’t have to be unmanageable. Use tools like radars and decision portfolios to drive the discussion forward and keep it action-oriented.
  3. Prioritize. Recognize that you can’t do everything all at once. Bring wisdom to bear and decide on what is a ‘“sure bet” or a “hedged risk.”
  4. Commit to the longer-term. Ensure that key trends are addressed in your strategy processes and innovation activities. To take a long-term view, it helps to build scenarios to immerse your teams in ‘future worlds’ where they can imagine and grasp what a future world looks like.

Foresight in action: A new way of thinking at die Mobiliar

Our RH FutureAtelier event with a focus on financial services and insurance concluded with a thoughtful talk given by Maren Kottler, Head of Corporate Foresight at die Mobiliar, Switzerland’s oldest insurance provider. She shared her team’s journey in recent years as they replaced an older internal trend process with a new, more comprehensive foresight approach; one that better leverages both the breadth and depth of such a large and complex organization.

When the forecast is showing rain, you take an umbrella with you in the morning. But how do you prepare your company for different seasons, like economical thunderstorms or technological flooding?

“When the forecast is showing rain, you take an umbrella with you in the morning,” explained Kottler. “But how do you prepare your company for different seasons, like economical thunderstorms or technological flooding?” As the head of die Mobiliar’s Corporate Foresight team, wrestling with big, unwieldy questions such as these are just another day at the office. “For us, thinking about the future means thinking about uncertainties…it’s a game of thoughts. It’s the introduction of new perspectives and new insights.” The company’s approach to innovation strategy was due for an update, and in 2019 Kottler’s team introduced a semi-automated platform to explore possible futures. “Everybody in our company has access to add a new inspiration,” explained Kottler, describing the platform. “We want to bring the future to everyone’s desk.”

 

 

“If you are not writing your own future stories, you’ll be living in those of others.”

Maren Kottler,
Die Mobiliar

In addition to introducing the platform, die Mobiliar invested in both internal colleagues and external consultants such as Rohrbeck Heger to evaluate trends, speak to C-suite executives, and consult topical experts. This project, in the form of interviews and interdisciplinary workshops, took place over the course of about five months, and resulted in die Mobiliar’s first-ever “future scenarios for the insurance industry,” envisioning life in the year 2030 and beyond. “It’s really fun,” said Kottler, “but I can only recommend continuing your work after that. It’s best to keep going after building the scenarios.” The resulting scenarios are now the basis for die Mobiliar’s internal corporate foresight efforts and have since led to workshops with end customers and business clients to identify their future needs. With help from Rohrbeck Heger, Kottler and her colleagues distilled the list of over five hundred possible client needs to its essence: down to just five high priority innovation focus fields.

Armed with the identified needs, die Mobiliar’s Corporate Foresight team presented the innovation focus fields to its C-suite and board, analyzing the “new innovation areas by applying systemic design methods to get a deeper understanding of the real leverage points of each of these new innovation clusters—the new customer needs of the future.” By advising leadership on these needs, the Corporate Foresight team made sure these insights would help mold company strategy. Kottler reports that Corporate Foresight has become an integral institution at die Mobiliar, a “central hub for horizon-free thinking.” Above all, she explains, it’s a mindset—teams now consider the future of the company in a different way. “The magic lies, I think…in that I’m thinking back from the future…it enables [you to consider] what are your values, what company would you like to be?… It helps you to realize your vision. Because if you are not writing your own future stories, you’ll be living in those of others.”

In conclusion

Financial services and the insurance industry, though both well-established sectors in society and commerce, could do well to introduce the practice of corporate foresight into their strategy and innovation roadmaps. A constantly changing world demands that companies keep up with and ultimately integrate solid trend analysis into their strategy; we identified nine top trends in financial services to watch in the coming decade, ranging from increased data regulations to eco-investing. Corporate foresight – the discipline of anticipating and acting upon change – keeps companies and teams nimble, sensitive to changes around them and most importantly, ready to assess these changes (trends) in a systematic, thoughtful way that translates into actionable steps for futureproofing in an uncertain world. Through working with clients such as Swiss insurance company die Mobiliar, Rohrbeck Heger equips innovation teams with a skillset and methodology to encourage a culture of collaboration and adoption of a future-forward mindset for success. To learn more about this event and our Financial Services and Insurance portfolio, download our report here.

Visit our events page for upcoming Future Atelier sessions in 2021!

 

 

“Rohrbeck Heger equips innovation teams with a skillset and methodology to encourage a culture of collaboration and adoption of a future-forward mindset for success.”

Mobiliar is the oldest private insurance and pension company in Switzerland, insuring a third of all households and companies in the country. For nearly 200 years, the company has provided Swiss consumers with safety and reliability. The cornerstone of Mobiliar’s long-term success? A relentless focus on the future of the customer and systematic pursuit of innovation.

We spoke to Mobiliar’s Head of Foresight, Maren Kottler, about how she and her team use foresight to build future-proof innovation strategies.

How do you bring foresight and innovation together?

To drive innovation, we’ve performed trend scans for almost a decade. It’s essential in our work to monitor our environment for changes around us. Two years ago, we introduced a trend platform from Itonics to manage insights more effectively.

"Our goal was to be prepared and systematic in our approach to using the power of trend-driven innovation."

In 2020, we wanted to take our innovation activities to the next level. We discussed with the Rohrbeck Heger team how to strengthen foresight-driven innovation at Mobiliar, and they emphasized the power of scenarios to drive future-proof innovation. So, we set about building scenarios with Rohrbeck Heger in our project called Mobi2030+. The greater objective of scenario-building was to align the organization behind a common view on future markets, opportunities, and risks, and to ultimately develop emerging opportunities for our innovation teams to pursue.

What are the benefits of working with trends and scenarios?

Scenarios give us more options from an innovation perspective. We not only generate more opportunities and ideas, but we do so by defining future use cases and understanding future customer needs.

"Rather than observing our peers or new tech-based entrants to our industry, we own our innovation agenda. Fundamentally, now we are creating our own futures. And that feels very empowering."

The process of building scenarios is also a huge organizational learning opportunity. Going through the Scenario Sprint process with Rohrbeck Heger provided a number of ‘aha’ moments. So, we not only developed a common understanding of what key trends we need to watch, but, more importantly, we developed a common understanding of what these trends mean for us at Mobiliar, our industry, and our customers.

The key to success, and part of the benefit of working with Rohrbeck Heger, is the ability to follow a systematic scenario-based approach to discuss complex strategic questions based on trends. With the scenario method, we are able to deal with a large number of trends, risks, strategic challenges, and strategic opportunities, and search for solutions in a more objective and replicable way than before.

What advice would you give to organizations looking to engage with foresight?

Firstly, commit to the foresight and empower a team of passionate, diverse people. Bring in the loud, radical, revolutionary. But also bring in the quiet, conservative, and analytical. Together, step out of the operative box of the day-to-day. Think creatively, keep a broad perspective, and trust what comes out of the process. It is there that you will uncover a wealth of opportunities.

Second, start with foresight today. We’re living in changing times, and the pace of market evolution is dramatically increasing. If you’re not going to step out and think outside of the box and consider opportunities, changes, and risks, you’re definitely going to miss something.

Remember, your future is not guaranteed— the market, with its old and new competitors, will not be kind to you. So, it's up to each organization to look ahead and see what is coming, anticipate this change, and act to create a profitable future.

We met Maren Kottler at our last Future Atelier on April 28, 2021, where she shared her experiences from implementing foresight methods at Die Mobiliar.

As foresight specialists, we always stress the importance of preparing for multiple future outcomes. This maxim is especially true when we consider the context of climate change and its possible ramifications on supply chains–where so many variables come into play that will determine how circumstances pan out.

In a previous post, we set out some of these variables and possibilities regarding the future of our planet and explored briefly how supply chains are likely to be affected. We explained what every well-informed individual knows: That this decade is very likely to be a defining one in terms of how we address (or fail to address) climate change. We also articulated a degree of hope surrounding Joe Biden’s concerted efforts to throw the United States' weight behind the mission to offset global warming.

The extent to which climate change is offset hinges of course on how effectively governments across the world regulate against carbon emissions. As is becoming apparent, Europe will play a leading role in paving the way for carbon neutrality, a modus operandi set out in the European Green Deal. This legislation aims to achieve a climate-neutral society by investing in research and overhauling how we work, use transport, and live together while imposing strict targets.

Needless to say, businesses and supply chains with operations in Europe will need to adjust in line with these prudent changes. We argued that a proactive approach in planning ahead that explores a range of foreseeable opportunities and challenges will empower businesses to thrive in spite of the uncertainties we all face.

The art of envisioning future possibilities

But how do we plan ahead amid so many uncertainties? This is exactly what we wanted to demonstrate using the context of sustainability and supply chains in our most recent foresight event part of our series called RH Future Atelier, which brought together participants representing various industries alongside individuals from the public sector and academia.

I am pleased to say that the event was a success and am very grateful for the lively team of moderators guiding our participants on their scenarios development journey. I am also pleased to report that facilitating the workshop in MIRO was effective in bringing together so many different opinions virtually. Brainstorming can definitely be done virtually.

Four possible futures

For the uninitiated, building scenarios help us research, analyze and synthesize ideas in a way that allows us to maintain a broad perspective on how the future might unfold. We break the process down into three stages: Starting with exploring the future, moving on to analyzing key drivers, refining it all down into three to four scenarios that we can use for a number of future planning purposes, including building stories.

In this engaging two-hour session, we focused on the third stage of the process, that is: creating scenarios. We offered up four possible future scenarios and assigned participants to each one, inviting all to take a 'hands-on' approach in exploring how their respective scenario would affect supply chains, using the ‘future wheel’ as a brainstorming format.

These four scenarios were as follows: In scenario one, tough regulation brings about a deliberate slow down as we transition into a post-growth society. Scenario two sees clean technology triumph as green growth becomes a reality.

On the more dismal end of our scenarios are that of three and four. In the former, a world is envisioned where the regulations imposed do not do enough to mitigate climate change. In scenario four, we grapple with the prospect of a world in which we have truly failed the planet, and where a lack of regulation and slow green innovation mean carbon emissions remain high and companies keep sustainability to a minimum.

A multi-purpose brainstorming session

In discussing and sharing opinions on what each of these scenarios would mean for logistics and supply chains, teams were able to create vivid visions of the future. Using their Miro boards, participants worked together to weigh up what is most likely to happen in terms of social, technological, economical, ecological, and political lines, while exploring what it would mean to have to prepare for this.

The results of the discussions were intriguing and thought-provoking, and it was good to see some tangible strategies beginning to unfold that would help industry players begin to chart an adaptable course of action. For the first ‘post growth’ scenario, for example, participants considered diversifying into new businesses and partnering in the last mile distribution owing to the need for shared infrastructures in the circular economy.

Meanwhile, those considering the more disaster-struck world that was scenario 4 recognized that building resilience would be the name of the game. Ideas that came in this group included building redundancies and back-ups into logistics systems to help manage disruptions caused by extreme weather events. Participants recognized that understanding weather patterns in this world would not only help offset challenges but could also provide opportunities and influence consumer demand.

All in all, the discussions proved fruitful. I was pleased to see participants take eagerly to the creative nature of the work, just as I was intrigued to see many interesting opinions on the subject that were thrown around and debated. Regrettably, with only two hours at our disposal, we could not go through the next step–of how best to use these detailed visions. Perhaps that might be an event participants can look forward to in the future. I’d like to thank everyone for their involvement and engagement and look forward to seeing you all at our next virtual gathering.

Access the workshop documentation here.

For over 70 years, Corporate Foresight has been helping organizations to lay their foundation for future competitive advantage. In this insight, Prof Dr René Rohrbeck provides a brief recap on the history of Corporate Foresight, based on his article Corporate Foresight: An Emerging Field with a Rich Tradition, in which he gives an overview of the state of the art, major challenges, and identifies development trajectories.

Definition of Corporate Foresight

Since the birth of the field, there have been many popular definitions. The early definitions would conceptualize Corporate Foresight typically as a process, while the later definitions emphasize organizational integration, and some conceptualize Corporate Foresight as an organizational ability.
The definition by Rohrbeck, Battistella and Huizingh emphasizes the nature of Corporate Foresight as an integrated practice that permits an organization to steer towards and shape its desired future:

“Corporate Foresight permits an organization to lay the foundation for future competitive advantage. Corporate Foresight is identifying, observing and interpreting factors that induce change, determining possible organization-specific implications, and triggering appropriate organizational responses. Corporate Foresight involves relevant stakeholders and creates value through providing access to critical resources ahead of the competition, preparing the organization for change, and permitting the organization to steer proactively towards a desired future.”

History of Corporate Foresight

Historically we can distinguish four main phases.

1950s: birth of the field

Corporate Foresight emerged as a research stream in the 1950s. The new field had two main roots. The first was the French ‘prospective’ school, founded by the philosopher and high-level public servant Gaston Berger. The second was the ‘foresight’ school, based on the work of Herman Kahn at the RAND Corporation in the US. Both schools differ in their fundamental philosophy. While the ‘foresight’ school proposed sophisticated methods and was based on the idea that expert analysts would engage in foresight work, the ‘prospective school’ favored lean methods that could be applied collaboratively directly by the decision-makers.

07 graphic

1960s and 1970s: the age of scenarios

In the 1960s, the field of Corporate Foresight saw a variety of successful applications of its methodological and processual repertoire. In particular, the application of the scenario method by Royal Dutch/Shell triggered broad interest in Corporate Foresight methods. The planning team of Shell used the systematic approaches of foresight to identify two key change drivers: The depleting oil resources in the US and the deteriorating relations of the West to the OPEC countries. This resulted in Shell being the only major oil company prepared for the oil crisis that followed the Yom Kippur War. This success triggered the application of the scenario technique by a growing number of firms including Motorola, General Electric, and United Parcel Service.

1980 and 1990s: professionalization of methods and processes

In the 1980s, markets became increasingly saturated. Consequently, firms seeking superior positions in their markets needed to upgrade their business and corporate planning tools, and new Corporate Foresight methods emerged. Methods such as (technology) road mapping and continuous environmental scanning approaches emerged and were adopted by an increasing number of firms.

2000 and beyond: organizational integration

The implementation of Corporate Foresight processes has in many firms led to the creation of organizational routines that facilitate the development of future insights. However, many firms still report challenges in translating these insights into organizational responses. The fundamental dilemma seems to be twofold: on the one hand, a large variety of data sources have to be tapped into, and the resulting collections of quantitative and qualitative data require human interpretation by top managers to be effective. On the other hand, the limited time and attention span of top management prohibit sufficient exposure to the raw data.

In recent years, Corporate Foresight research and practice have focused increasingly on ways to integrate processes. Such an integrated approach would leverage distributed organizational sensing, interpretation, and planning capabilities. Corporate Foresight contributes through an orchestration role and fills the gaps left by existing functions, such as research & development, innovation management, strategic management, risk management, and corporate development.

Reach out to us for recent case studies and possible applications of Corporate Foresight in your company.

In April 2016, the former US Secretary of State John Kerry brought his granddaughter along with him to the UN headquarters in New York to sign the Paris Agreement. The gesture was a poignant one: John Kerry’s granddaughter is of the generation that could inherit a world harangued by so turbulent – and in many places – inhospitable a climate as for there to be crisis upon crisis to nations around the world over, upending life as we know it.

This would be a world of unendurable drought in some parts, extreme hurricanes in others. Tropical storms, infrastructure-decimating floods; a world riddled with air so thick and heavy with pollution as to make breathing a struggle, coughing a constant. A world of mass migration, as populations flee to the overcrowded corners of territories wrought with civil unrest, amid conflicts arising over water shortages and other diminishing commodities. 

“We are proud to be back. […] President Biden knows that we have to mobilize in unprecedented ways to meet a challenge that is fast accelerating. And he knows we have limited time to get it under control.” – John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate

This month, the U.S. reentered the Paris Agreement in hope that immediate climate action can prevent this vision of the future from becoming a reality. President Biden has previously said that the decade we are in is one that will prove decisive in cutting the world’s carbon consumption such that the future of our children and grandchildren does not become this harrowing dystopia we fear. The Paris Agreement requires governments to commit to the endeavor of limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees – ideally at 1.5 degrees celsius, with a longer-term goal of achieving carbon neutrality by mid-century.

The road ahead will not be easy, especially given the fact the effects of climate change are already palpable. To offset their challenges, nations, communities, and companies will have to work together to adhere to targets forcing them to dramatically alter deeply entrenched ways of doing things that will become unconscionable given the state of urgency and impending climate crisis. But as foresight professionals reiterate time and again – and as living through a pandemic has shown – crisis is certainly not cause for despair but should rather be encountered as a vital trigger point through which to make ways for a thoroughly new way of operating and envisioning success.

The USA’s re-entry into the Paris Agreement has come as a relief to the demographics that accept the severity of the situation, especially in Europe, a continent that has pledged to strive for a carbon-neutral future that is climate-resilient – a modus operandi set out in the European Green Deal. This legislation outlines ambitious aims to fight climate change and achieve the transition to a climate-neutral society by investing in research and innovation, and fostering change in the way we work, use transport and live together, alongside imposing strict targets.

What does this mean for the business world, exactly?

It is fair to say that climate change and sustainability will be and remain a megatrend through these and the coming decades, as businesses and supply chains across the world will be forced to adapt. To our eyes, two main approaches are available moving forward. Businesses can reactively adapt to the tough regulation as and where necessary. A much more proactive and desirable approach would be to become leaders in grasping emerging opportunities in their respective industries.

Grasping said opportunities – while putting in place measures that enable companies to adapt to the changing conditions of the world – is and will continue to be a complex affair made all the more challenging by all the unpredictabilities that the future holds. All the more pressing, then, that businesses get in the habit of mapping out the future scenarios that might occur. Doing so can help them identify threats, opportunities, and innovation needs while allowing them to envision strategic moves and new business models.

Such endeavors will empower businesses to undergo their own “sustainability transformation” – a process that will separate the wheat from the chaff, much like how the need to undergo digitalization has empowered some businesses while leaving those unable to change in the dust. Nowadays, products oftentimes consist of thousands of parts, sourced from multiple geographies around the world. Over time, these supply chains have been honed to deliver maximum efficiency and speed. How effectively supply chains adapt and thrive through their sustainability transformation will hinge a lot on how well prepared they are to take on a range of eventualities that might occur, while exploring the possibilities and opportunities that might also present through these times.

The probability heavy rare earths production is severely disrupted from extreme rainfall may increase 2 to 3 times by 2030 – McKinsey

The risks that supply chains face as the climate changes and amid a host of much-needed regulation pressures are myriad, and their impact will vary depending on a number of factors, including the type of supply chain. For example, the event of hazardous climate wreaking havoc on the downstream player of a supplier of specialized goods will have a severe impact on the whole supply chain. If a disaster interrupts the production of specialized goods such as airplane fuselages, this raises costs and prices and hurts corporate revenues.

Those who prepare proactively will outcompete the rest

But that does not mean that supply chains of commoditized goods have an advantage. Without the right preparation, disasters will also have their impact, with a sudden reduction in supply affecting a larger number of downstream players as prices spike. As such, all players need to prepare for the possibility of harsh climate events, exploring ways to foster resilience in their operations. Options players might consider exploring to this end include diversifying their sourcing, developing best practices emergency procedures, while also working on building strong, accountable, and mutually-supportive ties with suppliers in which collaboration, due diligence can help develop the robustness of the entire supply chain. What will matter across the board is the accumulation of long-term data on climate change that can allow players to devise comprehensive risk strategies.

These are just some of the many strategies to be explored by supply chains taking a forward-looking approach to managing, and learning to thrive through times of unprecedented climate change. In an upcoming two-hour open workshop, we will apply different climate change scenarios with the participants to envision the impact on logistics and the supply chain and will furnish them with a host of tools to apply to the art of creating effective and agile strategies that allow players that proactively and sustainably transform with our changing world.

If you are looking for further readings, here are some resources to get started: 

MIT Sloan: Supply chain resilience in the era of climate change

EIT Climate KICHow the Global Supply Chain is Doing its Part to Fix Climate Change

McKinseyCould climate become the weak link in your supply chain? 

BCG: Designing Resilience into Global Supply Chains 

You have heard that you need to be ready to change, refine and innovate your business model. You know that this is key to staying competitive. You know that the business model needs to be different from the ones of your peers in order to yield superior performance.

And now you’re wondering how you should go about it?

In this article, I share some insights from the academic side of Rohrbeck Heger.

In the MBA and EMBA classes at EDHEC, where I am Director at the Chair for Foresight, Innovation & Transformation, we have created a game plan that takes you all the way from analyzing your current business, to stress testing and innovating it. The figure below shows how we enhanced classical business model innovation techniques (white) with methods from strategic foresight (blue) to create a powerful journey for top management teams to develop winning business models that advance the status quo. The white elements build on the techniques introduced by Alex Osterwalder and Ives Pigneur (2010).

Five Strategic Foresight Tools to win on Business Model Innovation

Trend audit (assessment)

To execute the trend audit, we identify 3–5 trends driving change in the larger industry or sector in which the case is situated. The challenge here is to look beyond the scope of the current business by looking ten years or more into the future. After a brainstorming session to create a list of candidate trends, those that are deemed particularly important to the business model are selected and subjected to a “trend audit” that consists of four questions (Gordon, 2010):

  • DRIVERS: What are the driving forces that create and sustain the trend?
  • ENABLERS: What enables, catalyzes, or supports the drivers of the trend?
  • FRICTION: What inadvertently stands in the way of the trend, slowing it down?
  • TURNERS: What or who is working to actively block the trend?

Business model stress testing

To stress-test the current business model, we apply an approach loosely based on Haaker, Bouwman, Janssen, and de Reuver (2017) that assesses a BM’s robustness in the medium term (5 years) and in the long term (10 years). We assess how each building block would perform under the conditions of the trends (stress factors) that they identified as being salient to their case. Colors are assigned to BM elements that reflect their viability, or the “level of stress”, that affects the BM elements. This results in a visualization that shows how the current, well-functioning business model will increasingly fail as trends unfold their disruptive force (see below).

The benefit of the stress test is the sense of urgency it creates and its intuitiveness. This helps to create the necessary buy-in from top management and relevant stakeholders.

Science fiction

In this step, science fiction vignettes, images, and states of the future are used to help think through radically different frames. We may use dystopias or utopias that often involve an exaggeration of current technological capabilities. These images challenge the status quo and current mental models by inciting fear or optimism and reframe our conceptualization of “how things work” (Peper, 2017). A group exercise to create a business model for a problem described for a fictitious future society can be facilitated. We use passages from science fiction novels and invite others to prototype a business model for a future use case (Schwarz and Liebl, 2013). As a primer, our students listen to the Gartner podcast with Brian David Johnson.

Forecasting future markets

The forecasting future markets block is used to create quantitative estimates about market sizes and analyze the financial viability of new business models. We start with creating a value formula and estimating the values for each variable. In the group, we discuss different approaches to estimate calculations and various ways of running estimate calculations (top-down, bottom-up, and explicit estimates). We aggregate these calculations using the principle of triangulation to produce a future market forecast.

BM Wind Tunneling

Wind tunneling builds on scenarios or trends to test how the business models will perform in different environments. It is important that the scenarios cover all plausible futures and that they are sufficiently distinct from the status quo without becoming unrealistic (van der Heijden, 1996). Here again, we leverage outputs from the trend audit and identify branching points in the trends that could result in different outcomes and implications.

Conclusion

One of the major obstacles in BMI is the difficulty of breaking free from three main cognitive bounds (Gavetti, 2012):

  1. The rationality bound which results from dominant representations shared across an industry or sector, where managers, when assessing the world around them, fail to recognize more distant, radically innovative business opportunities.
  2. The plasticity bound which results from inertia. Or in other words, firms might fail to act on opportunities because they fail to understand that they could or might lack the resources or capabilities.
  3. The shaping-ability bound describes the inability to legitimize needed action, where managers fail to secure the necessary buy-in of stakeholders, such as board members or investors.

The table below shows how the five strategic foresight tools contribute to overcoming the three cognitive bounds.

From teaching this course for over eight years, I can confirm that the strategic foresight tools are powerful to enable and force participants to think outside the box, overcome groupthink and identify new strategic alternatives. In some courses, I have also expanded the wind-tunneling exercise to a full scenario-based strategizing approach, which includes the analysis of multiple strategies across multiple scenarios.

Author: René Rohrbeck
Co-authors: Christina BidmonAnna HolmMatthew Spaniol