Think Like a Futurist to Identify Trends Affecting Your Association

Sheryl Connelly, Ford Motor Company's manager of global trends and futuring, shared some advice on pinpointing trends at the 2015 ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition on Monday.

What will the world look like in 2030?

Well, according to corporate futurist Sheryl Connelly, many of us could be sedentary vegetarians living in mega cities with populations of 10 million people or more, and women may be in charge.

These are a few of the trends that Connelly, Ford Motor Company’s manager of global trends and futuring, discussed during a Monday Game Changer session at the ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition in Detroit, where she also talked about more immediate trends such as the decline of the “one-size-fits-all” mentality for more individualized segmentation, the growth of ethical consumption as a way for consumers to convey their values, and a voracious appetite for data and information.

“I sometimes leave the audience a little uncomfortable when I tell them they might have to become vegetarians or that women might rule the world, but that’s not my intention,” she said.

Instead, Connelly aims to stimulate conversation around what trends may mean for people and organizations. “Even when I do this work in my day job, I never tell anyone what to do with the information,” she said. “What I use it for is a springboard for collaboration—an invitation to exchange ideas.”

How can you start thinking more like a futurist to identify trends with the potential to affect your association? Connelly shared several tips for fine-tuning a forecaster’s mindset, including:

Don’t be afraid of the future. “Human nature is such that we don’t like things that we can’t control or influence,” Connelly said. “But every organization knows that you have to plan.”

Strategy takes you from point A to point B, but often, when you can’t get to where you’re trying to go, it’s because you’ve encountered something you didn’t expect.

Recognize that no one can predict the future, but everyone tries. We make decisions every day using our viewpoints on how the future is going to unfold.

“My role is to slow down the conversation long enough to say, ‘Wait a minute, what are the underlying assumptions that help you make that decision?’” Connelly said. “So often, these assumptions are so deeply rooted in the way that we see the world we can’t even identify them, let alone think about challenging them.”

Realize the past is not a good indicator of the future. Taking that approach is like looking in your rearview mirror while driving down the highway, especially given how constantly our world is changing today.

“Innovation is a mainstay in the marketplace, so if you look to the past, any sort of trend line that you had in terms of sales or market share participation, they’re really going to be all over the board,” Connelly said. “Don’t expect your past to be your compass to go forward.”

Beware of the SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis. This type of thinking is based on your present point of view, but you need to think outside yourself. Focus on the things you can’t control because what you think are your strengths aren’t actually going to be decided by you, Connelly said. “They’re going to be decided by the marketplace, and the marketplace is really fickle. … Oftentimes your strength can turn into a weakness literally almost overnight.”

Be provocative. Challenge assumptions and think of yourself as a contrarian, Connelly said. The goal shouldn’t be too convince someone that they are wrong but to suspend your biases, prejudices, and world views long enough to question where would your organization stand should an event happen.

Be plausible. “It’s one thing to be provocative; it’s another thing if you want to stay employed,” Connelly said. Read your audience and recognize that not everyone has the same willingness to be pushed.

Using these tips, you may stumble on some trends that challenge the way you see the world. But it’s your job to work toward a different future if you don’t like it, she said. “And that won’t happen unless you start having meaningful discussions about it right now.”

Corporate futurist Sheryl Connelly. (Photos by Jason Keen and Nick Hagen)

Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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