Can You Really See What’s Next?


SeeingWhat'sNext What will happen a year from now? What should your sales forecast be? How about five years from now? Will the industry change? Who are going to be likely entrants?

These are questions business owners and management teams wrestle with as they do their planning. Can you really see what's next?

My perspective has changed after the last time I read Seeing What's Next (Amazon affiliate link) by Clayton Christensen, Scott Anthony, and Erik Roth, and I have six years of additional industries experience under my belt.

So I thought I'd give the book another go. For those who don't know him, Christensen teaches business administration at Harvard Business School and is the author of The Innovator's Dilemma, a book many consider the innovator's Bible.

The reason why I purchased this book was because, unlike his previous two books, it shows how to use theory to conduct *outside-in* analysis of how innovation will change an industry for new-growth. Theory and not assumptions. As the authors state, the past is a good predictor of the future only when those future conditions resemble those in the past.

And, we've said it here when we talked about case studies — what works for a firm in one context might not work for another firm in a different context.

Disruptive innovations are that, disrupting, and to predict if they are taking root and affect the mainstream in the future, the authors suggest watching the low end of existing markets, new markets, and new contexts.

The book is divided into sections, each dedicating chapters to:

  • how to use theory to analyze signals of change and potential customer groups, competitive battles, strategic choices, the non market factors that affect innovation
  • illustrating theory-based analysis in the education, aviation, semiconductor, health care, and telecommunications industries, and corporate and country strategies

The appendix provides a handy summary of key concepts. I found the writing style quite accessible, and I do understand if you won't hold it against me if it isn't/wasn't for you. I tend to like meaty content.

The future of education

Since we just put a dent in the conversation on the travel and specifically airline industry this week, I thought we'd take a peak at what the chapter on disruptive diplomas says. I agree with the authors that learning is always important, and that it is a component of a broader desire, that to be successful.

I am however wondering if the last six years since the book hit the shelves have had an even broader impact on the authors' questions about education, given the outside-in perspective. Although these broad questions are by and large still true:

  • "get me a job"
  • "help me solve a problem"
  • "make me qualified to get the next promotion"
  • "provide certification that I have attained a certain level of education"
  • "brand me in a way that enhances my long-term career potential"

It's even truer that there are other ways to disrupt the education system itself. While right now some of these ways are not seen too favorably by management teams who evaluate candidates and staff by the very standards they were held to, there will be a change of the guard by necessity — some industries really do need new thinking and only people who were not successful at what was will be able to bring it to the fore.

Consider, for example:

  • in chapter 6 of his book, The Art of Non Conformity, Chris Guillebeau explains how he skipped the high school diploma, got two bachelor's degrees by taking more courses in several community colleges/universities, and completed a master of arts in International Studies with the only University he applied to and without taking the admission exam. Then he measures this goal against an alternative method that prepared him for a more advanced career: his blog, then site, then Art of Non Conformity movement.
  • Seth Godin has written extensively about the end of the MBA, and has also put his money, in this case time, where his talk was by offering an alternative MBA program to a peer-selected group of people. One of the innovations in Christensen's, Anthony's and Roth's book is corporate training. Alas, as Seth writes, it’s surprising and disappointing that real companies don’t expose their people to this sort of learning. Too busy working, I guess.
  • in a TED talk dated 2006, Sir Ken Robinson talks about education inflation– how college and university degrees, per se, won't be any more a guarantee of future employability. Instead, thinking creatively, dare I say, being prepared to identify and ride innovation, is our best bet for the future. Schools do kill creativity.

These are examples of programs that treat education with creativity. Sir Ken Robinson explicitly talks about educating for creativity. We are barely scratching the surface on applications, because we really do not know what will be required of us.

So, my thought is that we're in fact not disruptive enough in our innovation for the future of education. Is it really about finding new, hybrid low-cost/new-market models for institutions to provide diplomas? Or, will the disruption come from a new entrant who will figure out how to help professionals discover and nurture their talent and engage their passion? Which in turn will open up new market opportunities.

The theory may still be helpful to see what educating for thinking creatively and for innovation looks like. My rereading challenged me to think differently on how to think about the problem, and it was well worth it.

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0 responses to “Can You Really See What’s Next?”

  1. Clayton Christensen also wrote a great book on the subject “Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns”

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