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What is and What if

In organizations, knowing what’s going on today across the business landscape (”what is”), is essential. Too often the press of daily work keeps an executive from knowing enough.

But understanding how things are changing and the emerging challenges and opportunities in front of you (”what if”) needs attention too. Nearly always, the press of business and immediate demands shut down attention to “what if”.

Here is what is involved:  

“What is” — the operating environment:

  • Due diligence — care and attention to the organization’s interests
  • Industry focus — sector and market knowlege
  • The state of the art — best practices and the latest technology, systems, processes
  • What’s going on — the competitive landscape

“What if” — the future:

  • Leading edge change — emerging change in the market, technology, society, that will impact the organization
  • Emerging and future possibilities — identification of specific opportunities and challenges and potential responses to them

For both, we can’t help but stand in today as we think and work to understand. But we must try to think forward to better anticipate the future.

“What is” functions poorly without “what if.” Taking action in response to conditions today, without thoughts toward the future, is risky. But the reverse is true too. You need to know enough about current conditions to fully explore potential change. 

What to do about it

Broaden your view of “what is” by exploring the environment more broadly, beyond the specific marketplace niche, or issue, or geography you focus on.

Deepen your view of “what if” into the future by: Explicitly testing out ideas about 5 or 10 or more years from now. Ask the “what ifs” questions. Build stories (scenarios) of future possibilities. Draw implications of those “what ifs”.  Attention to both questions will make you stronger and more limber as you face challenges and meet new opportunities.

For more insight on this and a related illustration, see: Management, strategy, and foresight, compared

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