Amid continuing economic and geopolitical uncertainty, it’s become increasingly clear to meeting and event planners that, coming into 2024, unpredictability is now the only thing we can predict. Coupled with the skyrocketing rise of AI and automation, not to mention online, metaverse and hybrid digital meeting technologies, it’s also rapidly becoming apparent that an environment of constant change is the new status quo. Naturally, this scenario creates big question marks for conference and convention planners and other business events industry professionals coming into what promises to be a year of unprecedented disruption.
But as the coming months won’t be so much about adapting to a “new normal” as a series of “next normals,” each of which will only come on faster and faster, in an age of accelerating change … don’t forget.
Thankfully, as we share with thousands each year via keynote speeches and workshop programs, you don’t have to be especially brilliant or talented to successfully navigate through all this ongoing chaos, or to stay one step ahead of the curve. Better still for industry veterans whose heads may still be spinning from three-plus years of constant change and ongoing disruption: Anyone can learn to more effectively spot and adapt to rising trends just by asking more pointed questions, and by exercising a little bit more critical thinking to boot.
Having spent 25 years serving as a futurist and trends expert for today’s largest household brands, here’s a simple three-step system that you can use to more effectively plan for whatever the future brings and stay one step ahead of whatever’s coming next.
Apply More Anticipatory Thinking ‘Futurism’ is the practice of actively contemplating how events and trends may transpire in the future and how they promise to impact your business, and it’s increasingly becoming a vital skill to employ. Luckily, anyone can practice using it the same way we professionals do:
- Studying the current state of the market and society.
- Tracking emerging trends.
- Challenging yourself to think about how resulting developments might impact your organisation.
You can become more of an anticipatory leader just by staying better attuned to what’s happening in the marketplace and making a point to actively plan by creating concrete action plans for addressing any scenarios you might face.
One of the easiest ways to do this is to challenge staffers to routinely pause and consider what’s coming next for your field, and then craft sample scenarios that you and your colleagues can simulate working through to solve problems long before they become pressing issues.
For example, simple exercises we often use at workshops and retreats to help partners think more strategically include:
Brainstorm ten unforeseen events and happenings that might impact your business, and then discuss with peers how you might address them. For example, this might include asking yourself what if:
- A resurgence in global viral outbreaks causes event attendance to shrink, industry calendars to shift, and available labour to become even more challenging?
- There is pullbacks on audience spending and interest in the wake of ongoing economic pullbacks?
- Geopolitical upheaval causes temporary or long-term hiccups to the event or travel planning process?
Thinking up ten new trends or innovations that promise to reshape your field, and then explore which should be top of mind from now on by asking yourself pointed questions like:
- Which areas of your business are likeliest to be impacted by these new advancements? How, and when?
- How are you preparing to greet these changes from now on, and where can you turn for help if needed?
- What simple shifts in business or operating strategy could you make to address impending changes in the market, or to pivot to new audiences or industry spaces as needed?
Engaging in these exercises and playing a constant game of asking yourself ‘What if?’ can help you determine which way the future is trending and the best action plan to adopt going forward.
Better yet, the more you make a point to role-play through possible scenarios and exercise your problem-solving skills, the more you’ll discover that the type of critical thinking that futurists use is a skill that can be strengthened through repeated exercise.
Practice the Art of Strategic Planning Planning for tomorrow not only encourages one to get in the habit of being more proactive in the face of impending shifts but also more purposeful when doing research and making smart decisions.
But perhaps best of all, it also gets us in the habit of exercising strong but weakly held opinions. For example, making decisions using the best information at hand and taking action, but not becoming so married to our strategies that we can’t change course in the face of new, or even contradictory, information and business intelligence.
As you go about this process and consider new business strategies, don’t forget to take a long-term approach to planning and recognise that there are many ways to win in business besides boosting your company’s profits. For example, although it may begin as a loss leader at first, if starting a new conference or event series introduces you to new industries or partners, or provides crucial business insights and learnings, it may be worth more than a short-term boost to revenues. So, as you consider which business choices to pursue, don’t forget to factor in the opportunity cost associated with any decision.
Happily, asking yourself a few simple questions can help here, such as:
- Profits aside, how can you always ensure you’re finding ways to win with every opportunity you pursue, for example, by gaining new capabilities, insights and resources that can be applied to other business ventures?
- How adaptable are the business strategies that you’re considering implementing, and if they fall short, just how readily can you repurpose tools, technologies and insights gained from them in new and novel ways if needed, or use them to pivot to new opportunities?
- How quickly can resources and learnings garnered from your efforts in any given area translate to other contexts, industries or areas of business opportunity?
Take a More Tactical Approach to Innovation As corporate leaders can tell you, it pays to apply a structured approach to innovation. Noting this, you can get better at determining which way the wind is blowing by engaging in a few simple forward-thinking activities that indicate how tomorrow’s world is trending.
Staying up to date on emerging developmentsFor example, Millennials and Gen Zers, who think, learn, and operate differently from prior generations, are becoming the largest demographics in the workforce, just as artificial intelligence and robotics are transforming the shape of the workplace as we speak. Just a few ways you can stay on top of these shifts include reading up on the latest news, attending conferences, staying attuned to academic research, consulting with suppliers and vendors, talking with industry thought leaders, and keeping on top of business and investment activity.
Applying a critical eye toward change managementOnce you’ve spotted an emerging trend, make a point to think ahead and imagine what the future will look like in one, three, five and ten years hence for your field. Now, work backwards and consider how your industry got there and how you and your company can play a role in helping the market arrive at this future state. By way of illustration, in the case of virtual reality or ‘metaverse’ (digitally simulated) events, for example, you might ask: How will these innovations impact current markets and industries? What business models will they spend, and to what extent? And what new opportunities will their arrival create?
Being more structured in your analysisHaving a strategic methodology for evaluating opportunities is also helpful. For example, you might start by deciding whether a new technology aimed at the meetings and events industry is an incremental innovation (such as one that introduces a clever new feature or function) or a disruptive innovation that produces a new product, service or category. Afterwards, you could identify prospective markets and audiences, pick a time to examine the possibilities, and put the idea through rigorous analysis to understand the business opportunity it introduces. Then, you’ll also want to consider the potential value to your organisation, and the strategic rationale for pursuing it.
Surround yourself with expert advisersNo one can predict the future with 100 per cent certainty. But you can certainly improve your accuracy by making it a more collaborative and communal affair. The more you can create and leverage a network of diverse advisers, boasting different backgrounds and experiences in various domains, who can help provide more robust feedback and insight when you’re working to envision the future, the more successful you’ll be.
Seeing Tomorrow Today In the end, it helps to remember that getting better at planning for tomorrow isn’t necessarily about predicting the future as much as it is about asking more pointed questions. The more you stay attuned to market signals, work to weave them together to spot emerging patterns, and strive to put new ideas in motion, the more successful you’ll ultimately be.
Better yet, the more you practice using these talents, the more you will find that tomorrow is often simply what you choose to make of it, and the better equipped you will be to adapt to changing times.