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VOL. 128 | NO. 194 | Friday, October 04, 2013
Graber Atkinson

Michael Graber & Jocelyn Atkinson

Go Beyond Insight to Foresight

By Jocelyn Atkinson and Michael Graber

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Foresight is better than insight.

Given advances in market research, innovation methods and data analysis, insights should aim for being less descriptive and more predictive.

The highest and best value of business is to find new opportunities and plug into emerging trends, rather than make deeper sense of what already exists. These envisioning roles and departments should be renamed the Foresight department rather than Insights.

Insight is valuable, no doubt, but in our era of data dashboards and operational excellence any analyst can provide a snapshot of revenue, market penetration, inventory, performance, project progress with the click of a mouse. Even slight forecasting, such as revenue projections with a known product or service, can be handled as a basic descriptive budgeting exercise.

Giving a description of what is, is simply a matter of good business practice today. Insightful, but nothing special.

What really levers growth is being able to discern unmet needs in the market and shape-shifting the business model and operations of an organization enough to welcome a burgeoning opportunity.

If business really exists to bring value to its shareholders and customers, then it has a moral imperative that they do two things at the same time.

One: Attain operational excellence and be able to describe what is happening at any moment in the lifecycle of the firm. The ability to extract meaningful and actionable insight from the data on operations, cash position, profit and loss, sales, marketing, and even aspects of the culture is paramount for success. Businesses must be conscious of how well every factor is mapping toward their strategic goals, budgets and forecasts.

Two: Employ human-centric foresight generating practices such as Design Thinking and map out Sustaining, Disruptive, and Breakthrough innovations to gain or maintain a leadership position in the categories where you do business.

While insight is critical, without foresight a business will not sustain its own growth and will wither while trying to wrangle the last drops of life out of the entity.

Insights fuel management decisions and aid smart marketing. Foresight creates leaders who define what a category means. You need both or risk being operationally near- or far-sighted; however, foresight appears to be in short supply.

Jocelyn Atkinson and Michael Graber run the Southern Growth Studio, a strategic growth firm based in Memphis. Visit www.southerngrowthstudio.com to learn more.

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