Think of these less as rules to abide by, and more as a simple set of guide rails to ensure you think in the right way.
1. Don’t look at what you do now.
Not even for a moment. By thinking at all about the current state of your business, you will carry things with you that you assume have to be there, because you’re paying such close attention to them.
You can (and should) look back, but only once you’ve figured out what shape the future might take. Only then can you figure out the gap between those two things and, so, map out how to get from today to a successful tomorrow.
If you start with today, you’ll get stuck in the past.
2. Think digital-only.
Assume 100% of your future customer interactions are digital. Pose yourself the question: ‘How do we do this with no people?’
With this assumption in place as you design your future, when you bring people back into the equation you’ll find they are focused on much better things — more effective, efficient and qualitative work — without legacy processes and systems holding them back.
The aim is not to eradicate people for the sake of it, it’s to ensure that your futurestate experience supports the rapidly growing market of people who are digital by default, with humans there to enrich and enhance.
3. Think about them.
Ban any reference to how you do anything today, or what you have today. This could be a rule of life, even: if you find yourself talking about yourself… stop it. Think and talk about the people you’re hoping to serve — your potential customers — and get into their heads.
Imagine a future customer: someone you don’t have any relationship with today. Someone you can’t serve today. Someone you’d love to be able to serve in the future. Imagine that they want something that changes how they live their life or do their work.
It’s harder than it sounds, but it’s worth the effort because it will help you free yourself from constraints. And on that subject…
4. Think without tech constraints(-ish).
This one’s easy. If you see that someone else is using technology in an innovative or radically new way, assume that you can too.
This frees you up to think more broadly about what’s possible as you don’t worry about whether you can do it, only whether it can be done. Technology that’s already in live use, however advanced it seems, will rapidly become mainstream: if your futurestate is envisioned on a three-year horizon, by that point the technology you’re blown away by today will almost certainly be commonplace.
Saying that, try to avoid plans dependent on the widespread use of rocket shoes, even though they do exist. Think big — with a light sprinkling of common sense.
5. Imagine you’re competing with everyone.
The expectations of your future customers will be set by their best experiences of everything else.
Probably the best example of this was when Apple launched the iPhone back in 2007. The moment they were in the hands of consumers, they reset the expectations of a portable device experience for everyone… and they weren’t even a phone company.
Almost overnight, phone manufacturers were being judged by the standards of a business that hadn’t previously existed in their space.
Every time something launches and defines a new level of expectation for customers, it resets the bar for everybody: you compete with the world’s best, not just your industry’s best.
6. Get your head into ‘future normal’.
It’s easy to be sceptical about behavioural change. We often hear people say ‘that’ll never happen — they’ll never do that,’ which is a mode of thinking governed by the current state. Today’s customers might not do ‘that’, but who’s to say tomorrow’s customers won’t?
We’ll take the bet that they will.
In any case, assuming that it has happened or that people who ‘will never do that’ are, in fact doing that, will uncover all sorts of interesting new avenues of potential behaviours that you wouldn’t otherwise consider.
7. Finally, think about how to become an alternative to yourself.
This is a real favourite. Don’t just think about how you fix something or overcome a current challenge: think instead about how you’d make your company completely obsolete.
Imagine your futurestate business as one that has put your current company out of business. You’ll do this by creating an alternative to what you do today. Not a better version, a complete alternative.
When you get your head in this space you start to uncover all sorts of assumptions that are bound up in your current business that you can progressively sweep away, and you really start to think very differently. It’s like switching the lights on, and you’ll probably find you become really keen to step away from where you are today.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a great place to start.
Futurestate design, done right, releases you from a whole host of current dependencies and frees you to think imaginatively about a future version of yourself. When we engage in futurestate design exercises, we essentially license people to think with a new set assumptions about what is possible.
Futurestate design is freedom from form-filling, linear thinking and spreadsheets, instead harnessing lateral thinking and creativity, both of which are at the heart of real innovation.
So, ignore the usual rules and you can avoid becoming obsolete. It’s not easy, but keep at it; shedding the burden of carrying your current constraints around all the time will open up opportunities that you literally can’t imagine otherwise.