The Ripple Effect: Predicting Trends and Looking at the Bigger Picture
One of the keys to innovation is the ability to forecast and map out trends, and to develop solutions to dynamic problems. The greatest innovators disrupt the status quo by introducing an improved way of completing certain tasks.
In today’s fast-paced world, companies that want to stay relevant need to adapt to their customers’ changing needs. Some companies and start-ups are even able to predict these needs before the customer realizes them. That is when true innovation happens. As the famous quote attributed to Henry Ford goes, “If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Having the foresight to predict future trends, think with customer centricity in mind, and problem solve beyond the boundaries of what has already been done are all at the heart of innovation.
In the business world as we currently know it, the most established and traditionally valued company always wins, simply by crushing newcomers with its sheer size and power. As society continues to progress, however, this traditional strategy may no longer be sufficient. After all, what happens if a dramatic event, sudden development, or technical breakthrough suddenly changes the world as we know it? Those established companies will be left trying to quickly adapt in order to stay afloat.
In times of chaos, many organizations will focus solely on survival, tabling any discussions of innovation until things return to normal. What they don’t realize, however, is that times of chaos are the perfect opportunity to innovate, as they often shift the chessboard, giving everyone a chance to bring a new solution to the table. So, how exactly can you learn to innovate in times of chaos?
I recommend reading the work of Jeremy Gutsche, one of my favourite futurists and author of the book Create the Future, in which he explores different tactics for disruptive thinking.
One of his most powerful concepts is the Ripple Effect framework.
The whole idea is this: Think of our world (or business environment) as the surface of a still lake. Gentle waves may occasionally come and go with the wind, but the water mostly stays still and tranquil. But what happens if someone throws a large stone into the lake? Suddenly, ripples form. One ripple leads to another, and on and on it goes, until the surface becomes still again.
We can use this framework to map out the effect that major events, megatrends or developments could have in our world.
Example: AI as a disruptor
Starting with the stone, which symbolizes the major event, ask yourself: What are the initial changes it brings? What needs arise from these changes? What sort of solutions are needed in order to respond to them?
From there, consider the ripples the stone creates, which symbolize the trends and microtrends. What do they mean in terms of customer behaviour, expectations, solutions and products? How do they shift the way people think and consume in the long term? How do consumer expectations change?
Using these questions, you can go even further by addressing each of those microtrends and creating a bigger circle of ideas until you have created a full picture of scenarios that address the initial cause. When you step back, you will see the many directions in which you can innovate.
The Ripple Effect exercise is useful for gaining perspective and understanding how one event can have a widespread impact that affects all of our business’s operations. Use this tool to help map out trends and the ways in which we can adapt to them in order to leverage the arising opportunities.