Look to the future to survive disruption

There's only one way for your business to survive disruption: send staff to investigate the future -- but don't panic, you don't need to invent a time machine first.

Futurist Rohit Talwar said every business faces disruption of some sort, whether it's from startups and rivals, changes in the global economy, political shifts or technological evolution.

"We know everything around us is going to change," he told attendees of Nexterday North in Helsinki, Finland.

Many business fall at such hurdles, because they aren't looking far enough into the future. That doesn't mean you need a five-year plan, but every business should have its eye on three different horizons, he said.

Every business naturally needs to consider the next year, but they should also look one to three years out for growth opportunities, and four to ten years out for an "early-warning system" of what technology could disrupt the business.

"Don't create one prediction, that could be wrong and that's not helpful," he said. "But if you understand two or three ways it could play out, you can decide your strategy for the next few years."

To do that, he advised companies to team up younger staff with older executives, tasking such teams with exploring new technologies and understanding how they could disrupt whatever market they work in.

"Don't just take the breathless commentary of industry analysts," he added (with no apparent irony). "Talk to the developers and say, what are the issues?"

He pointed to the blockchain. Ask an analyst, and they'll crow about how it will change the world; ask a blockchain developer, and they'll explain the issues that could hold it back. Both may well be right, but it's worth getting the full story in order to understand how it will affect your business, Talwar said. "You have to understand what are the enablers of technologies, and what might accelerate them."

Talwar said more larger companies are creating external venture arms, which invest outside the business and have a "licence to thrill".

"They invest in businesses that would shock the people inside the company," he said, but the idea is to reinvent that core business -- or to eat it. Either way, the company survives -- or has a better chance to survive -- disruption, he added.