How can a company act in an agile manner in the world full of surprises? Strategic foresight gives competitive advantage

Pauli Komonen,
Sofi Kurki

Why should strategic foresight be a part of every company’s toolkit? You could also ask why a particular company should not think about the future. When a company is faced with radical change, VTT’s foresight experts recommend it grabs the bull by the horns instead of continuing the same way as always and hoping for the best. When you approach the future systematically and with advanced tools, new doors will open for your operations.

Considerable competitive advantage can be conferred if a company’s activities are developed in such a way that it is able to swiftly foresee changes in areas such as consumer behaviour or technological development.

– This year, companies have come to the realisation that areas such as strategy, working methods and sales must undergo rapid changes. At the same time, development in the near future and in the long term is characterised by big economical, geopolitical and environmental questions. Foresight clarifies the company’s strategy and helps it to structure this huge uncertainty, Research Scientist Pauli Komonen says.

In the rapidly changing world, companies with a strong resilience towards different future scenarios will emerge as winners. How to strengthen this resilience through foresight?

Shining a spotlight on the opportunities of growth

Periods of major change typically affect technology use, organisational practices and prevailing mindsets, which all have a direct impact on the company’s operations. Research in foresight results in practical approaches which enable the integration of forward looking information into the company’s operations.  

– In addition to assessing probable developments, it is of utmost importance to pay attention to unexpected events and “what if” -scenarios. In the past events that were considered improbable have played a key role in shaping the world and business operations. Moreover, a company investing in competitiveness should actively identify emerging opportunities. For example an agile culture of experimentation supports an organisation’s forward leaning practices. In terms of agility and resilience, it is also helpful if a company has a clear understanding of its identity and purpose, says Senior Scientist Sofi Kurki

The identification of companies’ potential for success and growth in the long term is a key factor in foresight work. At the same time, it is possible to discover factors that are likely to change the operational environment. These can be either disruptive forces or changes which offer potential for new business.

Signals rarely emerge from within one’s own sector

VTT’s foresight experts recognise companies’ potential for growth in the long term and identify the most important signals which the customer should also focus on. These signals only rarely emerge from within the company’s own sector, which is why a comprehensive and cross-sectoral understanding of change is important. 

– We may start with profiling a future consumer or gaining an understanding of the scientific or technological innovations that can become major drivers in the company’s change in the long term. We map out the different futures these catalysts for change may lead to and consider which strategic choices give a particular competitive advantage, says Sanna Malinen, Manager of Corporate Foresight and Strategy.

VTT is a multidisciplinary and multi-method foresight institution with international networks and long-term partnerships with businesses and public administration organisations.
- A significant proportion of world-changing forces have resulted in major technological advances.  Although we here at VTT know a lot about technology, we do not regard it as an end in itself. In foresight, technological development is always a part of a larger whole, only one perspective into the changing world. Thanks to its multidisciplinary approach, VTT is like a candy store for the curious mind, Pauli Komonen says.

– Foresight is at its most useful when it is continuous. In our opinion, it is vital not to leave the customer alone with the report. Instead, we provide support in putting the insight into practice, Komonen emphasises.

Authors of this article work in VTT’s Corporate Foresight and Strategy team which helps organisations renew their strategies and prepare for risks through foresight. This multidisciplinary team has expertise in areas such as business, technology and human sciences.

Find out how Hartwall, one of the leading beverage companies in Finland, used the VTT FutureRadar tool to identify emerging organisational gaps and the technology to fill them, read more. 

Pauli Komonen
Pauli Komonen
Sofi Kurki
Sofi Kurki