If you’ve ever seen a child poke an animal with a stick, or an adult honk his horn in traffic, you know what it’s like to provoke. We’re looking for a reaction. It’s a natural instinct, and one we practice repeatedly as kids until we learn what to do in the future.
For businesses, however, this inductive approach to learning disappears. We make quick assumptions and look for ways to cut corners when making decisions. What would happen if we decided to push buttons a little bit (no, a lot) more? This is what we explore in our new book, Provoke.
The Top 5 Provocations
Here, we share the top 5 “provocations” that can create the best future for your company.
Where are you on your journey to driving the future you want? Part of what it takes to Envision is simply to know your goals, along with the uncertainties involved along the way.
When you Envision, you see the future that could emerge over time. It entails acknowledging that in the face of uncertainty, relying on just one vision for how the future is likely to unfold is becoming increasingly dangerous. Instead, we need to consider and plan against multiple, equally plausible futures that account for multitudes of uncertainties simultaneously. Importantly, the most powerful Envision moves enable the development of a clear set of leading indicators that help you adapt as more information appears.
Most organizations – and families for that matter – learned what it means to plan for alternate versions of the future as they contemplated the winddown of the COVID pandemic. From office re-openings and hybrid work and testing requirements to travel arrangements, we all needed to have plans in place to execute as uncertainty resolved to clarity on a path forward.
Positioning means putting your organization in the optimal place to take advantage of the emerging future. Business success comes from identifying trends, so if you Position your company to explore a trend, you’re more likely to embrace or dismiss it as a viable option.
There are three important steps involved in Positioning. First, place bets—by diversifying your portfolio of investments—based on your current relative belief in each of your Envision scenarios coming true. Next, design and prepare a series of tests to see if you can get early indications of whether you can impact the behavior of the market in a way that creates a better future for you. Finally, act to see if you can trigger a reaction from the market you are focused on. The act of testing always needs to be observational and aimed at watching for an actual behavior as opposed to asking the market, “What would you do if X happens?”
Many digital disruptors of established industries come by this naturally, prodding and poking and course-correcting as they explore the best way to compete against scaled incumbents. Warby Parker is an example of an e-commerce company that disrupted the largely bricks-and-mortar eyeglass industry with a series of tests and repositioning that revealed the winning formula for them.
To Drive is to directly create advantages for your company. You Drive when your line of sight is strong, and a change of direction appears to be a good one. You Drive when your company can have a meaningful impact on the outcome of a broader trend. Often, if you catch a trend early enough, you may have a slightly higher ability to influence the outcome. Drive is also the move that requires the most confidence and commitment to seeing it through, even in the face of plenty of evidence that the move is anything but a sure thing. Consider Rich Barton and his trio of wildly successful startups – Expedia, Zillow and Glassdoor – as he and his teams drove with confidence based on the insight that generally, end markets desire and reward information transparency.
This provocation, the hardest one, means shifting your business model to best fit the inevitable outcomes, moving as quickly as possible to create advantage because the line of sight is blurry, and the future is not looking rosy. Often the biggest challenges are emotional ones, because this reality is one in which you have little ability to shape a future that is best for your company. So, it means you must admit your business model is no longer fit for purpose. What might happen if some of the world’s biggest energy companies moved just a little bit faster than their investors and customer base to adapt their business models to the now-inevitable transition away from carbon-based energy sources to more renewable ones?
Activate is unique from the other four provocations, because while your company might see a very straightforward path to your desired outcome, you have little ability to directly influence (except at the very outset) whether it is achieved. If you’re acting early enough in the phase change when an uncertainty turns from being a question of “if” it’s going to happen to “when” it’s going to happen, but can’t impact the trend alone, you’ll need to work to Activate an ecosystem of others to help you achieve your desired future. Going back to our energy example: no single actor is going to “win” without simultaneity of action across consumers, investors, policymakers and companies.
These five provocations, catalyzed and sustained by systemic cognitive diversity, will create collective progress in any organization.
About the Authors
Geoff Tuff is a Principal at Deloitte; he holds various leadership roles across the firm’s Sustainability, Innovation and Strategy practices. Steven Goldbach is a Principal at Deloitte and serves as the firm’s Chief Strategy Officer. Together, they are the authors of PROVOKE: How Leaders Shape the Future by Overcoming Fatal Human Flaws (Wiley; September 15) and the national bestseller DETONATE: Why—And How—Corporations Must Blow Up Best Practices (And Bring a Beginner’s Mind) to Survive.