This week, I attended a workshop presented by Craig Rispin who talked about the many ways organisations are preparing for the future right now, and the role human knowledge is having in driving these changes forward. According to Craig, research around this topic suggests that what took a century in the past for human knowledge to double, human knowledge will be doubling within one year – by 2020, in other words. Predictions of knowledge doubling within 12 hours have been forecast for the year 2030. Now I don’t know about you but for me sitting in the audience, listening to this research, I wondered how people will be able to assimilate so much knowledge in amongst the rapidly changing world of technology and changes with the way we work. It seemed to me that running in parallel with managing this level of knowledge acquisition and technological change (think: artificial intelligence, instant access to apps for many different uses, augmented reality, neurotechnology, the impact of ‘big data’, etc. etc. etc.), we may well need an update to human values and the capacity to assist humanity to cope with and address far-reaching human wellbeing in amongst so much of what could be – or is – ahead of us.

Craig’s presentation also included scenarios as a practical way of looking at building effective strategies from a range of different perspectives. Working through scenarios encompasses the responses to key issues confronting the organisation and then looking at not only what needs to be done from now on but also what must be stopped. In one scenario we worked on during this workshop, I realised that most strategic plans I see in an audit rarely, if ever, talk about not only the different possibilities that need to be actioned for the next year or two (I rarely see plans for five years or longer) but the attitudes and functions that need to cease now to make those longer-term opportunities workable. Most often, required actions are considered in conjunction with what is currently happening, while defined changes in factors like attitude or culture are rarely expected. Similarly, actions that must be stopped do not often appear in this sort of plan.

From what I can see, effective strategy building definitely involves courage: courage to look at and address potential scenarios that we may not want to face or situations that we can’t even imagine would be possible in some cases. Yet, effective strategy building gives permission to think the unthinkable, to envisage quite different possibilities and to open up different ways of doing things. For example, some scenarios in this workshop referred to the way food is changing at the present time and the ways people can see, with the use of a low-cost device, the origin and age of food. Another scenario referred to the many different ways that plants can be internally activated to resist pests and disease instead of using chemicals. These things are actually happening now and comments were made about the ability to see these opportunities because traditional points of view about progressing forward were suspended and alternative options encouraged and trialled.

Listening to the level of technological changes that are already happening now plus what is being projected over the next few years, I felt both sobered and excited at the same time. Sobered, thinking about the difficulties and angst I see organisations experiencing in developing strategic plans that are often an extension of past achievements or a derivative of what the organisation believes the funding body expects. Sobered, thinking about the number of times I have heard operational staff and customers say they feel quite removed and disconnected from the organisation’s strategic plan. In many cases, none of these people knew or cared very much about what is in the strategic plan and I have come across some situations where no-one outside senior management knows what’s in the organisation’s strategic plan anyway because it is a document that cannot be disclosed to other people. In some cases, people candidly tell me the only reason they have a strategic plan is to comply with what the standards for their industry or sector require. For these people, they believe that working on any aspect of a strategic plan is irrelevant in amongst the important work they are doing with their customers.

At the same time during this presentation, I also felt excited, thinking about the energy and vibrancy that is really obvious when organisations have a long-term strategy that is linked to a strong societal purpose, not just for the organisation in general but for each person working for the organisation. While not a common approach with the services I audit, when I do see it in action there is a very different ‘vibe’ with what is being developed, actioned and achieved. From what I have seen along the way in my work, some of the most profound and deeply sustainable changes have occurred in organisations and businesses when judgement and fear about what is possible have been suspended, and different ideas and options are given an opportunity to be examined and to grow. Most often, this approach involved every person working for the organisation, not just those at senior management and governance levels, contributing ideas and possible solutions for the way ahead. Sometimes these ideas initially looked quite bizarre and a bit wacky, but as people thought about how they could unfold, their thinking often expanded.

As an auditor, this got me thinking about the ways organisations and businesses operating in the human service sector could be better preparing for 2020 and beyond. When customers approach organisations for services and supports as a result of using apps and different forms of technology to make their decisions, change might be disruptive and uncomfortable when organisations continue to use strategic thinking methods that might be better suited to the past. This is no different for auditors who will also need to be across the technologies being used by customers as well as organisations that do make changes to address what customers require.

As Robert Kennedy once quoted, ‘we live in interesting times’ and right now uncertainty about the best way forward is a common feeling for many people I know. However, it would be fair to say that we are also right in the thick of the most creative time in human history, where anything is possible. Bring it on, I say!

Thinking ahead:

1. What are your thoughts about technological changes that are happening all around us now? Do you have a plan in place to keep abreast of technology (such as artificial intelligence, instant access to apps for many different uses, augmented reality, neurotechnology, the impact of ‘big data’) for your organisation or business?
2. Do you think the strategic plan for your organisation or business will be effective for 2020 and beyond? If not, what can be done to address this?
3. What actions can you take to encourage all staff to contribute innovative ideas that could be used to enhance the organization or business’s standing over time?