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Using Anticipatory Innovation to Navigate Uncertainty

As a global innovation consultancy, we are always aware of how unexpected events can affect our client’s businesses and more importantly, their lives.

Recently, COVID-19 has left the world, as well as the business world, on red alert. The outbreak has rapidly spread across the planet and is dramatically affecting the global scenario.

Stockmarkets from Hong Kong to Paris to New York have been reporting concerning lows. The tourism sector is seeing one of its worst periods in years and businesses are drastically searching to find solutions or ways to keep their operations running.

The outbreak of COVID-19 can be considered as what the author Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls a “Black Swan event”.

“What we call here a Black Swan (and capitalize it) is an event with the following three attributes.

First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility.

Second, it carries an extreme impact.

Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.

Fads, epidemics, fashion, ideas, the emergence of art genres and schools all follow these Black Swan dynamics.”

Excerpted from The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb Copyright © 2007 by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

How a Business Challenge Went From “Nice to Have” To a Relevant Operational Resource

Back in May 2019, when MJV Innovation took a group of C-level executives to visit China on a strategic mission, no one could have foreseen the devastating outbreak of COVID-19.

Although, obviously not being our goal at the time, we started developing a solution that would go on to help our clients navigate this crisis.

As part of our visit, our client approached us with the following challenge:

The company had a high demand to get to know the Chinese innovation and market ecosystem. However, as it is a global company, employees from all over the world would have to travel. This was both financially and operationally unsustainable. How could we immerse everyone with knowledge of the Chinese innovation ecosystem in a more inclusive, cost-effective way, and without the need for a 20+ hour flight?

The question is how did a business challenge that we executed a year ago became a relevant tool for our current business landscape?

In short, the answer is a powerful combination of anticipatory innovation, digital transformation, technology, and of course, creativity.

What is Futures Design and Anticipatory Innovation?

Considering that almost a year ago the COVID-19 wasn’t even a word in our vocabulary, how could we have prepared for something we couldn’t possibly have known was to happen?

MJV Futures Design and Anticipatory Innovation area aims at reading the world for weak signals and thus, understand global, local and business contexts beyond present needs, allowing preparation for future events. Even if it is impossible to foresee exactly which Black Swans are on the horizon, we can analyze some hints and indicators of the needs of tomorrow.

The methodology we use relies on two major aspects:

  1. Continuous contextual reading
  2. Proactively acting on developing solutions for areas of uncertainty

The first aspect is done through Futures Design, a methodology that allows us to capture the signals, as a radar, to be able to develop antifragility and risk mitigation strategies, and furthermore, come up with mid and long-term innovation solutions.

The second and more relevant aspect is how to act upon these strategies in the present. This is done by choosing to be at the forefront of innovation. It’s a combination of embracing uncertainty and having the willingness to experiment, learn, and prototype. By implementing this mindset we can constantly come up with prototyped solutions for possible and very plausible futures scenarios.

Anticipatory Innovation — A Tool For The Unexpected

Our client’s challenge led us to look at the context from a broader perspective.

During 2019, tensions in the region became more evident, social unrest in Hong Kong and the trade arm-wrestlings between China and the USA were already pointing towards possible challenges for international companies. Both issues could have easily grown into situations that might have jeopardized the international relations of China-based companies and branches.

That’s where we deployed Anticipatory Innovation to develop a solution that could:

  1. Solve the client’s present needs 
  2. Go beyond those needs of the present and develop something that could have even broader applications in the future.

By capturing weak signals, understanding the high demand to grow internal knowledge, while also acknowledging the current environmental and socio-cultural trends, led us to identify the imminent need for developing a more inclusive way of approaching the challenge.

The solution was digital transformation – by leveraging 360 videos and VR technology we produced: “China From Your Desk”. A digital experience that allows collaborators to “travel to China” without leaving their desks, introducing the innovation ecosystem through multiple 360 videos and a VR headset for mobile use with the content accessible through the use of QR code.

The Black Swan After Effect

What no one could have foreseen was a “Black Swan event”, in this case, the virus outbreak. Even though we couldn’t have predicted it, we developed a solution that would later become even more relevant than the application it was first meant to be.

Now, the solution has become an important digital tool for the company to stay connected globally and because of the new work from home scenario, there are other emerging demands. More than ever, companies alike have the need for virtual, remote and tech-solutions.

Together, we are working with clients to implement virtual meeting rooms, e-commerce and e-learning tools that allow businesses to continue running their operations in this new reality.

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