9 April 2021
Rohit, for those who don’t know him, is the forecaster’s forecaster, and a man who doesn’t just think outside the box, he thinks there are no boxes, just opportunities we can’t quite grasp or see unless we look at the world in a non-obvious way. And this, says Coutinho-Mason, is what The Future Normal will do: help us develop clear and inspirational road ’maps for tomorrow. It’s a book, but it’s also a community and a blog where ‘we’ll highlight pioneering start-ups and new initiatives from big incumbents’. ‘Many will appear niche or fantastical today, but we’ll explain why they are worth watching, how they will reshape expectations and how they will be central to The Future Normal.’
The big difference about the project, says Coutinho-Mason, ‘is that that it focuses on those initiatives that usher in positive change, celebrate people making a difference, a planet that is thriving’. ‘It’s wholly optimistic in that sense and pushes back against the negativity and fear of science and change we have been experiencing over the past 3–5 years. We want to look at how humanity can thrive and what we need to do to make this happen.’
But even with his new work, he remains a forecaster at heart. ‘In the old days, you could have a job as a forecaster standing up in a boardroom and showing people things they hadn’t seen before. And that was enough to blow their minds! Now everything is out there, everything is circulating on social networks, and most people, unless they are stone-headed, know where to look.’
‘Today, you have to be an interpreter, to take people on a journey, tell stories, show them how a weak signal that sits in one sector of a sphere is likely to bubble up into many others. ‘People tend to be narrowcast: they look at ideas and innovations from their own industries and from their own competitors, when really the trick is to look across industries, where you soon see that innovations in one sector influence customer expectations in another – which, given that no two industries are aligned in terms of speed to market, is a very powerful way in itself to ‘see’ into the future.’
But seeing the future this way can be a challenge, especially if clients come with a fixed view of what they want, which he believes is increasingly the case, rather than what they need or what they should be asking in terms of that overall crucial open-ended first question… ‘Speed to market might be the focus, and a fashion brand, say, wants to know about fast fashion and how they can up their game against Zara, for instance.
‘So that’s what they concentrate on, but what it doesn’t help them do is to spot a fashion start-up in city X, say, that is running a Spotify- or Netflix-style model, whereby you can pay a monthly fee or hourly fee and get what you want online. This completely changes the paradigm, and the industry [as Airbnb and Uber did for hotels and mobility]. And yet, by asking such a narrow question up front, or predetermining their line of attack, so to speak, they risk becoming an industry memory rather than an industry player.’
Forecasting isn’t just about anticipating change, he concludes, it’s also about knowing what won’t change in the long term and using that to determine which of the changes you are monitoring are going to have the most profitable and positive impact on tomorrow.