Meet the Experts : Louise French

category - strategy
type - meet the experts
Meet The Experts
In this month’s edition of Meet the Experts, Louise French, our strategy director, unpacks what strategy means to her, the process behind identifying long-term visions and her focus on creating change for the better.

: How would you describe your role and area of expertise at The Future Laboratory?

Our purpose as an organisation is to ‘make a better future happen’, which is the essence of strategic foresight at The Future Laboratory. We work with brand and business partners to define how to make the future better for them and others. 

The word strategy means different things to different people, but to me it’s simply about creating plans that form a bridge between ends and means. These plans are built from understanding and contextualising the need for change, defining the most valuable ambitions for change, and outlining how to achieve them. Strategy in the context of foresight provides exactly that, but in a ‘future-focused’ frame, whereas traditional strategy tends to focus on immediate context to define solutions that tend to have shorter lifespans.

As a strategy director I’m involved in guiding and driving a diverse range of projects from start to finish, ensuring we’re asking and answering the right questions, in the right way, to solve each unique business challenge so that the outcomes are tangible, valuable and usable.

: As a strategist, what does your typical week look like? 

It’s been said before that no two days or weeks are the same at The Future Laboratory. I’ll second that. Everything we do is bespoke, driven by each client’s unique needs and objectives. This means every project is different, and we identify and use the right tools (and people) for the job from the start. I’m very lucky to work with an incredible group of researchers, strategists, analysts, creative thinkers and writers, who work in different combinations to form project teams to fulfil different briefs.

As a director my time is predominantly spent either in project planning meetings or working with practitioners across multiple projects varying in scale and length – typically 3–4 at once, but it has been as high as 6. Alongside this, I support the new business and client development teams in crafting project approaches to meet client briefs, and any ‘downtime’ is spent on internal initiatives that improve and enhance what we do and how we work, such as our unique methodology.

: How do you go about turning The Future Laboratory trends into practical and strategic implications? 

We have strategic programmes and toolkits that are modular, designed to meet clients’ different needs, so implications and solutions look very different from project to project. But, to ensure our work is strategically sound and provides the most relevant and valuable recommendations for each business, all of our programmes are structured to ensure we’re working from an holistic perspective, rather than focusing on the objective view of the trends. 

Our strategic foresight research delivers a view of the future cultural landscape for businesses or brands (anything from 1–10 years out), analysing trends to build a point of view about how to become and remain culturally relevant in the future. This understanding is synthesised and analysed with business, consumer/ customer and category insights to identify the most relevant and valuable implications and opportunities for each specific business. These can then be translated into relevant and long-lasting visions for where they want to be in the long term. These long-term visions are then supported by plans, roadmaps and frameworks for making that future happen. 

:  Why do you believe that trends and foresight are so important for businesses in 2023?

This is a great question. The past few years have not been easy for anyone, and I really feel for businesses operating in the current climate, but one thing I would caution against is the tendency to shift to a short-term, conservative focus in times of uncertainty. 

It may seem counter-intuitive, but long-termism and experimentation become increasingly important the less certain we are of the path ahead. Rather than fearing the unknown or clinging to rigid visions, foresight and trends can act as navigational tools to embed confidence and humility to prepare for futures, plural.

Published by:

22 May 2023

Author: Louise French

Image: The Future Laboratory


Left: Louise French, strategy director, The Future Laboratory. Right: LUSH at SXSW.

: Tell us about one of your most recent and most exciting projects at The Future Laboratory. 

Most of our strategy work is under NDA, so I can’t go into specifics. But so far this year I’ve been lucky enough to be part of some very exciting projects – mostly focusing on technology and our evolving relationship with it. This is generally fascinating, but in the context of building better futures, it’s something we need to get to grips with and will continue to build momentum as an existential issue for businesses in the coming years.

One recent highlight was a trip to Austin to host a panel for our client Lush at SXSW, discussing the future of ethical digital engagement with some hugely inspiring women in tech, before flying back to London to speak at Trust:Live to share initial findings from a report we’re currently writing on the future of digital trust for LexisNexis.

: What led you to working in strategic foresight? 

My background is pretty eclectic, and I certainly haven’t followed a typical route to working in foresight.

I have a degree in graphic design, and my first job was focused on FMCG packaging, although I was lucky to work for an organisation that had an innovation function as well as design and strategy across both consumer and B2B brands. We quickly realised I was a better thinker than a designer, so I moved into a visual planning role covering all areas of that business. I then struck out on my own as a creative strategist and shifted into brand strategy for a few years, before consolidating all that experience to do what I do today. 

Throughout my career, my focus has always been on positive disruption and creating change for the better, not just for the sake of change, so it’s not surprising that I’ve found a good fit with The Future Laboratory.

: What was your plan B career? 

That would assume that I ever had a Plan A! I’ve always been torn between art and science, and thankfully I’ve found a way to indulge my natural proclivity for the creative and analytical in my work at The Future Laboratory. 

As a tonic to the mentally challenging nature of this work, I do daydream about giving my brain a rest, being outside, doing something physically challenging and ecologically focused. I’ve unlocked a passion for gardening and horticulture in recent years and through that I am acutely aware of the damage we’re doing when it comes to ecology and industry. If I could go back, with hindsight and an ability to time travel, I’d perhaps encourage my younger self to prioritise science rather than art and design, because now I believe it will be science that ultimately saves us. But when I was 18, we knew less and being a designer seemed a lot cooler.

: Your favourite way to unwind? 

I love getting as far away from civilisation as possible. My partner and I have two dogs, so spend a lot of time walking and we try to get out of London on hikes with them as often as we can. Failing that, you’ll find me in the garden, either getting grubby, or in the unlikely event that I’m undistracted by jobs to be done and the sun is out, taking it all in with a glass of something chilled.

: What trend are you most excited about for the year ahead? 

It’s not really a trend as we define them, but I’m monitoring the conversations on AI very closely. I believe it puts us very close to a paradigm shift in how society operates, but at this point it could go in any one of an infinite number of ways.

‘Rather than fearing the unknown or clinging to rigid visions, foresight and trends can act as navigational tools to embed confidence and humility to prepare for futures, plural.’
Louise French, strategy director, The Future Laboratory

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