There’s no better illustration of what Ford Motor Company futurist Sheryl Connelly calls the “balance between provocative and plausible” than the fact that her team talked about $100 barrels of crude oil nearly a decade ago, but also had a discussion about what would happen if aliens landed on Earth.
Of course, to our knowledge, only one of those scenarios came true. Whatever. Such is your life when your role is to create a Center of Excellence for global consumer trend insights and a forward-looking mindset that can support and inform design, product development, strategy, business and marketing functions throughout Ford.
Speaking to a packed audience (granted seemingly every venue was overflowing), Connelly offered Lessons From A Futurist during South by Southwest Interactive.
Many of her assertions were on the surprising side. Among them:
She once thought that the future is a mystery and best unexplored.
Connelly cautioned against the use of SWOT analysis that attempts to look at a company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. She said that such endeavors limit thinking and fail to take change into account.
“It’s foolish for an organization to think it owns its strengths,” she said. “Those are defined by the marketplace.”
Connelly describes her job as a mission to look outside the automotive industry to understand what's happening in social, technological, economic, environmental and political arenas so that we can understand shifts that are coming that may influence consumers' values, attitudes and behaviors. She looks for those insights and collaborates with people in Ford Design and Product Development who try to turn them into business propositions.
She said that SXSW was the perfect venue to talk about “information addiction” which she said is a medical condition. Further, she cautioned attendees from information overload, adding that it takes away self-reflection time that spurs innovation.
“Explore what you can't control,” Connelly said. “Use scenario planning - what if's.
You don't have to be a victim to the future - you can help develop it.”