The Future We Can See

Over the last several years, technology has changed almost every job.  Several years from now, we will probably be saying the same thing.  The question that determines whether we will thrive in the future is “Are we ready for the change?”

The first user of new technology usually gains an advantage.  Many times, larger organizations are the early adopters.  They have the resources to experiment.  This means small and midsized organizations, especially nonprofits, find themselves behind the curve.  It can mean that a larger organization will suddenly have a competitive advantage and grab market share.  The disruption in the normal flow of clients will threaten the sustainability of the lagging organizations.

A practical solution for resource-limited nonprofits is to become more agile and predictive.  The increased agility will allow you to quickly integrate the new processes.  Agility requires two things.  The first is the willingness to jump into something new quickly.  The second is to know which way to jump.  Here is where the ability to predict the future is necessary.

Before one can predict the future, they must recognize an emerging trend.  Here are the attributes that are common to all technological changes:

Technology replaces the repetitive, routine, or structured tasks

Technology can augment human activity when it is possible to predict what will happen or is needed next

Technology makes it easy to scale a solution without a significant increase in costs

Technology makes it easy to reproduce success when the task fits preset criteria

Technology makes it easy to produce consistent results when the input meets preset criteria

The next innovation usually involves expanding the current limits.  For example, automated mapping was initially able to find the shortest route for a trip.  When real time traffic and construction data became available, the next step was to provide the optimal route based upon the time required to travel the various paths available.

Initially, we used the map services routing to tell friends we would meet them for drinks at 6pm based upon the distance and predictions from the service.  That worked sometimes but there were times when we were late because of construction.  When we arrived late, we said to ourselves, I would have been on time, if only someone had told me about the construction delays.  We recognized and articulated the next technological step without thinking about it that way.  You and your staff working together can articulate many of the likely next steps in your processes.

Many of the tasks in your processes have benefited from some automaton over the years.  Make a list of all of the activities in each of your processes, including where technology interfaces with the process.  If you take a moment, you can predict what data, capabilities, or other constraints are keeping the current technology interface from taking over more of the process.  The next step is to assume that the innovation you just predicted is a reality.  Repeat your analysis for the newly imagined future. What will the newly envisioned technology need to do to even more fully automate the process?

While it is unlikely the innovation process will follow the exact path you have just described, you will have a reasonably accurate outline for the future.  Now that you have a fuzzy picture of the future, the next step is to decide what your nonprofit needs to do to respond to the future when it does arrive.

Next Step:

Analyze all of your internal processes (operations, programing, fundraising, accounting, etc.) and identify where technological changes are likely to happen

Determine how your nonprofit can exploit the next innovation

Create an implementation plan for each innovation

The implementation plan is just a contingent plan.  It will need to be revised based upon the reality of the moment (client preferences, social trends, resources, skills, the response of others to the change, etc.).  Even so, your nonprofit will have several advantages.  Being prepared will enable your nonprofit to be an early adopter, which will protect your sustainability, establish your nonprofit as a leader, and protect your market share or allow your nonprofit to increase its market share.  Your preparation will make it easier for you to evaluate how to make the changes that will provide the most benefits for your clients rather than implementing the changes using other implementations as a model (copying competitors).

Your mission can be relevant for all time.  Predicting the future and preparing for the foreseeable changes are the best ways to ensure you are able to keep your mission relevant in a fast changing world.

Take It Further:

What more can you do to prepare for the next technology change?

Review your disruption assumptions annually or after a major technology announcement


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