50 Year Business Roadmap and Design Thinking

I was having lunch with a colleague – catching up on family and his new gig, when we got on a conversation about the difference in US and Japanese business cultures (he has spent the last 25 years working in both). One thing in particular that stood out to me was that Japanese companies have a 50-year roadmap! Yes – 50 years! I have been at US companies that struggle to develop a 3-year roadmap. Typically you would update this yearly and look at your annual progress maybe a couple times a year. But recently, I have seen US companies – with all the frequent and radical changes in the economy, technology, geo-politics and legislation – struggling to keep a roadmap viable for a few months.

I was sharing this with another colleague and he questioned how well you could forecast 50 years out. Granted that things get fuzzier the further out you speculate but if you start with some concrete facts of things that you know are going to happen in the near future then it is not that hard to speculate the logical conclusions. For example, we know that self-driving cars is in our not-so-distance future. Most all major car manufacturers have prototypes and several US states have legislation supporting it already. In a few years this will become reality. So let’s speculate the changes to our future on our 50-year roadmap…

  • For the next five to ten years, I would expect to see the introduction of self-driving cars and more state legislation supporting it. This may have an impact on your business depending on how close you are to this market.
  • In the next decade or two, I expect that self-driving cars will become mainstream. This will mean big changes for the transportation industry. No more need for taxi drivers or delivery drivers, etc. And why have a car depreciate in your garage when you could have all your transportation needs taken care of? This will probably be the standard way we commute – giving us more work time while we travel.
  • Now let’s think a few decades out… With all our transportation needs being efficiently controlled by technology, do we really want human drivers mucking things up? I know it sounds Orwellian, but it is conceivable that it would be illegal for a citizen to operate – or even own – a transportation vehicle.

There are other factors to consider like drone delivery systems, etc. but I think you get the idea of how Design Thinking works. Design Thinking? Yes – this is how designers solves problems and innovate. Design thinking is a human-centered, prototype-driven process for innovation. It starts exactly like this – looking at current trends and using logic and some creative thinking to speculating what the probable outcomes will be. In Design Thinking, the next step would be to test your hypothesis with observation, prototyping, evaluation, learning – and repeating until viable solutions come about.