Inflection Points Reveal Themselves First at the Edges

Because strategic inflection points transform the fundamental assumptions under which a business operates, it can be difficult for organizations to fathom the new possibilities that they create. The signs of an inflection point begin on the fringes; only those who are directly in contact with the signs will be able to identify them. It’s important to have an apparatus for identifying them early.

Organizations and their leaders can easily become prisoners of their own frames of reference. To spot inflection points early, they need to embrace diverse points of view and modes of thinking. Organizations need to find ways to speak with the future(s). They must identify the places and people who represent the strategic shift and learn from their perspectives. Direct exposure to actual customers is the best way to help organizations identify the early signs of strategic inflection points. Nevertheless, organizations need to enable the flow of information from those on the periphery back to the center.

To forecast accurately, we must understand that the future is woven together by threads that may already be emergent in the present. When we understand that, we create the possibility of identifying and influencing possible and probable futures.

This can be uncomfortable. In many cases, business incentives make people reluctant to share uncomfortable lessons; this creates blind spots and allows problems to fester. Organizations should protect their bearers of bad news.

Warning signs of strategic inflection points—once identified—should become a topic of discussion at management review meetings.

By carefully observing and testing these patterns, a futurist can offer a valuable first-mover advantage to those who are able to act before the fringe comes to the mainstream. The art of the futurist is discovering which of these patterns will truly become trends, and which will peter out.