Designing for change: how to experiment for the future

July 18, 2019 Matt Vermeulen

Futurist and Founding Partner at Greyspace, Angela Oguntala, joined us in Copenhagen at our recent Innovation Summit to take us through the “what ifs” of our transitioning world. 

How and why is everything changing? 

It’s easy to take a reactive view of how the world is changing, only noting that things are changing. But it’s vitally important to proactively experiment and innovate so that we can not only identify how things are changing but explore how we want things to change. 

So how are things changing? And, how do we want things to change? 

 “When we start to think about change, a good way to get a sense of how things are changing is by paying attention to the types of new questions you hear society asking,” Angela says. 

Questions like, “is ownership dying?” and "how much are you willing you pay for privacy?" and “who, or what, can we trust?” We’re asking these questions and negotiating the answers because our world is in a state of deep transitioning. 

The Three Horizon framework of the future

Oguntala discusses three horizons of time: 

  • Horizon one is the present — what we’re doing now. 
  • Horizon two is the time of transition and change that came before. 
  • Horizon three is the future, what we might do many years from now — it’s the vision of a new way of living, a new way of life.

She argues that the most interesting area to explore is “horizon two, the temporary technologies, platforms, behaviors, and politics that allow the future to happen.” It’s essentially the area of “already/not yet.” It’s what is happening, but what has not already happened.

Take for instance the progress toward a cashless society. On the one hand, she says, experiments with cashless technologies are testing whether it’s feasible, but on the other, testing whether the public will accept these new technologies or even if “people will accept these kinds of futures.”

Intractably interconnected

Being involved in shaping the second horizon is exciting and scary all at the same time. Despite our tinkering, humans really aren’t built to manage rapid change. And the world is rapidly changing. We can see this in the growth of escapism and survivalism. A growing number of people want to, in some way, escape or put distance between themselves and  problems like climate collapse and income inequality. Whether that’s with traditionalist survivalists, luxury bunker “survival of the richest,” or by buying northern latitude real estate as “climate insurance.”   

But, Oguntala argues, we are “intractably interconnected and can’t run away from societal issues.” Instead of working on our escape what resilience experts tell us is that we need to be building smart, tight-knit, well functioning, imaginative communities that are preparing for a world that's in some degree of flux.

And that means designing for change. Designing for change is about looking for ways to actively participate in the transition to something new. Innovation is about actively thinking about the role you play in bringing to life the future that you want. Oguntala says “we can't change the things that we don't like, and we can't build new things if we can't even imagine what those new things could even be in the first place.” 

What could success look like in the supply chain? 

She ended with the question: "what could success look like?" And for accounts payable and supply chain professionals, now is the perfect time to discuss what success looks like when it comes to the way we work, how we collaborate with each other, how we design products, and how we build technologies. 

New questions allow you to experiment and that experimenting helps you collect new data that helps you move to the next step. She says that involves “having a robust and collective idea of what kind of future you're working towards,” so that you can work your way backward to figure out what experiments you need to get there.

And that’s why getting comfortable with the complicated world of horizon two is important. It enables you to design for change, to help make your business adaptive and agile. Whether you’re designing your supply chain with your end-users in mind, or bringing real digital change to your invoicing solution, experimenting with solutions that will make your world better will bring positive change for you, your business, and the world you live in.

Watch Angela Oguntala's whole talk right here:



About the Author

Matt Vermeulen

Matt Vermeulen writes about B2B commerce for Tradeshift. Whether he's writing about Accounts Payable best practices or debunking AI myths, Matt enjoys making complex topics easy to understand and fun to read.

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