How To Predict The Future When The Only Constant Is Change

Wouldn't we all love to see the future?

Meeting identified and perceived needs would make all our jobs so much easier. But the reality is we need to build new products and services in the face of uncertainty. Technology is advancing so rapidly; consumer expectations are growing so quickly; regulations are growing more and more complex. To truly innovate, we must follow a trail of crumbs to navigate this maze of unknowns. 

From our extensive work with fintech startups through Mastercard Accelerate, we’ve developed the organizational muscle to identify and nurture promising early-stage ventures without imposing the prohibitive standards that govern larger, established businesses. Would you hold a child to the same social standards as an adult? Or predict a toddler’s likelihood to become an Olympic athlete? Of course not. You have to teach and engage with children to understand what skills and talents they have, and then nurture them to prepare them for a competitive future. And that's also how we must innovate to prepare for an unknown distant future. 

 The current pace of technological change is indeed unprecedented, but forward-thinking, bionic organizations must take a strategic approach and hedge their bets. While we may not truly know what the future holds, Mastercard Labs takes a portfolio approach to innovation strategy. We focus 10% to 15% of our portfolio and resources on developing so-called horizon 3 opportunities. Leveraging emerging technologies allows us to focus on delivering value for today and tomorrow while developing the know-how and skills to keep us relevant in the long term. 

Our “always-on” innovation mindset — actively exploring emerging technologies and playing with a purpose — is key. Engineers and product leads should explore technologies together  that might not be commercially viable today but bring valuable insights through experimentation. AR-in-Store, which leverages augmented reality and computer vision to enhance the in-store shopping experience, was born from our R&D team's thriving "play with a purpose" culture. 

But a tech company shouldn’t start and end with its technology. Instead, we start and end with a problem to be solved — and always the total addressable problem. Our framework allows us to evaluate an opportunity area based not only on the emerging technology but also on consumer behaviors and economic, social and regulatory trends in a particular domain. We must listen to these signals to uncover opportunities and assess the potential to drive impact. Then we can make calculated assumptions and anticipate where the market is going, where these future customers live, what their unmet needs are and how to conduct customer testing for further validation.

Sometimes solving the problem means leveraging emerging technologies; often, it's the novel application of existing technologies that creates a unique solution. Finally, we must never stop thinking about the impact of emerging technology on individuals and on society, not just our bottom line. 

The 2020s will see the burgeoning of a new public consciousness: one where consumers, investors, the media and employees ask fundamental questions about how companies and technology serve society. This decade will see entrepreneurs, designers and large enterprises make a concerted effort to create more sustainable products and services that are thoughtful and private by design. And innovation is not limited to technology itself: Only by ensuring the continual innovation of governance structures and rules will technology reach its true potential. 

Maja Lapcevic

Senior Vice President, Innovation Management & Marketing, Mastercard Labs