Joanna Lepore from Mars Wrigley talked in one of our Innovation Rockstars Podcast episodes about their foresight formula and why it is so important to focus on true long-term strategic decisions rather than being guided by short-term trends.
Brandhouse Mars Wrigley has been creating better moments, more smiles, and one piece of chocolate at a time for more than a century. As a family-owned enterprise, the company has benefitted from the freedom to think in generations, not quarters. Consequently, the company places a dominant focus on investing in the long-term future of their business, people, and the planet.
Global Foresight Lead for North America Joanna Lepore believes in the company purpose that the world we want tomorrow starts with how we do business today. As someone passionate about innovative thinking, Joanna's career has always been embedded in marketing innovations and considering adjacencies to find creative inspiration to meet consumers' unmet needs. As an advocate of collaborative participation within the innovation community, Joanna is known for her thought leadership and expertise within the specialized field of foresight and strategic thinking.
Joanna joined us on the Innovation Rockstars Podcast to share the Mars Wrigley Foresight formula, a few of her insights, and more detail on how a company like Mars cultivates curiosity to equip leaders with the imagination needed to act now to have a long-term impact.
The Foresight Formula
Joanna explains that a core aspect of her role has been communicating the role and fundamentals of foresight. In doing so, she and her foresight colleagues have aimed to simplify the understanding of the field, function, practice, and beyond its often inaccessible academic roots. The first point of departure in developing such a broad-based understanding across the organization was to be sure of what would be most relevant to the business, delivering only what it is ready for and focused on.
As a result, the foresight formula was born:
Foresight = History X Human Motivation X Signals of Change.
Joanna illustrates that the formula is somewhat of a funnel, even though all elements remain interconnected. It begins with looking at pivotal points of history and contextualize them with the present. This step is followed by considering macro forces of change, really proactively linking that into the signals of change and, therefore, with human motivation.
She clarifies that while human needs and motivations more or less stay the same, how they are enabled does change. For this reason, she and her team have chosen to link them overtly into signals of change—where innovation is headed and how human needs and people's values are being activated in the world.
Joanna affirms that it is here at the bottom of the funnel or at that end state of the process where Mars can best discern how to engage meaningfully. For this reason, the formula holds value in that it facilitates the process of overtly connecting dots for the business. It is not only deriving value from having a complete understanding of the world we are operating in, but interlinking this into existing frameworks, models, and business plans to make it relevant for where the business is right now.
5 Insights Underpinning the Foresight Formula
Building on this, Joanna shares some anecdotes of her experience. These insights converge to reinforce the application of the Foresight Formula.
#1 "You can't act on what you can't see."
Through the lens of her experience, Joanna reiterates the importance of the role foresight plays in the context of the corporate world. She emphasizes that business leaders generally struggle to tackle three specific unknowns:
- The technological evolution, particularly for companies that are not tech companies
- Increasing competition, including activities that extend to what the big players are doing in-category through to what small agile innovators are doing in adjacent industries
- Changing consumer needs and behaviors in a fast-changing world
She emphasizes that the benefit in foresight lies in funneling the thinking around these three tension points and unknowns. Introducing foresight as a function allows the business to see the things they're not seeing. Joanna points out that this is where foresight can make a significant impact in the specific industry into which it is placed.
Joanna reiterates that the evidence of this lies in Mars' successful track record. As a business that has been around for an impressive number of years, Mars has a footprint across multiple countries and industries and even multiple innovation areas. Though the foresight function is a relatively new introduction to the Mars Wrigley organization, Joanna suggests that throughout its history, Mars has been able to pivot its resources, focus, and innovation to where it needs to be. She adds that the introduction of foresight to the organization is a pivot towards being more future-focused, really thinking around the changes in the world and changing context for consumers, and transforming how we talk about consumers.
Joanna condenses her view to say, "you can't act on what you can't see."
She reiterates that the power of having foresight as a part of the business is enabling teams to consider the world ten years out from now.
#2 "Bring human motivations alive."
Joanna builds on her view of the role of foresight. She affirms that part of its function is to help the business to navigate toward where the world is moving and what people want. With that, she tells us how Mars has rebranded their insights team from what was known to be "consumer and market insights" to now be known as "human intelligence."
She underscores that the emphasis here is on the word "human" and that the real pointed reason for that is that Mars wants to be talking about human beings and bringing people their needs and meeting their motivations. Therefore, understanding how their needs are enabled inside the world's context creates more significant value in strategic planning when thinking about how the company might delight customers in new ways.
When asked about the macro forces and trends that the organization sees as the highest priority, Joanna explains that both sustainability and wellness stand out. She adds that from a foresight perspective, a large part of articulating this to the business is expressing the evidence and investigating how people want to be in control of their sustainability, nutrition, or wellness journey. She expands on this to say that people want to make their own lives easier, and they want to buy what's valuable and what's convenient, but they also want to make better choices for the planet and themselves. These factors are not working in isolation inside a consumer’s decision hierarchy but informing their choices in an interconnected way. And they’re being enabled by innovative products and services across multiple industries. This insight is the value the foresight team offers in providing a new perspective on how to bring human motivations to life, Joanna states, and how Mars can give individuals more of that control.
#3 "Bringing the outside in."
Joanna talks of how the foresight team has created mandates of what they will and won't act on to cement expectations and interactions with other groups within the organization. To do so, they made a special effort to collaborate with the external world, leveraging the capabilities inside of specialist foresight organizations or even connecting with other foresight practitioners. But beyond this, she reflects that one way they have strived to embed foresight into the organization to add tangible value is by having open lines of communication and feeding into active workstreams.
Joanna reflects that this step has helped her and the team better understand the business's prioritized projects, challenges, and tensions that can be addressed through foresight. She explains that, in this way, they have been able to identify and partner with teams within the business. She mentions that some of these teams are looking at agile innovation opportunities or defining innovation platforms innovation. While in some cases, this has been with sales teams who are experimenting with new channels or discovering new ways to reach consumers through digital.
Joanna recounts that one of the priorities was proactively pushing to build an external network, bringing the outside in, to inspire internal teams to think differently. She speaks of how actively reaching out to foresight practitioners, agencies, and councils accelerated traction from other teams. She notes that this resulted from people's desire to learn from how others are masterfully managing foresight. This tactic was able to amplify best practices inside the organization.
I really truly believe that it's only when we start to share our knowledge and our thinking, our resources that we can improve an entire category, an entire industry and therefore ultimately the world.
Joanna Lepore, Mars Wrigley
#4 "Shining a torch."
Joanna emphasizes that the role of foresight goes beyond beautiful presentation decks that help people think outside of the box. She restates that, first and foremost, foresight talks about looking 5 to 10 years out, yet that her team stipulates that it is all about making investment decisions today. She fervently believes that it is their responsibility to ask the question, "what can you action today that helps set you up for that 10-year view?". This approach provides a lens on the future and, more specifically, what you should do.
To further frame this, Joanna and her team use the metaphor of shining a torch. She illustrates this statement sketching out what it might be like to imagine looking into the darkness and investigating what lies in the shadows. Her narrative lends an example where she and the team recently raised the topic of "the metaverse" internally. This conversation allowed the business to consider what should be done about potential scenarios that might happen much further out. Yet, the primary focus remained on what falls within the light of the torch.
Joanna extends her thoughts on the topic to say that this approach describes the quality of thought leadership with foresight. Joanna clarifies that this is where the philosophical aspect of foresight is more openly introduced. Such discussions involve debate on whether or not the right questions are being asked, contemplating inflection points in relation to history, and considering the contradictions seen in the weak signals displayed on the fringe of what is known. Collectively these questions engender a new way of thinking and give rise to a culture of curiosity.
#5 "Impact should be quantifiable."
Joanna highlights the strategic challenge foresight faces with a simple question: "How do you measure the outcome of that, if it's not your own project?". She contextualizes this by explaining that foresight is never mandated with running projects end-to-end and shouldn't be. However, the team's efforts directly influence the results seen by other teams within the organization.
Joanna points out that this needs to be addressed twofold: on an industry level and organizational level. She acknowledges that as an industry and practice, there needs to be more focus on quantifying metrics that can be considered across the board as a benchmark. While inside organizations, it is vital that practitioners prioritize the impact of the recommendations they make by monitoring the progress of pilots and projects and the capabilities they are building internally.
Joanna reiterates the importance of proactively capturing the data and results to support and deliver a comprehensive business case for foresight to senior leadership. In addition to this, Joanna suggests that it is imperative to find ways to measure imagination as a critical component of innovation. Joanna states that "it's not about prediction but preparation." She supports her view emphasizing the role foresight plays in helping the business to imagine what kind of future it could co-create in the world. Joanna adds that imagination is a muscle seldom used in the corporate space, and therefore, it is a capability that she believes to be critical for foresight. As a result, there is value in considering the influence of that spark within organizations.
The Final Puzzle Piece of the Business Capability Set
As Joanna highlights, many conversations are being had at the moment around foresight or futurism. She states that this may be a definite answer to how the world is navigating the ripple effects of much ambiguity in the wake of 2020. In contrast, Joanna adds that foresight fills a real gap inside of a business.
There is a benefit to businesses 5 to 10 years out, and this newly emerging field is working to help teams connect big themes and forces of change in the world with what is relevant today. In this way—in Joanna's opinion—foresight completes the puzzle of business capability.
The foresight formula and the insights that underpin its application are a strategic starting point for organizations like Mars to build that capability internally.
We thank Joanna for this insightful interview!
Foresight is a powerful tool that organizations can utilize to navigate ongoing global and local changes. Learn more about how to apply strategic foresight in innovation management in our Foresight & Strategy Toolkit.