How to Plan for the Future When You Can Barely Handle the Present
Clayton Christensen’s longtime business partner reveals how companies can plan years ahead, even in the midst of a crisis
Less than four months into 2020, you would be hard-pressed to find any business that hasn’t had to throw out their plans and projections for the financial year. Long-term planning might seem unthinkable, almost incomprehensible. But the long term is what Mark Johnson, who cofounded strategy consulting firm Innosight with Clayton Christensen in 2000, urges business leaders to prioritize right now, even if they’re currently mired in volatility. In Lead from the Future: How to Turn Visionary Thinking into Breakthrough Growth, Johnson and his Innosight partner and co-author Josh Suskewicz argue that those willing to invest in innovation that may not bear fruit for five to seven years are best positioned to seize opportunities and become industry leaders. Marker spoke with Johnson about how to map out a plan for the future, particularly at a time when the present is so uncertain.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Marker: What’s it like to publish a book about long-term thinking and planning at a moment when so many businesses are scrambling for immediate solutions to survive the crisis?
Mark Johnson: The book arose as an evolution of the work we did with Clay Christensen at Innosight over the last 20 years. We started by asking how disruptive innovation could be addressed as a threat and turned into an opportunity and how companies could create avenues for growth beyond their core business. The challenge, we found, was for leaders to take a sufficiently long-term view to get behind new initiatives and stick with them through an incubation period before they became truly transformative.
Long-term planning has only grown more important in our current moment. Obviously, in the midst of a crisis, the time horizon of “long term” is shorter than the five to seven years we talk about in the book. But it’s critical for business leaders to start planning for 12–24 months. There will be opportunities and threats that open up over this period, and we will eventually settle into a new normal. So while 80–90% of your…