Countless companies and organizations have used the year 2020 as a thematic anchor for their strategic plans. Many, if not most, were drawn to the optimistic and optometric double meaning of the term “2020 Vision” which hinted at their ability to see things clearly at a great distance.
Yet, here, 2020 is foresight not hindsight. When multiple organizations in a broad range of sectors and professional disciplines all peg their strategic plans to a particular year – as untold numbers did to 2020 – those years can become inflection points for entire industries. Knowing when future inflection years may occur can then help us identify certain trends or patterns which could impact innovations, investments, supply chains, or other market forces.
To be clear, strategic plans should adhere to timelines and deadlines which best guarantee their success. Picking a random year just to sound clever is just too clever by half. That said, people like to adopt – and will even adapt their plans to fit – a good turn of phrase, meaning that if a plan has a relevant and rational connection to an otherwise meaningful year managers or marketers will leverage any such link to give their plans added resonance.
Here, then, are some years which could become anchors for post-2020 strategic planning:
1). Roman numerals have long been a trick of the trade for those trying to communicate numbers in a more imperial, if imperious, way. The period between 2021 and 2100 offers only a handful of ‘meaningful’ Roman numerals – chief among them being the plus-sized MMXL (2040). For companies with ambitions to aggressively expand their business in the medium term, I predict we’ll see more of them champion “2040 – XL” growth plans.
2). Ever since Douglas Adams’ classic The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy identified “42” as the "ultimate answer to the question of life, the universe and everything," it’s developed a cult following and been invoked, often surreptitiously, by leading members of the tech community such as Google, IBM, CERN, and Pixar. I therefore predict we’ll see a number of strategic plans coming out of the tech sector that are rooted in 2042.
3). One of the most popular management maxims is the “Pareto Principle” – also known as the “80/20 rule” – credited to 19th century economist Vilfredo Pareto. Put (very) simply, it posits that in most situations 20% of activities will be worth more – and be more important than – the remaining 80%. Down the road, I predict companies will start talking about reprioritizing their activities based on this 20:80 ratio with “2080 Pareto Plans.”
Again, the key is not to align your business plans to any of these years – unless there are relevant and rational connections to them – but to recognize a lot of other people will. Not everyone will establish 2040 ‘XL’ growth plans, of course, but it’s safe to assume there’ll be more of them than 2039 or 2041 growth plans. Knowing that a critical mass of organizations may start to plan around certain years could influence how you plan for your organization.
Jack Hughes is senior VP at Hill+Knowlton Strategies Canada.