Back to the Future … with Cheese

By Andy Johnston, Vice President of Government & Corporate Affairs

“The future is whatever you make it, so make it a good one.” – Emmet “Doc” Brown

In the 1989 time-travelling classic, Back to the Future II, Marty McFly travels to 2015. The future world imagined by the filmmakers got a number of things right (automation, biometrics) and other things wrong (internet, mobile phones).

Based on trends at the time, they did their best to predict 26 years into the future. While today’s society may not have hoverboards (real ones!) and flying cars, the filmmakers didn’t do too bad. And the inaccuracies? So, what! (They still might come true.)

As chamber leaders, we need to try our best to predict 26 years (or maybe just 6 at our current rate of change) into the future and develop a plan to position our organizations for success. To provide value for our members and the community, we must lead by anticipating what the future holds and doing our best to create and lead the change. In a world cluttered with noise and information, leaders must cut through, synthesize and actualize new information, or we’ll be left behind.

This brings to mind the lessons learned in the classic, “Who Moved My Cheese?” The world is changing and we need to keep our running shoes on.

It illustrates how we must be ready to change, to burn our current platforms early and mercilessly. We must paint the picture of the future for our members, know our stakeholders, reward innovative behavior on our teams and not get hung up on “who moved the cheese”.

A complimentary concept is to think about how to keep your organization on the “bleeding edge.” Defined as “the very forefront of technological development”, chambers can live in this space by demonstrating a willingness to take on a new development that is so new that it could be risky. Scary, right?

One of my Institute classmates had a great insight … She rejected the adage “fail fast.” Instead, she suggests we consider new initiatives “experiments.” I love this. It implies to the Board, staff and community that you are trying something new and sets that expectation that it may fail. And that’s OK.

Plus, I think it’s a concept that a scientist like Doc Brown would really like! He experimented and imagined what could be. When presented with new technology, like the ability to make the car fly, Doc embraced it and incorporated it into the DeLorean.

For Chambers, let’s continue to embrace new technology and trends. Our stakeholders are doing it and if we are leading the business community, we should be the first to do it.

With technology changing at faster pace, our organizations needs to be early adopters, so we can bring the lessons we learn to our members and communities. These efforts will maximize our value and provide a strong return on member investment.

To position your organization for success and get started planning for the future, ACCE’s report, Horizon Initiative: Chambers 2025 is a great reference for Chambers.

At the end of the first Back to the Future, Doc, Marty, and Jennifer are about to head 30 years into the future. Marty is concerned that Doc isn’t giving himself enough road to get up to 88 miles per hour and Doc responds, “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” And the DeLorean flies off. Awesome.

Ultimately, we want to have the same insightful answers like Doc Brown. We need to keep our sights on the future and fly towards it.


About Andy Johnston

Andy Johnston serves as Vice President of Government & Corporate Affairs for the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and is responsible for managing the Chamber’s public policy efforts on behalf of over 2,400 members before local, state and federal stakeholders.

He serves as a member of the Chamber’s Leadership Team, responsible for strategic planning and execution, organizational development, day-to-day decision making, marketing and communications. Andy also manages the advocacy efforts of the West Michigan Chamber Coalition.

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