Up periscope – Looking to the horizon

In the first of a new blog series, Richard Butcher shares his process for horizon scanning, and how this helps him create opportunity and mitigate risk.

My dad was in the Navy and he spent many years in submarines – not the big underwater nuclear cities of today but the poky, diesel-fume-filled tubes of yesteryear. Think ‘Das Boot’ rather than ‘The Hunt for Red October’. He went into the Navy barely more than a boy and the experience inevitably formed the man that became my dad. This manifested itself in all sorts of ways, from the trivial (he’d speak to us in morse code during Sunday lunch) to the more profound: “Richard,” he’d say (he was good with names), “remember to look to the horizon.” We lived in Morden, a suburb of London, and at the time the horizon for me was the end of our road or the back of the houses in the next road. But I gradually grew to understand what he was saying (although not during Sunday lunch): less “up periscope” more “plan ahead”.

I spend a lot of my time horizon-scanning. It’s part of the job. I scan for PTL, I scan for the PLSA, and I scan for all the pension schemes my colleagues and I are professional trustees to. The aim is to get my head up from the day-to-day work of running these things, to look ahead, anticipate what may be coming, and try to work out the impact. If I can work out the impact, I can pre-plan how to create opportunities or mitigate risk.

There are three horizons I look to. The near horizon is full of stuff I’m aware and have a pretty good understanding of, such as pension scheme consolidation. On the far horizon are things I’m aware of but don’t yet fully understand, for example, the impact of our ageing society. Over the horizon, but still on my mind, are issues I’m not aware of, stuff, for obvious reasons, I can’t hope to understand.

This is the first in a series of blogs and all it does is set the scene. What I want to do with the series is dump my thoughts on the far horizon items – the stuff I can see but don’t yet fully understand. The idea is to provoke thought, debate, and perhaps better understanding.

I’m not that keen on the phrase “deep dive” as part of a meeting, but perhaps it’s appropriate to use for these blogs. These will be deep dives into what may be or is certainly coming. And, of course, I opened with a submarine story.

Up next… Considering the impact of our ageing society

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