Academic journal article Journal of Marketing and Management

From Life and Practice: Simple, Complex, and Outrageous Observations on How Clients Sense the Environment

Academic journal article Journal of Marketing and Management

From Life and Practice: Simple, Complex, and Outrageous Observations on How Clients Sense the Environment

Article excerpt


We are research suppliers, vendors, and futurists with more than forty years of experience in business environment research and product development. We are in the business of providing information to business to make better decisions. Thoroughly grounded in procedures, best practices, and occasionally the academic practice of acquiring business knowledge, we took for granted that our clients, the marketers and product developers, know their environment, continually monitoring what's going on.

As always seems to be the case, what looks easy is, in the end, devilishly hard. Yes, clients say they sense the environment. Yes, sensing the environment is taught, however only to a slight degree, in business schools, perhaps under the topic of secondary market research or under the topic of inputs to strategy. There are many classic texts, some of which clients might have studied or have collecting dust on their office shelves including those about developing capabilities in key functional areas as a path to competitive advantage (Prahalad & Hamel, 1990; Vorhies, 1998). Other classics which discuss development of business strategy in organizations include those of Day and Wensley (1988) and Day (1994). Company management were likely taught that they can achieve innovation and financial advantage through the development of key marketing capabilities by studying the work of Day and Wensley (1988), Day (1994), Vorhies (1998), Weerawardena (2003), and Weerawardena and O'Cass (2004) among others. But just what is sensing the environment? Anyone working in business knows, often from painful experience, that the business should sense, respond and engage with the dynamic world of which it is a part, but it's just not clear how, other than by checking it off the annual "we covered that" lists.

There is a yawning gap between the formal approach to sensing the environment as proposed by academics, planners, and knowledge managers, and the messy business of sensing the environment as it is conducted in many organizations. Some corporations, e.g., oil and insurance firms, sense their environment in exemplary fashion with project time horizons typically stretching across decades. These types of companies originated the practice and methods we know today as environmental sensing and instituted disciplined studies of the future for corporate planning.

This paper tackles four objectives:

1. Outline a brief history of environmental sensing

2. Relate real-world experience to the practice of environmental sensing as it is often practiced within organizations

3. Recommend a series of advances that will help improve the ability of practitioners to sense better and make tangible business contributions

4. Present a vision for environmental sensing which recognizes that the corporate goal is to calibrate and harmonize not with its singular "business environment", but with its multiple environments-the external world of trends and events; the internal organization of people, their roles, business functions, and objectives; and the internal environment of its customers and stakeholders.

Drawing upon nearly a century of collective "behind the scenes" experience, this paper explains why there is a gap between theory and practice in many organizations. It contributes to the literature on environmental sensing by offering new directions for enhancing the contribution it should make to deepen understanding, adding to the success of the organization. Part 1 outlines the history of environmental sensing. Part 2 explores the corporate conventions that minimize the contribution of environmental scanning. Part 3 recommends a group of advances that will help improve environmental sensing and its business contribution. Part 4 presents an integrating vision based on the foregoing parts, one that portrays the organization as a living, breathing entity that needs to sense-and calibrate itself to-all of its environments so that it can thrive and prosper. …

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