The first ad agencies were born in the decades following the industrial revolution. On the surface, it looks like agency history is repeating itself. As the next revolution (this one digital) brings in its processes, products and technologies; new agencies (also digital) spring up to help.

Today’s dominant market force is speed. For our clients to survive, they must continuously modernize and revitalize everything — including their customer relationships.

So where do digital agencies fit in? As skilled explorers of the probable, possible and preferable. And if we do our jobs right, as practitioners of the future.

Understand What’s Probable

Digital agencies are, at the very least, proficient in the near future. We are early adopters — the first to pre-order gizmos and gadgets and experiment with digital services. We study macro-trends, countertrends and demographic shifts. Our finger is on the pulse.

Newness pervades our work. We imbue interfaces with the latest advancements in user experience design. We move our development teams to the newest frameworks and systems. We align media strategies with the hottest social network. The probable? It’s what we do. But to make a business impact for our clients, we must look beyond the near future.

Imagine What’s Possible

This is the mission of the future-forward digital agency: To explore strange new worlds. So, how do we imagine such new worlds? Well, look to those depicted in the writings of Arthur C. Clarke, H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley or George Orwell, or better yet, examine those under construction by future-makers like Elon Musk, Richard Branson and Ray Kurzweil.

But in agencies, we know that nothing sparks the imagination quite like a problem worth solving and a brainstorm session. With dedicated time and a safe place to think out loud, one idea can beget countless others and lead to previously unimaginable possibilities.

This is our oxygen. We must invoke the hard-fought lessons of previous innovations; eliminate long-held assumptions; scan social, technological, economic, environmental and political factors; then extend our concepts past multiple time horizons. But we must also plot the impact of our ideas on client business models and project new revenues. Our possibilities must be broad and encompass the entire enterprise.

Choose What’s Preferable

Once you’ve brainstormed endless possibilities, how do you prioritize? You need to look at the preferable choice — the best outcome for your client, your customer, and potentially The Greater Good. We can draw inspiration from Google’s ‘Don’t Be Evil’ and Alphabet’s ‘Do the Right Thing’ mantras or science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov’s ‘Three Laws of Robotics’.

We can also give a meaningful voice to customers and even include them in our product development. We can let them choose what’s preferable by testing prototypes and trial concepts to see what helps them the most. Then, and only then, can you choose and enact a preferable future.

Create The Future Futurism is the process by which current trends shape predictions about the future. These predictions are the basis for hypothetical scenarios that may have severe economic implications. So, truly impactful futurism sets in motion a series of initiatives to bring about the preferable future.

Smart organizations constantly frame their current state of affairs, spot emerging trends, synthesize them into possible scenarios, and then invest in research and development. Clients (and their blended internal/external teams) must allocate resources to prototype and prove the viability of the nascent concepts that emerge from such R&D efforts. Agencies have no choice but to focus here. It is these very initiatives that bring about your client’s next competitive advantage, seasons of prosperity and a preferable future.

Futurism is the implicit promise of every digital agency, and is the strategic process required to unlock innovation. It goes beyond understanding what’s probable and imagining what’s possible, to choosing what’s preferable and ultimately creating that future.

Illustration by Taiwan-based illustrator, Kuocheng Liao

Originally published at