In a world where technology changes rapidly and businesses that don't keep up often perish, it's no surprise that many companies keep one eye on the present and one eye on the future as they develop their strategies.
On the surface, it seems sensible. After all, not paying attention to the future seems like a dangerous if not potentially fatal mistake.
But is this really the case? Or can focusing too much attention to the future be equally dangerous?
The ongoing native apps versus web apps debate in the mobile space provides some evidence that the latter might actually be true.
An interesting post published by Dave Winer yesterday echoes many of the criticisms of native apps. In it, Winer argues that "apps are not the future".
The great thing about the web is linking. I don't care how ugly it looks and how pretty your app is, if I can't link in and out of your world, it's not even close to a replacement for the web. It would be as silly as saying that you don't need oceans because you have a bathtub. How nice your bathtub is. Try building a continent around it if you want to get my point.
As Winer sees it, apps help "money folk" convince themselves that "the wild and crazy and unregulated world of the web is no longer threatening them." So what's his strategy?
I'll keep playing here while the rest of you flirt with apps. I'll be here when you come back. I know it's going to happen."
The problem with Winer's view, of course, is that it's based more on his intuition and philosophy than it is on objective analysis. Apparently, in Winer's world, a company should not hesitate to dismiss the billion-dollar market for apps because he knows that it will all come to an end somehow, some day.
Which gets us to the problem with the future: predicting future outcomes is all but impossible, but it's precisely what countless companies try to do all the time when they try to 'focus on the future'.
For start-up technology companies, of course, trying to predict the future is a necessity. The risks are big, but those who win can win big. So entrepreneurs and investors play the game. But for companies outside of technology, particularly in the publishing and media industries, there's little need to predict what's going to happen a year from now, or ten years from now.
Far more important is developing an organisation that has the ability to adapt to whatever the future may bring.
After all, a company's odds of adjusting to technological change and seizing the new opportunities it creates is not dependent on knowing what's going to happen and being the first one to make a move, something that few companies (even the smartest) can do reliably.
It's dependent on recognising that something is changing, and being able to move when the time is right.