Futurists and Their Ideas—Change Masters: Weiner, Edrich, Brown, Inc.
By Edward Cornish
Pioneering business futurists explain how they have developed the art and science of trend analysis.
Under the leadership of Arnold Brown and Edie Weiner, the futurist consulting firm of Weiner, Edrich, Brown, Inc., has been a pioneer in identifying and analyzing the changes that affect business and other aspects of human life. This article explains how they developed trend analysis as a business tool.
Back in the 1960s, insurance companies in North America became alarmed at the turmoil and violence then shaking the world. Young people were rioting. War raged in Vietnam and elsewhere. Several nations threatened each other with atomic bombs. And in the midst of the uncertainty, assassins killed U.S. President John F. Kennedy and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
The insurance companies recognized that they faced colossal liabilities to their policy holders. (The liability for a single death typically runs into many thousands of dollars.) The companies also feared that the U.S. government might institute a nationwide insurance program financed by taxpayers. If that were to happen, it could wipe out the traditional insurance business overnight.
Faced with this uncertainty, the Institute of Life Insurance in New York City assigned Arnold Brown, a recent graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles, to collect and disseminate information about what was happening in the world that might affect the insurance business.
Brown knew little about life insurance, but he quickly set out to discover what was happening in the world that might affect the insurers.
“I knew that large insurance companies already had a lot of information about social change, thanks to the extensive public-opinion research they did,” says Brown. “So it seemed to me that the problem was not a lack of information. It was not knowing how to use the information that was available.”
At about this time, Brown came across a book on “environmental scanning” by Harvard Business School professor Frank Aguilar. Intrigued, Brown went to see Aguilar and explored with him how his concept could be implemented. He put together an advisory committee of insurance executives and social scientists to help create what would become the insurance industry’s Trend Analysis Program.
“I started with some specific ideas,” says Brown. “The work should be objective, avoiding bias; it should be linked to action—not just an academic exercise—and it should involve the people in the life insurance business at all levels, because I knew that the only way to get people to act on information about change is to have them develop the information themselves!”
The committee then decided to monitor publications in a systematic manner and prepare abstracts of relevant items. The abstracts would then be analyzed by a group that would identify specific implications for the life insurance business and report the findings to a more senior group, which would develop recommendations for action.
A Major Innovation
When Brown and his colleagues launched the Trend Analysis Program in 1969, it was the first systematic environmental scanning effort in American business, and it was an immediate success!
The following year, Edie Weiner, who had just graduated from the City College of New York, came to work for the Institute in its research department under Hal Edrich.
“Edie joined the team I had put together,” Brown recalls, “and it was immediately apparent that she was exceptionally talented and had an amazing gift for futurism. I moved her up to the analysis group very quickly. A couple of years later, when I became a senior executive and could not devote the necessary time to the Trend Analysis Program, it was turned over to Edie, who was then only 23.”
Early on, the Trend Analysis Program began to get attention beyond the insurance business. Brown and Ian Wilson, a futurist at General Electric’s New York headquarters, formed a small group of business futurists who met periodically to discuss methods and problems.
“We were written up in publications such as the Wall Street Journal and Harvard Business Review,” Brown recalls. “People from many companies wanted our information and came to visit us.”
In 1977, the Institute of Life Insurance decided to move to Washington, D.C. Says Brown: “Edie, Hal Edrich, and I did not want to go, so we decided to start a consulting firm to help organizations do scanning, using the Trend Analysis Program, which had, by then, become widely accepted.”
Since then, Weiner and Brown have also collaborated on several insightful and popular business trend books: Supermanaging: How to Harness Change for Personal and Organization Success (McGraw-Hill, 1984), Office Biology or Why Tuesday Is Your Most Productive Day and Other Relevant Facts for Survival in the Workplace (Master Media, 1994), Insider’s Guide to the Future (Bottom Line, 1997), and FutureThink: How to Think Clearly in a Time of Change (Pearson-Prentice Hall, 2006).
Today, bolstered by the talents of Jared Weiner (Edie’s son and a World Future Society board member) and Erica Orange as vice presidents, the Weiner, Edrich, Brown consultancy serves businesses of all types. All four principals have become enormously popular as speakers at World Future Society conferences and will be presenting at WorldFuture 2012 in Toronto this July.
About the Author
Edward Cornish is the founding editor of THE FUTURIST and futurist-in-residence for the World Future Society. E-mail email@example.com.
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