Not a day passes without innovation making the news. The data collected from the constant monitoring of our behaviours is mostly seen as a poorly-defined threat that the machines will use against us. Scenario planning at its worst. Future forecasting at its most confusing. So where do you start with business innovation?

It’s obviously true that information is being gathered. Your smart watch, smartphone, laptop and iPad are all emitting data dust that’s being sucked into a cloud and aggregated into a cognitive system that is learning your behaviours. Every traffic surveillance camera, parking space sensor, medical device, call-handling system and checkout you use records your habits, predispositions, dislikes and preferences.

But information is ephemeral. Only when it is stored and valued, does it become data that can be analysed, and you effectively gave up caring who gathers information the first time you signed up for a digital service. The trouble is that the data isn’t equally distributed. Yeah, Amazon knows you better than your mother, but who else?

Business and innovation today craves to be new, newer, newest. Be the first and occupy a white space before the upstart does. While media are fixated on the far future as a problem, brand and product managers get on with making things we can buy today and tomorrow. The two ends of the timeline are connected in some companies and not in others. Lots of others.

Selecting the best data source for you is a real conundrum. Our top tip for seeing what your product could look like next is: look back as well as forward. And here’s the hard bit. Looking back from your future market position demands that you know a few things.

You need to know your customer (People), what you are going to sell them (Product) and when (Place), and this starts to shine a light on the financials (Price/Promotion). Decide these things and suddenly you know everything there is to know. It’s like having hindsight. It’s when the ‘Ah Ha’ moment happens.

In your hard drives, there is market and client data that would be of such high value and specificity that to commission it anew would cost far too much. Your earlier market reports, consumer profiles, product ideation notes, team meeting minutes, even the pitch documents you’ve got on file from prospective vendors are tailored to you. Look at this data in the right way and it reveals loads of good stuff: not least, what you know about the way your market is developing and how your customers will respond.

Dig this data out and someone will say, “FFS, why didn’t we do that sooner?”

The new ways to create value from your idea rely on how the thinking process is stimulated. As my mum used to say, “look home before you look away.”

Future thinking. Future proofing. It’s what we do.

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