A well-known South African futurist once ran an experiment. He asked his CEO and board-level clients how much time they spent in the future.

What he meant by that is, how much time did the board dedicate to high-level strategy, innovation, future thinking, trend analysis—all things that would give boards a glimpse of what would put them out of business in the next five years.

The boards confidently told him they spent at least 20% of their time thinking about the future. One day a week seemed about right to them.

But he wanted to double-check his clients’ assumptions.

So he asked the executive assistants to analyse their boss’s diaries and report on the proportion of meetings looking at the future, versus meetings that focused on the present.

The result? He found board members were not spending one day a week on the future. They weren’t even spending one day a month, or even one day a quarter. He found they were spending about two days a year dedicated to thinking about the future. That’s one 2-day strat session a year, dedicated to the future.

When I talk to clients, I’m fond of saying that now is the time to spend on the future. Perhaps it’s worthwhile setting a target of two days a quarter to review your current product portfolio against what may or may not hit your company or industry in the next three to five years.

This makes intuitive sense. Putting in a bit of structure can only help focus the innovation effort. But still, we see a lot of resistance to putting structure into innovation efforts.

In my last post I alluded to how governance can help speed up innovation. Our research calls this the “innovation portfolio” approach. I quite like that terminology. It’s a bit like your investment portfolio, which we automatically assume needs careful management.

It also implies that there is an ROI—a return on innovation. What’s the point of having a portfolio if you don’t know whether you’re getting a return?

Our research broke down innovation portfolio management into four stages. The first we’ve already alluded to—making innovation a strategic priority. So the quarterly or half-yearly strategy sessions should be focusing on the innovation portfolio and iterating the strategy accordingly. It also means allocating budgets to the different approaches.

If innovation is a strategic imperative, it implies that businesses build a culture of innovation, which is a topic all on its own.

The second stage is ideation. Once you have spotted the trends and formulated an approach, it’s time to put on your thinking hats and get innovation teams to use Design Thinking and other tools to generate ideas that serve the strategy.

The third phase is Experimentation. The problem with innovation is that you never know which ideas will succeed. There’s a famous saying in Hollywood: “nobody knows anything.” When Pirates of the Caribbean was made, many executives said that pirate movies were a thing of the past. Yet every one of the movies has grossed more than $650 million. One of them is among the 50 highest grossing movies of all time. It also spawned four novels, more than 10 video games and half a dozen theme park rides. In total, across the five movies, Disney so far has spent $1,2 billion and grossed $4,5 billion.

Spurred on by Pirates’ success, Disney made another Johnny Depp vehicle: The Lone Ranger. It was a sure thing, right? Disney spent an estimated $375 million making the movie. Their break-even point was $650 million gross, which is what all the Pirates movies exceeded. As it happened, The Lone Ranger grossed less than $250 million.

Nobody knows anything.

That’s why the experimentation phase is so important. The first Pirates movie was made with a relatively small $140 million budget. By the last movie in the franchise, Disney was spending more than double that. This is how Disney went from the experimentation phase to phase 4: scale.

The experimentation phase means you’re looking to see which parts of your innovation portfolio are performing, and trickling more resources into the bets that are paying off. Once you can see the trajectory of the successful projects, you can start scaling the projects (the fourth phase) with the highest returns—always with an eye on the future to see when even the most successful innovations will be disrupted.

Many people see innovation as inherently creative, chaotic and ungovernable.

But businesses are not like that. What makes businesses more powerful than individuals is that businesses put structures in place that align the efforts of many people towards a common goal. And I think there is no more worthwhile alignment of effort than futureproofing the business in a systematic and disciplined way.

There is a lot more to unpack. If you would like to read the full report you can find it here.