Status Quo Processes Yield Status Quo Results

Mall Plus+: The Process of Predicting the “Future”

September 7, 2017

In a time of accelerating change, status quo is very risky. We all rely on things that have worked in the past and we tend to bring them forward to use again as examples of success. In a time of less change, that worked just fine – but that’s not the time we’re in now. We believe we need to disrupt ourselves and our own conventional design thinking to find a different approach that can truly benefit, and protect, our clients.

The best solutions are innovative and sustainable. They sidestep the obvious, find opportunity in overlooked places and move flexibly into the future. Rooted in data, and informed by insight, they have the power to transform spaces, communities, and economies. However, as evidenced by our four speakers’ insight, lasting transformation can only happen when we accept the state of unknowing and shed the fear we inevitably experience when we try something different. Genuine transformation happens when we open ourselves to possibility, opportunity, and surprise and we can discover these through new methods of enquiry.

B+H Advance Strategy assumes that to grasp a problem then jump immediately into design solutions is to take an impractical and unrealistic leap. Using custom-designed tools we engage our clients and designers in exploring different options and opportunities within their existing business systems and contexts. These exercises stretch us out of our comfort zone and expand the boundaries of problem definition so that we can work in a translational space with data and information that we may otherwise miss. In testing this new approach, we found that disrupting conventional thinking and status quo is an exciting, empowering way to face an unknowable future.

Shaking Things Up

We invited our inter-disciplinary and multi-generational global design leaders, along with four external experts, to explore the future of the mall using B+H Advance Strategy’s newest tool: the Disruptor Game. Using a set of dynamic and thought-provoking image cards, the Disruptor Game is an exploratory tool with which we engage leaders to think about the various aspects of their business and then drop disruptors on them to see what happens and what changes in terms of their vision. For this exercise, we repurposed the Disruptor Game as a futuring tool.

The eight attributes of the mall include:

  1. User Experience
  2. Tenant mix
  3. Mobility + Transportation
  4. Guests
  5. Investors
  6. Technology
  7. Space Assets
  8. Infrastructure Systems + Operations

To get our participants thinking in advance, we prepped them with a comprehensive research brief. This brief introduced them to the eight attributes that typically characterize the success (or failure) of today’s mall. Our research also looked at the macro trends impacting each attribute today on a global scale and the disruptors we can see coming, but whose impact we can’t predict.


For the first part of the game, participants divided into four teams and collaboratively selected images they felt illustrate the eight attributes, as we perceive them today. Despite working on separate teams, common themes emerged confirming that the mall, as we see it today, simply isn’t working.

We can’t possibly predict the future but, through inspired thinking, we can make some smart guesses while we explore multiple potential futures. By exploring the details and qualities of possible futures, we can disrupt patterns of thought to equip our designers with a more stretched out and fluid solution set. We concocted four futures, fleshed them out, and asked our designers to use the image deck to define each different future through the same eight attributes.

For the second round, each team received a different scenario and we asked them to play the game again, this time thinking about how the quality of each attribute would be different in their future scenario. Each breakout group presented their thoughts to the whole.

What We Learned

Our original intent was to use the second day of the charrette to challenge our designers to create a prototype mall for each of the four future scenarios. We soon realized that limiting the creative process in this way would not fully capture the bigger ideas and refined insights that were possible through this immersive activity. What resulted was a larger collection of thoughts that arose by fusing the insights of the group overall. The dialogue that ensued extended far beyond the traditional mall as we’re accustomed to thinking about it. The focus became an examination of the larger implications of community, ownership, and connectivity.

Throughout the process, we also stepped away with meaningful and powerful client applications for this exercise. By fully customizing our visioning workshops to meet the needs and objectives of our clients on a case-by-case basis, we’re able to achieve alignment and consensus among leadership on the vision and direction for their organizations. We’re also able to establish a framework for informed, measurable decisions about their current and future real estate assets.