Carpe Futurum – Forward Thinking for Business Success

I recently had the opportunity to hear noted futurist, expert, and author Daniel Burrus describe how today’s organizational churn has an insidious impact of long-term viability. In addressing a group of finance and accounting professionals from the Maryland Association of CPAs, Burrus made it very clear when he said, “If busy is all you do, you’re in trouble.

What we need, Burrus stated, is the ability to pre-solve problems, to anticipate what’s coming down the pike.

“Your windshield is bigger than your rear view mirror.”

So why focus on what’s in the mirror? Perhaps the adrenaline rush from nailing a problem or successfully completing a project is a heck of a lot more motivational than a rational, anticipatory approach, one that looks forward, keeps the mind clear and the bodily chemicals in check as you think about what’s coming up.

For many organizations, effective problem solving is the gold standard of successful execution. They train, they engage, and if successful, they live to fight another day. This equates to many days with many battles. Unfortunately this is no more than running in place while the world moves forward. As Burrus described, “if you don’t figure it out, someone else will.”

It was validating for me to hear Burrus share a point of view that I also have, particularly for those individuals who move into strategic leadership positions. What I have seen is that the capability to break the cycle requires a different way of thinking, an understanding that the present connects with the future in a very unique combination of the known and unknown. It is a strategic perspective, one that is much broader than analytical, cause and effect problem solving. This perspective asks “why” and “what if” to better understand and subsequently connect the present to the future.

In my recent book, Leader Evolution, I describe three main skills one needs to possess a strategic perspective:

  1. Anticipation. This requires one to focus on the present and monitor the current trends and patterns that will extend into the future. Burrus similarly describes the need for anticipation by identifying what he calls “hard trends,” such as the technological certainties of speed and mobility. From the current conditions one looks out into the future and connects specific “dots” based on knowledge and insight.
  2. Extrapolation. As the present conditions move into the future, they are shaped, even transformed, by critical trends and patterns. This is the process of extrapolation, a future state screen.
  3. Translation. Translation is the series of objectives, decisions, and actions that move an organization from the present to the future. Translation is a mix of certainty and reason with a cup of risk, a dash of fear, topped with a belief and faith in the future.

Burrus shared that one’s ability to solve problems effectively is important and it never goes away. I agree and also think that the ability to think analytically is just as essential. In today’s business world, however, this is not the skill or the mindset that differentiates successful organizations. Keeping up means falling behind, not to mention how much discretionary effort is expended in the process.

I couldn’t agree more with Burrus’ insight. Those organizations that embrace a strategic perspective transform and never reach a steady state. Sure there may be fits and starts, but the windshield view of the world keeps people energized and moving forward.

Carpe diem? My advice is carpe futurum.

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