Is change coming at you from the outside in, or the inside out? My experience in working with top leaders from business, government and education on five different continents is that the majority of change comes to us from the outside in. For example, when a new law is passed, we have to make changes in order to comply with the new law. When a new competitor comes into our marketplace offering lower prices, we must change some aspect of how we do business. When a new technology comes out that changes customer behavior, executives inform the IT department that they must keep up with customers. When the boss changes corporate strategy, employees scramble.

The Personal Side of Outside In

Change from the outside in can affect our personal lives as well. For example, when gas prices go up, we are forced to change our spending and/or driving habits. If you, or your spouse, are laid-off, our daily focus shifts to finding work. When the stock market goes down people often sell, and when it goes up, they buy.

Crisis Management

Whenever change comes from the outside in, we are forced to react. In other words, we are forced to put out fires and manage the latest crisis.

This is such a common problem that most of the recent books on business strategy say that agility is the key to a successful future. In other words, react faster!

Reacting fast to external change is very good, but using agility, as your main strategy, tends to keep you locked in a crisis management mode. When you spend most of your time putting out fires, day after day, month after month, year after year, the future tends to unfold in an uncontrollable, and often less desirable way.

Gaining Control of Your Future

The only way to positively influence your future is to drive some of the change from the inside out. This is true for both organizations and individuals.

It is essential to spend at least a small portion of time thinking about your future in an opportunity mode. To do this you have to realize that there will always be fires to put out, but putting out fires will not move you forward in a well thought out way.

Try spending one hour a week unplugging from the present crisis and plugging into what I call the visible future.  Instead of being blocked by all the things you are uncertain about, ask yourself: What am I certain about? What do I know will happen in the next two or three years? What problems will I be facing? What problems will my company be facing? What problems will our customers be facing? What problems will my kids be facing?

Then, spend some of your opportunity time solving problems before they happen.

Another good question to ask is: What is my ideal future? What are some of the steps I could take to shape that future now?

Tomorrow, there will be even more fires to put out if you don’t keep them from starting in the first place. Put the opportunity hour into your calendar now. If you don’t, the future you end up with might not be one you would have wanted.