Did you know that time travel was possible? It really is. For example, you can visit remote parts of the Amazon River and meet people who are living just as they did a thousand years ago. They still use blow guns and spears as their tools. If you ask them if they’ve heard about “the net,” they’ll show you their fishing net.

If a thousand years is too far back, you can go to China or Amish towns in Ohio and Pennsylvania and meet people who are living just as they did a hundred years ago. They get their water by the bucketful from a well, use oil lanterns for light, and utilize a horse and buggy as their main transportation.

But time travel doesn’t just happen in cultures around the world; it also occurs in business. You can go into some organizations today and time travel backwards just as easily. These companies use old technologies and techniques, and their employees are clinging to the past. Their legacy systems lead to legacy thinking. And even though they’re alive and well in the past, they’re increasingly having difficulty surviving in the present.

You can also go from one division of a company to another and time travel. For example, engineering may be equipped with the latest technologies, yet HR is still buried under paper files and longhand forms. In that same way, you can go from person to person and be time traveling. That’s because some people are past-oriented. To them, the only place that was good is in the past, so they cling to that. The future seems to be far less in every way, and far more foreboding than the past.

Fortunately, just as we can time travel to the past, we can also travel to the future. In fact, some people in your organization are already there. They’re the ones who buy the latest gizmos with their own money because they want to have it, experiment with it, and be successful with it. They’re thinking and talking about the future, and they’re excited about it.

Likewise, some companies are in the future compared to others in their industry. For example, some magazines went digital from day-one and never printed a paper copy. Some organizations were early-adopters of social media even though the majority of businesses scoffed at it. And some businesses are so focused on the future that they roll out products and services consumers didn’t even know they wanted, yet they found them indispensible once they had them. Two prime examples are the iPhone and iPad.

If you’re ready to lead your organization into the future, consider these three points:

  1.  Do a time travel audit of yourself and your colleagues. Where in time do you and your colleagues live? Are you (or are they) future-oriented, present-oriented, or past-oriented? How is everyone’s outlook serving the company? While you can look at the past and learn from it, you should never be held back by it. Your windshield is larger than your rearview mirror for a reason. To drive safely, you need to keep your eyes focused on the big picture in front of you and only occasionally look behind you. Since you’re going to be spending the rest of your life in the future, you might as well focus on it now. In today’s rapid pace of technological change and transformation, it’s more important than ever to keep your eyes on the windshield rather than the rearview mirror.
  2.  Turn past thinkers into a valuable asset. Some people in your organization may be past-oriented and dread the future, yet they have good value, knowledge, experience, and wisdom. There are two things you can do with people like that. First, you can choose to let them go, but then you’d lose the good things they have to offer. The second option (and the better one usually) is to turn them into a future focused asset. How? Give them a job that fits their personality. Ask them, “Based on all of the things we’ve ever done, what in your opinion is vital for us to keep as we move forward? We can’t keep everything, so what should we eliminate and what should we keep in order to thrive in this new era?” This approach forces them to start thinking about what are the core capabilities that got the company to where it is today, as well as what’s needed to go forward and keep the brand relevant. At the same time, it forces them to decide what needs to be eliminated. Essentially, it begins to position them strategically based on what they like doing and takes them from being a past-thinker to a future-thinker. It’s a way to migrate them into the future.
  3.  Relate to others at their point it time. Just as you do a time travel audit on yourself and your colleagues, also do one on the people you interact with. For example, if you’re in sales, doing a time travel audit on your customers is very important. If you have a new product or service that is future-oriented yet you’re talking to someone who is past-oriented, and if you start by talking to them with your future perspective, their eyes will glass over and they’ll tune you out. You can’t go into the past and yank people into the future. A better approach is to go into the past and walk with them into the future. In other words, relate to their position in the past and acknowledge that they are comforted by where they are, the technologies they use, and the principles they’re working under. Help them to look at the certainties, those hard trends that are the undeniable truths about the future, and then slowly walk them into the future so they can see that the future isn’t really foreboding. In fact, it can be filled with excitement and new opportunities that are even better than the old. As you do this, be careful not to place blame. This isn’t a matter of “setting them straight.” It’s about helping them see that the world has changed and we all need to change with it in order to thrive.  And we need their knowledge and experience, coupled with an open mind, to succeed.

The Future is Yours

Years ago, we could have a past or present mindset and do quite well, because the pace of change was relatively slow. Today, technology is enabling a massive transformation in how we sell, market, communicate, collaborate, innovate, train, and educate. Therefore, as a leader, you need to migrate your people and your company to a future view. Remember, we’re not heading back to the past; we’re moving into the future. Help everyone see that future, embrace it, and thrive in it. That’s the surest path to long-term success.