thumbnailI have always maintained that seeing the future is less a matter of imagination, and more one of observation. Being able to gain powerful insights into the game-changing developments that will disrupt your business is an essential skill to success. And today I want to discuss three powerful principles that drive my work, which I’ve seen implemented to great effect in a vast array of domains, both public and private.

1. Start with Certainty

Starting with certainty may sound impossible since we live in an ever-changing world. But in my experience you can absolutely gain the foresight that more often than not proves to be correct — if you’re willing to stop fooling yourself about the nature of change.

To do this, you just need to accept the interplay of linear change and cyclic change in business. Cyclic Change is change you can count on to occur, return, and reoccur regularly – the obvious example is the changing of the seasons. Linear Change is change that is acyclic and progressive – that means, it goes forward in one direction rather than repeating in a predictable circle.

In the business world, linear changes are often the result of human innovation or the consequence of the passage of time: in short, the forces that don’t slow down, don’t regress, and certainly aren’t going to stop. Linear changes are what create unprecedented, fundamentally new circumstances. But they are nearly always grounded in inevitable, demonstrable trends — which I call Hard Trends.

Hard Trends refer to future facts that will happen based on measurable, tangible evidence. Aging Baby Boomers, increasing bandwidth and processing power — these are examples of Hard Trends. They are future facts. A Soft Trend, by contrast, is something that only might happen: a future maybe. You can identify a Soft Trend through research and analysis, but part of the nature of a Soft Trend is it is susceptible to changing circumstances. From a business and planning perspective it’s important to understand that you cannot change a Hard Trend, but you can influence a Soft Trend.  In other words, both have high value when planning.

When you pay attention to Hard Trends, we learn to spot the difference between cyclic change and linear change, you begin to see the inevitabilities: what the needs and opportunities of the future will be. Instead of embarking on a new venture trying to manage all the things you don’t know. Start with certainty.

2. Anticipate

The importance of being proactive and agile have been key ideas in business management for years. And they good strategies to use during a time of rapid change.

Well, now the rate of change in the world has gone far beyond rapid. If you understand that technology-driven change has a predictable, exponential curve, and at this point, the change curve is going almost straight up, then you can see we are leaving a period of rapid change and entering a period of transformation.

So I’m here to tell you that proactivity and agility are no longer good enough. Not at all.

Change and transformation are happening  constantly in the realms of business and technology these days that it’s now crucial that you don’t just respond to change. And by that I mean, rather than responding to change (however proactive and agile your response may be!) you now need to be consciously anticipating change.

Now in order to succeed you need to be pre-active to future known events rather than proactive, which means taking positive action now.  How do you know if the positive actions you take now will pay off?  You will have to wait and see. When you are pre-active to future know events using Hard Trends, you can be anticipatory rather than agile. This represents a fundamental shift from reaction to anticipation. It means instead of reacting to change that comes from the outside in, you need to be creating change from within yourself and your business.

Don’t be a full-time crisis manager; you also need to be an opportunity manager. An opportunity manager is someone who spots problems before they occur and grasps them as opportunities for change-from-within. I call this kind of pre-active, anticipatory change inside-out change. This is the kind of change that allows you to direct your future and seize your opportunities.

There are strategies in my Anticipatory Organization™ Model, which empower you to understand how technology develops and your customers’ needs evolve — letting you anticipate and then capitalize on the changes that you know are coming.

 3. Transform

Shifting or adjusting how we do business isn’t enough. We need to transform our approach if we want to reap the big rewards. We do this by paying attention to the interplay of linear and cyclic change, spotting the hard trends, and taking anticipatory action.

To transform means doing something utterly and radically different. But to successfully transform, you have to learn to think in terms of both / and rather than either / or.

For example, in the late eighties, many futurists made the mistake of predicting that soon offices would be paperless. We’re still waiting for that to happen. Turns out, there is a need for both paper and digital means of communication.

The same expert futurists predicted that internet retail giants would kill all brick-and-mortar but that hasn’t happened. As much as we love ordering things from Amazon, we also like to try on clothes to see how we look, and going to a brick and mortar store to discover what we might want or need.

All of which is to say, transformation is not what we usually think it is. The hottest new breakthrough technologies do not simply replace older ones. Instead they are integrated with the new to create new value, and that intern alters how we relate to the older technology without erasing that older technology completely.  For example, mainframe computers are not obsolete, we are simply using them in a different way then we did two years ago, ten years a go, and thirty years ago.

The old Golden Rule in business was to find what your customers wanted and give it to them.  That’s not enough now because our abilities are evolving far too rapidly. The new Golden Rule of business is:

Give your customers the ability to do what they would want to do if only they knew it was possible.

To do this, you’ll have to be the agent of transformation rather than the one who reacts to it.  You’ll have to be the opportunity manager who looks at the hard trends and acts on them before anyone else does.