In today’s world of technology-driven transformation, leaders need to embrace a new leadership principle if they want their organization to be relevant today and in the future. In recent years, leaders have added agility — being able to change quickly based on external circumstances — as an organizational competency. But digital disruption from the outside-in has been coming at an ever-increasing speed, and it’s only getting faster. The pace of disruption forces agility, causing leaders to react, crisis manage, and put out fires on a daily basis.
Knowing this, it’s evident that being agile is very good, but is not enough to jump ahead of the competition. Today’s leaders need to not only react faster, they need to become anticipatory.
When you’re anticipatory, you’re creating changes and driving disruption from the inside-out rather than being disrupted from the outside-in. Chances are, if you are a leader, you’ve often asked, “What new technology will disrupt my path to market?” or “What new technology will change how my customers behave?” For many leaders, disruption is a familiar foe.
But realize that disruptive technology is only disruptive if you didn’t know about it ahead of time. When you’re anticipatory, you not only accurately anticipate those disruptive technologies, but you can also use them to create new revenue streams, new products, new services, and new markets. That’s when you drive growth and change from the inside-out so that others have to react to you instead of you reacting to what others are doing. In this scenario, disruption is your competitive advantage.
So the question is, how do you become more anticipatory?
First , you have to make the future more visible. Ask yourself, “In these times of unprecedented change and uncertainty, what am I certain about?” If you look closely, you’ll see there are two types of change you routinely deal with, and both are fully predictable. The first is cyclical change. We are familiar with the common expression in industries like music and fashion: Trends come back every 30 years. In economics, too, there are examples of cyclical change — from home values to the stock market. What matters is not predicting if the cycle will occur — it will — but rather determining the length of that cycle.
Sometimes, though, changes are linear, and sometimes those linear changes become exponential. One example is the development of the iPod and iTunes. Consumers shifted from owning hundreds of CDs to downloading all their music into a device that fits in their pocket—and they won’t be going back. Other examples of linear exponential change include cell-phone functionality, the acceleration of computer processing speed, globalization, and digitization of media and telecommunications. Linear changes that have been elevated to exponential, even small ones, can have devastating effects on a business. What exponential marketplace changes are on your organization’s radar? Identify them so you can anticipate.
Next, identify the Hard Trends — the trends that will happen. And ask yourself, “What are the disruptions on the horizon?” You can either sit back and wait until the disruption hits — take a “wait-and-see” approach — or you can get active, what I call being preactive, and take positive action based on future known events.
For example, if you were a cable television company, you would have to look at IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) and ask yourself, “How are young people watching TV today?” You’d see they’re using tablets like iPads or using smartphones like iPhones and Androids to watch YouTube, Hulu, and Netflix, to name just a few. Many of them aren’t watching cable TV anymore, but most cable companies are not embracing this revolution as a new profit center even though it is already disrupting and will continue to disrupt at an ever-increasing pace.
Finally, look outside your industry for the solutions you need. You’re probably reading a lot of information every day about the industry you’re in. You’re also likely a member of multiple industry associations, and as a leader, you probably play a leadership role in some of them. However, by being so immersed in your industry, you may be missing what’s going on outside your industry. Therefore, look outside your industry and see where others have been innovating. Find out what changes they’ve made, technologies they’ve developed or adapted, and then modify those to your situation. Learn from their mistakes so you don’t have to make them. That’s how you proactively approach the disruptions you know are coming.
No matter who you are or what you do, you can anticipate disruption. Don’t wait for your future to unfold randomly, only to end up in a place you don’t want to be. Instead, identify the certainties that await you, pinpoint the looming disruptions, and go outside your industry to devise tomorrow’s solutions today. Look at what you can do rather than what you can’t, and you’ll emerge as a timeless leader who always succeeds.
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