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How to Future-Proof a Business

Posted on Thursday, Oct 13th 2011

By guest author Daniel Burrus

Have you ever wished you could predict the future? It is possible to develop accurate insight and use it to cultivate a radically different way of doing things.

Called “flash foresight,” this ability enables you to not only look into the future, but transform it into a new paradigm for solving “impossible” problems, unearthing “invisible” opportunities, and running extraordinarily successful businesses.

The following are five principles that lead to flash foresight results for a healthier business.

Use Hard Trends to See What’s Coming Apple accurately saw the trends of accelerating bandwidth, processing power and high-capacity storage and harnessed them to create the iPod, iTunes, iPhone, and iPad. GM, on the other hand, failed to respond to trends that were obvious for more than a decade, including rising gas prices driven by increased global demand.

We’ve all made similar incorrect predictions because we confused cyclical change (stock market) with linear change (population growth) and didn’t know how to distinguish hard trends (baby boomers are aging) from soft trends (there won’t be enough doctors to treat aging baby boomers). But by differentiating what’s certain from what’s uncertain, you can make accurate predictions.

Anticipate Future Problems – Based on hard trends, ask yourself, “What problems will my company and my customers face in the next few weeks, months, years?” Then look for creative ways to solve those problems. When you anticipate challenges and opportunities, you can redefine your product or service to capitalize on the hard trends that are unfolding, enter new markets and become the leader.

Transform Your Business – Change means continuing to do the same thing but introducing some variation in degree. Increase the marketing budget. Add a few staff. But GM can’t be fixed by changing; it needs to be transformed into something radically different.

Using hard trends, think of how your business can be transformed, and just as important, how you can give your customers some new ability they would want if they knew it were possible. What you come up with will help you craft strategies to transform how you sell, market, communicate, collaborate and innovate.

Go Against the Competition – It’s not always easy to know where to look when you’re searching for the real problem you want to address. One way to gain insight is to note where everyone else is looking and then look in the opposite direction.

JetBlue looked at the hub-and-spoke system used by legacy carriers and decided to do the opposite. Launching a low-cost airline based on a point-to-point system, JetBlue profited while others filed for bankruptcy. Other companies, from Netflix to Starbucks to Volkswagen, did the opposite of what their competitors were doing and transformed their industries.

Direct your future -Your vision of the future is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Flash foresight starts with seeing the certainty of hard trends and learning to anticipate accurately. It also lets you see soft trends as factors you can influence to shape a better future. Directing your future is a conscious exercise to envision and rewrite your life and career. This “future view” is not a goal, plan, ambition or aspiration. It is the picture you hold of what you expect and believe about your future.

Having accurate flashes of insight about the future is the key to successful innovation. By committing to these principles, you’ll keep your company ahead of the curve so you can navigate a solution before the rest of the world even sees a problem coming.

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