Thinking about tomorrow helps you decide what to do today
by Kate Pavao, January 2011
“Our method of being reactionary is not working any longer,” Daniel Burrus tells Profit. That’s why Burrus, a forecaster and strategist who advises executives from Fortune 500 companies, thinks his book, Flash Foresight, is resonating with readers: it’s designed to help executives make smart decisions about their futures in a world where, he says, “the fast eat the slow.”
In his book, Burrus defines flash foresight as a “sudden burst of insight about the future that produces a new and radically different way of doing something that will open up invisible opportunities and solve seemingly impossible problems before they happen,” and he outlines seven principles to help executives develop winning strategies with confidence.
Here, he talks to Profit about how executives should be spending their money, explains a principle that seems counterintuitive— and discusses what excites Burrus most about the future.
Profit: As tech spending increases, how should executives make decisions about what to buy?
Burrus: Uncertainty keeps us from moving forward: Is the economy going to really get better this year or not? I think I’ll wait and see. Should we spend any money on technology? Well, we don’t know what’s going to happen with the consumers yet.
If you really want to have some influence on buying and purchasing decisions, whether it be for technology or anything else, go in armed with a list of certainties. For example, what do you know about your customers? Because they are changing fast.
Then, look at the executives you’re going to be talking to, asking for that budget to expand what you’re doing, and the personal pain they are experiencing. Maybe it’s stockholders or maybe it’s Wall Street. Don’t go in asking for technology, go in understanding that pain. Show them how your tools can be applied to help — and how your plan is based on what you know will happen, versus knowing what might happen. You can sell if you know certainty.
Profit: Right. Starting with certainty is the first principle you introduce. Among your other ideas, you want businesses to become anticipatory, look for opportunities in the opposite direction — and then this one: skip their biggest problem. Why is that?
Burrus: At first it sounds a little counterintuitive but here’s an example: A number of years ago, Eli Lilly had a problem. By their estimate, executives had to hire at least 2,000 additional Ph.D. researchers to solve their molecular problems that they needed to solve, so they could get more drugs in the pipeline and get their stock price up.
And their problem was they didn’t have a budget for the 2,000 researchers. So what did they do? Well, the skipped it. What they did was they put their molecular problems on the Internet in a dozen languages and said, “We pay for solutions,” and now they’ve got thousands of researchers around the world submitting solutions, and they didn’t have to hire those 2,000 researchers.
So was the problem they didn’t have a budget? No. By taking your biggest problem and skipping it, what you realize is the problem you’re currently facing is the wrong one. You’ve got to get a notch down to find what the real one is, so you can actually solve it.
Profit: You say that executives should make an appointment to spend an hour a week in their “tomorrowlab,” where they should focus on exploring the “visible future.” When you are in your own tomorrowlab, what do you find yourself most excited about?
Burrus: I’m most excited about innovation and creativity. Focused people can do amazing things. In the book, I use the word “futureview,” because how you view the future shapes how you act, and how you act shapes your future. If you think the future is uncertain, and negative, well, you’re going to act in a certain way. If you believe that there is a mountain of opportunity, and you can see that mountain with certainty, you can do amazing things. As a matter of fact, you can do things that might even seem completely impossible.
We have been changing and doing impossible things forever — but to do impossible things, we have to make the invisible visible. The seven triggers I put in the book are a way to do this, to give you that flash of foresight with certainty, so that you can move forward into the future successfully.