How Do You Anticipate The Future?

–Interview with Daniel Burrus by Jonathan Løw

Jonathan Løw: Is there a way to know when a Hard Trend will happen?

Based on Moore’s law, I identified what I called the Three Digital Accelerators: the predictable exponential growth of computing power, bandwidth, and digital storage.

Daniel Burrus: Based on my research in 1983 when I started my company, came across Moore’s Law which basically states that processing power will double every 18 months as the price drops in half. Not a lot of people were looking at Moore’s Law in the early 1980s, but I knew he nailed it. Based on Moore’s law, I identified what I called the Three Digital Accelerators: the predictable exponential growth of computing power, bandwidth, and digital storage. They don’t follow the exact same exponential curves as Moore’s law, but very close. Those are the three main factors driving the predictable and exponential pace of change. Hard Trends provides the “what” and the Digital Accelerators provides the “when” to the visible future. The key to harnessing the power of exponential is the ability to accurately anticipate the hard Trends that are shaping the future.

Jonathan Løw: I think that everybody wants to see the future, but can you tell me more about how you actually do it?

Daniel Burrus: A key principle I teach is; if it can be done, it will be done, and if you don’t do it, someone else will. I’ve conducted over thirty years of research to understand trends and the driving forces of change. For example, in 1983, I listed digital electronics, the Internet, optical storage, wireless networking, artificial intelligence, nanotech, supercomputers, genetic engineering — twenty technology categories in all, that would drive economic growth for decades to come. My original list of twenty has stood the test of time. Based on seven books, hundreds of articles and 2,800 keynote speeches worldwide, I have proven that it is possible to accurately predict the future, but more importantly, I can teach others to do this as well and turn change into an advantage.

Today, we’re at a unique point in human history, where we can do things that were impossible just a few years ago. Because of this unique tipping point, it’s not enough to be agile and innovate in a reactionary way.

We need to get out in front and drive positive innovation and change with the confidence certainty can provide as well as pre-solve predictable problems way before they happen.

Jonathan Løw: Pre-solve predictable problems. I like that…

Daniel Burrus: Yes. If you are waiting for problems to happen and then solve them as a reaction to the problem, the number of problems in the future will pile up on you and bury you. The key is to pre-solve them before they happen.

First, you need to be able to separate Hard Trends from Soft Trends. Once you do this, you have the confidence to then act on the future facts. Going back to Soft Trends, imagine that you’re managing a city and working with smart signage, new ways of parking, etc. The question is: Will you add networked intelligence to make these things smart? The tools are there to do it, but I can’t accurately predict that you or someone else will decide to do it or not. The tools to do it are there and represent Hard Trends, they will happen. Whether you decide to transform your business processes, that is up to you, that is a Soft Trend.

Too many companies think that most of the future is unpredictable. However, this is a dangerous misconception and is a problem in our way of thinking. We are most often looking ahead using a review mirror mindset much more than the windshield.

Most don’t have a future mindset based on the new realities. We’re too busy solving day-to-day problems. This is one of the biggest problems with most organizations today: They are simply too busy putting out fires to take the actions that will make them more relevant in the years ahead. Today you can busy yourself right out of business.

Jonathan Løw: I guess that most companies are busy doing business because that is how they survive. Do you suggest that they stop focusing on their core business and look at the future instead?

Daniel Burrus: No, but you do need to start devoting time to being an opportunity manager, not just a crisis manager putting out fires and reacting to change. You can start by devoting one hour per week and ask yourself: What am I certain about, what are the Hard Trends that are shaping the future? To understand the Hard Trends shaping the future, start by creating a list of them and identify the opportunities for each of them. Ask yourself; which one could I do that would have the biggest payoff for my company? How can I benefit from this Hard Tact, and use the Three Digital Accelerators to see when it will happen. When you start thinking like this, you train your anticipatory mindset. And, if you encounter any problems, then you can use another principle I teach, you can take your problems and skip them. I call it problem-skipping.

Jonathan Løw: Problem-skipping?

Yes. A problem could be: We don’t have enough staff. Then skip the problem! Use outsourced people, software, and hardware. Virtualize as much as possible. Another problem: I don’t have the money to do it. Skip the problem! Get the money upfront from an ideal customer to fund what you want to sell them. Every single problem and barrier in most companies is perceived a problem. They are mental barriers. A big problem for many is their assumption that they can’t do something. They think of this assumption as a future fact but it’s not! In other words, we spend too much energy looking at, why we can’t do it. Try putting the same energy into the belief that you can actually do it.

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