“For time and the world do not stand still. Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.” – John F. Kennedy
Was America’s 35th president encouraging each of us to be a futurist? Some people dismiss that term as pretentious and stuffy, but as a small business owner, holding that attitude will hold you back. Because as the CEO, being the futurist of your company is your most important assignment.
To be a futurist, you don’t need a fancy education, nor do you have to be a genius. Futurists aren’t inspired by God, they’re not clairvoyant, psychic, or have ESP. But they do look at the world differently than everyone else. Futurists see things others don’t because they’re looking for those things.
Perhaps it will help to introduce the product of a futurist, which is foresight. A futurist’s job is to deliver foresight to an audience. As a small business futurist, your audience is made up of four groups that need to believe in your vision for the future of the enterprise: family, employees, customers, and bankers – in that order.
- Every small business is a family business. And family is first because you begin and end your day with them. Hearing your forecast for the future of the business is essential to their role as stakeholders, critics and safe harbors.
- Employees are next (yes, before customers) because they’re an extension of you. If employees don’t have access to the future you see, they’ll manufacture their own, which sounds like each member of a choir singing a different song at the same time – not the cacophony you want customers to hear. Followers are more productive when they see where the leader is taking them.
- Believe it or not, customers who patronize a small business really do want to know what you think about the future, because by definition, your foresight incorporates your values with everything else. And your values are the main ingredient of the special sauce that makes customers choose you over Wal-Mart.
- The lion’s share of small business growth capital comes from a bank loan. As I’ve said in this space a gazillion times, bankers are best when you minimize concern about where your business is going. Here’s a picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words tip you’ll thank me for later: Bankers always listen to your foresight story more productively while holding your 12-month cash flow projection.
Now, let’s make foresight easier and less intimidating with this good news: you already have most of what you need to be the futurist of your company, and whatever you lack are resources you can acquire. Here are the major elements that will help you produce foresight for your business tomorrow, next year and beyond.
Experience: Never underestimate the foresight value of past successes and failures (especially the failures). Every new day added to your business operating log makes you a better CEO futurist.
Knowledge: No one is more of an expert on your business than you. Claim, value and leverage that multi-faceted knowledgebase into increasingly effective forecasting.
Curiosity: Congratulations – the only person more curious than a futurist is an entrepreneur. Since you’re both of those, that makes you a cat with 18 lives. Curiosity is arguably the most powerful trait of an entrepreneur, and when focused on foresight, it makes business easier, more fun and more profitable
Pay attention: This is the first cousin of curiosity. It’s your first nature to pay attention to what’s happening inside your business every day. Make it your second nature to pay more attention to what’s happening outside your four walls, especially with the next practice.
Read: Professional futurists call it scanning. Read everything you can get your hands on about your industry, your customers and their industries, and the world around you. Information from multiple sources will help you triangulate data points into the next element.
Implications: To a futurist, an implication is like a hammer and nail to a carpenter. Contemplating implications allows you to forecast the future convergence of data points into that intersection called clarity, which sounds like, “Ah-Ha!” Also, “Eureka!” Also, “We made how much net profit?” Play the “what if” implications game with your team on a regular basis. And to paraphrase your kindergarten teacher, there are no stupid “what if” questions.
Peer review: This is the forging crucible of any professional endeavor. Get outside of your four walls and road test your foresight with other CEO futurists and industry peers. And don’t forget: some CEO customers can become awesome foresight peers.
Intuition: This is the rare-earth mineral of foresight. Born of success and failure, it’s educated by experience and employed by curiosity. Once you learn how to trust your intuition, it evolves into the wisdom component of your foresight product. Everyone possesses some level of intuition, but CEO futurists learn how to develop and leverage theirs.
Disruptions are coming at you today faster than ever. The coronavirus arrived in our lives at the speed of analog organic, but created digital disruptions traveling at the speed of light. Businesses that survive and thrive post-pandemic are those who are led by CEO futurists.
In business, there are no good surprises –including the ones that turns out well. As the futurist of your business, you’ll avoid surprises by leading change instead of managing it. Surprises are for birthdays – this is business.
Futurist Rishad Tobaccowalla said: “The future doesn’t fit in the container of the past.” As the CEO, it’s your job to forecast and design the container in which your business will operate in the future.
Write this on a rock … We’ll let JFK wrap this up: “Those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.”