Paul Witkay in Smart Business: “Start With Certainty”

February 01, 2012

Successful CEOs don’t simply accept the hands that they are dealt. They like to write their own futures. They are able to envision how they will achieve their objectives. But how are they able to predict how the world will change? Are they merely lucky?

Peter Micciche, president and CEO of Certain Software, recently recommended the book titled “Flash Foresight” to his fellow Alliance CEOs. Authored by Daniel Burrus, a leading forecaster and corporate strategist, the book discusses a variety of triggers that enable us to separate what we can know about the future from trends that are only temporary. There are “hard” trends that will clearly continue and there are “soft” trends that will not.

Hard trends are based upon measurable, tangible and predictable facts or events, such as the aging of the U.S. population and continued improvement of technology. So to begin to predict the future, Burrus recommends we start with certainty. If we are to create successful companies in the future, it is critical that we get in front of these trends rather than lagging behind. They include:

Dematerialization — You only need to look at your phones, computers and cars to notice that most everything is becoming smaller, lighter and more portable with less environmental impact.

Virtualization — Software has enabled us to simulate most any process. For example, online businesses such as Amazon and eBay have virtualized retail stores and garage sales.

Mobility — Just in the last few years, we have begun to take for granted that we can access almost anyone, anytime from anywhere.

Product intelligence — Through the use of sensors and microprocessors, our tangible products and surroundings are becoming “smart,” including our cars and appliances as well as roadways and buildings.

Networking — The creation of highway, railroad and phone networks enabled the economic advances of the past. The next generation will grow up taking the ability to engage and share with others around the world for granted.

Interactivity — Traditional media such as television, books and newspapers was limited to one-way communications. Increasing interactivity will not only transform entertainment and advertising but also politics as we witnessed in the recent “Arab Spring.”

Globalization — The reason we are globalizing isn’t because our governments think we should, but because technology has made it possible. We want to engage with others around the world to enrich our lives as well as our pocketbooks, and it’s impossible to stop.

Convergence — Technology has enabled products to be merged with other products. Just look at your smart phone and think about how it has eliminated the need for old products such as maps, calculators and restaurant reviews.

So how can we take this knowledge and generate breakthrough ideas? Here are some techniques proposed by Daniel Burrus:

Anticipate — Think ahead about the problems that you will be facing several years from now and address those opportunities proactively rather than reactively.

Transform — Steve Jobs created the personal computer industry, but he transformed the music, animation and cell phone industries. He understood how technology would enable new business models and got ahead of the curve.

Go opposite – The future path of success will almost certainly be a path that no one is on currently. Whichever way your competitors are going, think about going the opposite direction.

Redefine and reinvent — Agriculture is an industry that is challenged by lack of water, arable land and unpredictable weather. Solazyme, a local Bay Area company, is creating a new industry based upon algae that produces food, fuel and chemicals in ways that promise to reinvent those industries.

Take your biggest problem and skip it — Many industries have issues due to legacy systems that have limits. Ask yourself how you might let go of the old stuff and skip into the future.