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In years past, many businesses have succeeded with an agile, reactive approach to business where they respond to climate, competition, and social circumstances in an “after the fact” way. This focus was predominantly on responding to disruptions as they came in, putting out fires to solve issues.
As many businesses have perfected this approach, a new leadership model is now needed to stay ahead of the competition. Instead of reacting with agility, modern business leaders are taking a more proactive route and, more importantly, responding with an Anticipatory approach.
How do you do this, though? As a business leader, how is it possible to anticipate where the future of your business or industry as a whole is going, use an Anticipatory mindset to find solutions to the world’s issues, and, above all, go from reactive to proactive in your response?
Let’s help guide you in this productive direction by way of exploring an example of a business in an industry that directly impacts us, especially following the disruption of COVID-19—the hotly discussed supply chain.
Instead of merely reacting to issues as they come, the most successful business leaders and executives of today focus on Hard Trend future certainties that they can leverage and the Soft Trend future possibilities that come with them.
Hard Trends are the types of trends that we know will happen while Soft Trends are those that are not guaranteed. Let’s take the company Flexport, for instance. Flexport is a supply chain business that focuses on improving the world’s supply chain so businesses can exponentially enhance the customer buying experience. But with the massive disruptions facing the supply chain since the coronavirus pandemic, how is this possible?
Flexport set out to answer this by identifying a Hard Trend that they cannot change far outside of their desire to fix the supply chain. With the continued digitization of business processes worldwide coupled with the constant customer need for quick information, is the world going to continue toward digital technology and data consumption or would the world go back to the stone age?
Obviously, consumers are not looking to go back, so Flexport decided that neither should they.
By highlighting the future certainty that all customers, both business and individual, were going to continue toward wanting the transparency of instant gratification that digital information provides, Flexport identified a gap in what the supply chain currently offered and, as such, their business model closed this gap, meeting customer needs where their competition did not by digitizing all aspects of the current supply chain.
Now, customers of all kinds can track where packages, shipments, and various goods are along the supply chain, and their software can thus be leveraged exponentially by those that ship said goods.
By differentiating between Hard and Soft Trends, you can identify where industry problems are persisting long before they spiral out of control, what is currently offered, and where business operations can be improved for the greater good. This allows you to be a pioneer in a new technological evolution!
Digital technology itself is a Hard Trend that none of us can evade with agility, as I have written about previously. We will never go back to the era of flip phones or dial-up internet. Instead, exponential technological advancements are always paving new ways for impactful business opportunities.
Let’s go back to my Flexport example for a moment. This software development company identified that the supply chain had gaps in transparency. As such, by realizing that transformative digital technology is a Hard Trend that would only continue to improve, it was quickly apparent to them that leveraging certain aspects of digital data collection for supply chain software would greatly address those common customer pain points, giving all customers the transparency that many were unaware they needed.
Flexport is just one example of evidence that companies looking to make exponential differences must not only leverage an Anticipatory mindset and avoid excessive agility, they should also leverage the transformative digital technology available today. Thinking exponentially about technology is key as well.
While Flexport is a software development company, there are thousands of businesses that will utilize Flexport’s software to benefit their shipping and receiving operation, and just as many might even identify gaps in what Flexport has and find ways to improve upon those systems themselves—a way in which innovation for their specific industry stems from the inside out.
Perhaps the most important reality that any budding Anticipatory Leader or Anticipatory Organization must accept is that every business move comes with a variety of risks, and these risks can be scary. Because of fear, it is easy for many business leaders to fall back into a legacy mindset, living by the mantra that “this worked before, so it must work now.”
However, this risk-averse mindset is how businesses fall behind and lose customers. Both business and consumers do not stand still. Nothing stays in stasis forever, and new needs arise, whether they are initially obvious or not, as witnessed in the Flexport example and their supply chain transparency software that essentially pre-solved a problem many customers didn’t realize they had.
I implore you and perhaps even challenge you as an Anticipatory Leader to take risks knowing that if you master Hard Trends, future certainties impacting both your industry and the world outside of your organization’s four walls, risk becomes less risky. Knowing where you are heading and knowing where you may potentially run into obstacles provides a similar transparency that Flexport has brought to all of us waiting patiently on deliveries in the supply chain.
If you are tired of being exhaustively agile, putting out business fires, and responding to difficulties with a fear of risk, it is time to make a drastic change. Take your business’s future by the reins and carve your own path with my Anticipatory Organization® Learning System!
Daniel Burrus is considered one of the world’s leading futurists on global trends and innovation. The New York Times has referred to him as one of the top three business gurus in the highest demand as a speaker. He is a strategic advisor to executives from Fortune 500 companies, helping them to accelerate innovation and results by develop game-changing strategies based on his proven methodologies for capitalizing on technology innovations and their future impact. His client list includes companies such as Microsoft, GE, American Express, Google, Deloitte, Procter & Gamble, Honda, and IBM. He is the author of seven books, including The New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller Flash Foresight, and his latest book The Anticipatory Organization. He is a featured writer with millions of monthly readers on the topics of innovation, change and the future and has appeared in Harvard Business Review, Wired, CNBC, and Huffington Post to name a few. He has been the featured subject of several PBS television specials and has appeared on programs such as CNN, Fox Business, and Bloomberg, and is quoted in a variety of publications, including The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Fortune, and Forbes. He has founded six businesses, four of which were national leaders in the United States in the first year. He is the CEO of Burrus Research, a research and consulting firm that monitors global advancements in technology driven trends to help clients profit from technological, social and business forces that are converging to create enormous, untapped opportunities. In 1983 he became the first and only futurist to accurately identify the twenty technologies that would become the driving force of business and economic change for decades to come. He also linked exponential computing advances to economic value creation. His specialties are technology-driven trends, strategic innovation, strategic advising and planning, business keynote presentations.
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