The Anticipatory Entrepreneur

The Anticipatory Entrepreneur

A great example of being anticipatory is ice hockey great Wayne Gretzky, who once said that the secret to his extraordinary career was skating to where the puck was going to be, not to where it had been.

If you’re an entrepreneur, that’s an ideal summation of the opportunity you can uncover by being anticipatory.

Granted, saying you’ll be the next Gretzky in the world of entrepreneurs if you develop an anticipatory mindset might seem unrealistic. But anticipation can prove every bit as effective in helping you discover game-changing opportunities and, just as important, your ability to bring them to life.

Agility and Anticipation—Two Sides of a Powerful Strategy Coin

There are two sides to a coin and two sides to a successful strategy to turn change into opportunity. One side of the strategy coin is Agility—learning to react quickly to problems after they happen and disruptions after they occur. Agility is a very important strategy because there will always be changes that are not predictable. Reacting quickly to change and disruption provides a competitive advantage over slower competitors, but because it is a reactionary strategy, you will continue to experience disruption and will not make the shift to becoming a disruptor. Because technology-driven change is accelerating at an exponential rate, the competitive advantage of reacting quickly after something happens will have decreasing value every year. 

The other side of the strategy coin is Anticipation—learning to anticipate and solve problems before you have them and to identify disruptions before they disrupt, allowing you to become the disruptor rather than becoming disrupted. Both sides of the strategy coin are extremely important; you and your organization should work on getting better at each.   

To Anticipate, Use Hard Trends

Developing an anticipatory mindset and learning to apply anticipatory skills can open enormous opportunities for entrepreneurs of all sorts.

Two cornerstones of my Anticipatory Organization Model are what I refer to as Hard Trends and Soft Trends. Hard Trends are based on future facts that will happen. By learning to use Hard Trends to find certainty in a seemingly uncertain world, you will discover the confidence to make bold moves. Hard Trends can include such things as greater use of cloud technology across a variety of applications as well as the demographic certainty of an aging population. Our clients around the world have identified thousands of Hard Trends and related game-changing opportunities, and so can you.

Soft Trends, on the other hand, are based on assumptions about the future; they represent future possibilities. They may or may not occur. As you can imagine, that takes in a broad array of issues and topics, from political outcomes to which team will win the next Super Bowl or World Series. The advantage of identifying Soft Trends is that they are open to influence that can impact their outcome. Using the sports example, I mentioned above, a losing team could make a trade for a key player to help them change to a winning team that could possibly win a championship.

Knowing the distinction between Hard and Soft Trends can be enormously valuable for an entrepreneur. For instance, by recognizing a Hard Trend—a future certainty—an entrepreneur can anticipate what sorts of opportunities and related strategies will have the best chance of success, such as a medical device designed to serve an aging population. Additionally, in recognizing key Soft Trends, entrepreneurs know those factors that are open to change.

Certainty and Pre-Mortems

Another strategy for an anticipatory entrepreneur is what I refer to as a Pre-Mortem. Most every business and organization conduct postmortems. To varying degrees, these are reviews of product or service launches, projects, campaigns and other activities after they have been in place for a while or completed, whether successfully or otherwise. The goal is to identify what went right, what went wrong and what adjustments, if any, should be implemented moving forward.

A Pre-Mortem is very similar to a postmortem in that its objective is to identify both the good and bad associated with most any sort of project or campaign. But, unlike a postmortem, a Pre-Mortem is used before a new product, service or change is implemented. That allows an entrepreneur to identify problems in advance and, from there, to address them proactively.  That, like Hard Trends and Soft Trends, can greatly minimize the level of risk attached to any new project, service or other idea.

Make Change and Disruption Your Biggest Advantage

One of the overriding topics in my Anticipatory Model is the prevalence of change—more specifically, how it is constant and increasing in speed at an exponential rate. Consider a supercomputer using artificial intelligence as a prime example. You may think you don’t have access to a powerful supercomputer yet, but by asking Siri or Alexa a question, you’re as close to a supercomputer as you would be if it were physically in your own home.

That sort of experience was unheard of only a few years ago. That’s what I mean by exponential change—it’s coming faster and faster and there’s no turning back.

That may be unnerving to some, but it’s welcome news for most entrepreneurs. By looking to create something new that has high value and is considered a must-have, they’re naturally seeing change as a friend and not the enemy.

It’s important to recognize that relationship with change and embrace it. And, by incorporating the anticipatory strategies outlined in this article and in my latest book, you can best position yourself to leverage the rapid-fire presence of change and digital disruption as completely as possible.


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  • Chris Pearce

    I find that being anticipatory is so intangible that it is hard to talk about it meaningfully.

  • Damien Boem

    Soooo true !!!

  • Martin Palmer

    The minute you begin doing things you’re not supposed to do, you’re struggling to manage your most precious & limited resource - Time.

  • Patrick Feld

    Great article Daniel! It's easy to loose sight of the fact business is about embracing change.

  • Stephanie Henson

    Very Profound and inspiring for all entrepreneurs.

  • Daniel Markle

    The best entrepreneurs take action, do action, not just delegate action. You know walk the talk.

  • Jessica Vaughn

    How difficult it is in practice though!

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Daniel Burrus

Innovation Expert

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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