Special Report – Seeing the Invisible and Doing the Impossible

Have you ever wished you could predict the future — and be right? What would it be like if you could clearly see critical changes in the months and years ahead, and use those glimpses to shape that future, instead of just letting it unfold by default?

Well, you can accurately predict enough of the future to make all the difference. In fact, you can hone your ability to trigger a burst of accurate insight about the future and use it to produce a new and radically different way of doing things. Called a flash foresight, this is about looking into the future and transforming it into a new paradigm for solving “impossible” problems, unearthing “invisible” opportunities, and positioning the CIO’s role as key to leading the organization to success now and in the future.

For the past 25 years, I have been studying and systematically applying flash foresight, and, as I discuss in my new book by the same name, I have discovered seven principles or “triggers” that lead to flash foresight results. They are:

Start with certainty: Use hard trends to see what’s coming – You can use the power of certainty to spot and profit from future trends long before your competitors do. Just look at Apple, who accurately saw the trends of accelerating bandwidth, processing power, and high-capacity storage and harnessed them to create the mega-hits iPod, iTunes, iPhone and iPad. Meanwhile, Polaroid, Kodak and Motorola spent years clinging to analog models while their competitors triumphed by grasping the arrival of the digital age.

Likewise, GM failed to respond to trends that were obvious for over a decade (rising gas prices driven by increased global demand from China and India, and improving quality from foreign rivals), and Blockbuster Video lost out to Netflix by failing to embrace the leap to virtual space.

Remember 1999, when the U.S. government predicted a trillion-dollar surplus? We’ve all made similar, wildly wrong predictions because we confuse cyclical change (the stock market) with linear change (population growth), and don’t know how to distinguish hard trends (baby boomers are aging) from soft trends (there won’t be enough doctors to treat aging baby boomers). However, by distinguishing what’s certain (future fact) from what’s uncertain (future maybe), you can make accurate predictions.

Anyone can avoid the fate of Polaroid, Kodak, Motorola, GM and Blockbuster, and instead create must-have products and high-demand services as Apple, Canon, Toyota, Netflix and so many others have by seeing what others can’t: the hard trends that are shaping our future.

Anticipate: Base your strategies on what you know about the future – Change from the outside-in is typically disruptive. Change from the inside-out is purposeful and constructive. This is the kind of change that allows you to direct your future and seize your destiny. The only possible way to operate within that kind of change environment is by becoming anticipatory.

Based on the certainty of hard trends, this is about asking yourself, “What are the problems I am about to have? What problems will my company be facing in the next few weeks, months, years? What problems will our customers be facing? What problems will my spouse, my children, and my friends be facing?” … then looking for creative ways to solve those problems before they happen.

Another good question to ask is: “What is my ideal future 10, 15, or even 20 years from now? What are some of the steps I could take to shape that future now?”

When you anticipate your future challenges and opportunities, you can redefine your product or service to capitalize on the hard trends you see unfolding, enter new markets, and become the leader. Remember that change is going to happen whether you want it to or not. From education to health care, agriculture to energy to manufacturing, it will burst through every industry and every institution, metamorphosing everything and leaving nothing untouched in its wake. It will disrupt catastrophically every aspect of every industry and every aspect of human activity — except for those who see it coming.

Transform: Use technology-driven change to your advantage – For many industries changing often means continuing to do essentially the same thing, only introducing some variation in degree. Build it a little bigger, smaller, faster, higher, longer. Increase the marketing budget. Add a few staff to the department. Build a snazzier-looking SUV. Come up with a new slogan. But GM cannot be fixed by changing, nor can the recorded music industry or television networks survive simply by changing.

Embracing change is no longer enough. We need to transform.

Transformation means doing something utterly and radically different. It means nanofusion; it means putting oil rigs at the bottom of the ocean and reimagining GM on a Dell model. In the early 1990s Barnes & Noble superstores changed how we shop for books. By the mid-1990s, Amazon.com was transforming how we shop for books, which then transformed how we shop for everything.