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Focus on the Future

Aug 17, 2007
As we move slowly into 2006, what are our thoughts? How is the year going to turn out? How successful will we be and what will happen to our businesses? The businesses we either own or manage. Looking back on the past few years with the changes from 9/11 onwards many have failed to see the subtle shifts in many industries and unsubtle shifts in others. The Airline industry, for instance, is in a subtle shift. From large airplanes to smaller Biz Jets, to even larger airplanes, and the largest carriers filing for Chapter 11. How is it going to pan out in 2006?

One thing that most of us fail to see is that while there are trends, (economists would not exist if there were not) there are also dramatic changes. Changes that catch us unaware. One change could however trigger a flood of new ideas and then we would have a trend, once again. Perhaps video iPods are an unsubtle shift for the advertising industry. The way we watch TV and adverts is about to change. We can select shows to down load and we can use TiVo skip ads.

Now we as managers would want to be watching out for radical departures from the norm. As a manager and leader, as a great leader, we need to anticipate changes, good and bad and be in place to work with them. Just as a surfer positions for a great wave. It is all about positioning and timing, as well as watching the trend but expecting the unexpected. The rogue wave with a right break, which just appears.

Unfortunately too many managers focus on reaction mode. Problem solving, reacting and appearing to be the hero. Mostly managers do this because they are judged by what they solved not what they avoided or created! In this mode businesses maintain but hardly ever outperform previous years results. It is all an act. The big picture is not understood and small fires become large by design.

Now if we were able to anticipate better we would be more able to avoid the fires all together. This anticipation would lead to managers allowing the strategies to be executed. Good anticipation comes from strategic exploration.

The road to exploration can be step by step (reductionistic) or holistic (a systems approach). It is a little of an art and a science. So this means practice, persistence and patience are required to develop your ability. As you improve your ability it will increase at an increasing rate and you will -see- the future changes. Powerful stuff!

So in order to be more anticipatory managers need to read widely, books, newspapers and journals but these days this includes many eZines, Blogs and even podcasts. There are many influential thinkers giving their ideas on how the world is changing.

So what are we looking for? We are looking for the signs of change. Just like we cannot see wind but we can see leaves move. We can judge direction and speed by seeing the shadows of clouds moving or ripples across the water. We need to find the indicators of change.

An example of predicting change and preparing. A large American cosmetic manufacturer read in a scientific journal, an article for a new simplified approach for making a colloidal gel. So they knew that there was a change coming in the base materials they used. Who was going to take this scientific discovery and bring it to their industry and how was it going to impact their industry? Would they be first? They needed to figure out where the leaves were moving to find an indication that this new method had been applied.

Nine months later a very small article in a local newspaper happened to mention a French cosmetic company had found a way of substantially reducing costs. Now this was not the Wall Street Journal or New York Times. Merely some small town paper that had picked up the story as a filler. Amazing that it was picked up by the cosmetic company? Luck or design?

The US manufacturer now had something to go on. The leaves had moved. It took a few months to uncover the company and discover that the new process substantially altered the landscape, such that they would no longer be profitable using the old processes. They had to negotiate a license or create their own new process in a hurry.

No amount of re engineering, TQM, consulting or application of IT systems would have made this company, and in fact the whole industry, competitive. Their world had changed. As Joel Barker would have said their paradigm shifted. It shifted them back to zero. They saw this and acted before they lost their industry to a new technology.

What advance is going to occur in your industry that would set you back to being a wanna be? How would you know if a competitor had developed this technology? What leaves are you watching? It may be closer than you think.
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