Does it sometimes seem like very little is certain? Does that make it hard to plan – to the point where you don’t plan and just take care of what’s required immediately? I had a chance to speak with Daniel Burrus, one of the world's leading technology forecasters and business strategists and author of “Flash Foresight” a New York Times and Wall Street Journal best seller. He has an approach that helps you bring “the certain” into focus and then act on that certainty.

There is always uncertainty. A current list of things causing this uncertainty includes our government, Greece, the future of health care, the upcoming elections and the economy. The more uncertainty, the more people and companies tend to sit tight rather than moving forward. However, those who can see the future with clarity will make the right moves and prosper. This is partially dependent on the ability to identify trends (in business, weather, sales, etc.), and according to Dan there are more than 300 known cycles that we can count on.

Dan pointed out some of the many things we’ve left behind and are not going back to - one-way changes with predictable consequences. Once you get a smartphone, you’re not going back to a dumb one. Once you get a car, you’re not going back to the bike. You’re not going back to nonrefrigeration. Will the iPhone 6 will have more processing power, storage and cloud usage than the iPhone 5? It certainly will. Processing power, storage and bandwidth are exponentially increasing. Moore’s law is alive and well. Just considering these certainties, Dan and I were able to predict (with certainty) a few industries that will be thriving – and others that will not.

Starting with certainty is the first of seven triggers which produce a “flash foresight.” The triggers are:

  1. Start with certainty (i.e., identify and verify hard trends).
  2. Anticipate (i.e., determine degree of probability of relevant contingencies).
  3. Transform (i.e., leverage technology-driven change).
  4. Skip what you think is your biggest problem (in fact, it isn't -- and never was).
  5. Go opposite (e.g., look where no one else does, see what no one else sees, do what no one else does).
  6. Redefine and reinvent (i.e., leverage your unique strengths in new and better ways).
  7. Direct your future -- or someone else will do it for you.

The idea of skipping what you think is your biggest problem is interesting to me because it sounds counterintuitive. The point is whatever problem bubbles up to the top is too large to take action on. You need to look elsewhere. One client of Dan’s shared that hiring researchers was their biggest problem, but it turns out they actually needed new ideas. The answer was a new model of research that brought in the ideas of a wider network.
“Going opposite” is also interesting. If the herd goes one way, there’s opportunity in the polar opposite direction. Consider, for example, Crocs shoes. They’re cheap, rubber and arguably unstylish. And they’re thriving amidst the established shoe companies producing expensive, upscale leather shoes.

What Do We Do?

Dan recommended that everyone needs to spend an unplugged hour every week focused on the visible future. Don’t go to the therapist when divorce is on the table. Don’t start losing weight when you have health issues. Don’t get the burglar alarm after the robbery. Do these things before!

Start by making a list of the things you’re certain about (like the aging of the population, the new workforce being comfortable and literate with computers, technology advancements, etc.) and solve problems before they happen. As Dan said, disruptive technology is only disruptive if you don’t see it coming.

In information management, we can be certain that data volumes are growing, that more data and additional data types will be utilized for business gain, that data will need to be cleaner, that data will be needed in increasingly progressive forms for use and with increased performance. Technologies will disrupt. Business collaboration will be facilitated by software. Performance will be managed at increasingly detailed levels. Analytic exploration will be essential and analytics democratized. People and process barriers to success will be disintermediated. Mobile capabilities will expand. And price-performing alternatives for all of this will be adopted.  

I need to wrap up this column now so I can do my unplugged hour for the week. Think about it and if you have any flash foresights to share or get feedback on, leave them in the online comments.

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