Being Anticipatory: The Missing Competency

We are all good at reacting and responding, putting out fires, and crisis management. In addition, organizations large and small have learned how to be lean and agile, and how to execute a strategy at a high level.


However, despite these skills, General Motors still declared bankruptcy, Blockbuster closed its last store, and Blackberry quickly moved from leading to bleeding. And let’s not forget Hewlett-Packard, Sony, Dell, and a host of other companies who failed to thrive despite its leaders and workers being responsive, agile, and executing well.

To thrive in this new age of hyper-change and growing uncertainty, it is now an imperative to learn a new competency—how to accurately anticipate the future. 

That may seem impossible, but it’s not. Much of the future is there for you to see when you know where and how to look for it. And when you and your employees master this skill, you’ll be able to create what I call an Anticipatory Organization™.

Based on three decades of research and applying the principles I’ve developed to organizations worldwide, I have developed a proven methodology for separating what I call Hard Trends from Soft Trends. Over the years I’ve written about this extensively in several best selling books, including my latest New York Times bestseller, Flash Foresight, and hundreds of articles and blogs.

A Hard Trend is a projection based on measurable, tangible, and fully predictable facts, events, or objects. It’s something that will happen: a future fact that cannot be changed. In contrast, a Soft Trend is a projection based on statistics that have the appearance of being tangible, fully predictable facts. It’s something that might happen: a future maybe. Hard Trends can’t be changed, but they can be identified before they impact you, your business, and your customers. Soft Trends can be changed, which means they provide a powerful vehicle to influence the future and can be capitalized on.

This distinction completely changes how individuals and organizations view and plan for the future. Understanding the difference between Hard and Soft Trends allows us to know which parts of the future we can be right about. When you learn how to analyze trends in this way, you can accurately predict future disruptions, identify and solve problems before they happen, and practice what I call “everyday innovation.” This enables you to solve challenges and problems faster and see opportunities that were impossible just a few years before. In other words, you become anticipatory rather than reactionary.

Employees of an anticipatory organization understand that those who can see the future most accurately will have the biggest advantage. They know that you cannot change the past, but you can shape the future based on the actions you take in the present. As such, they actively embrace the fact that many future disruptions, problems, and game-changing opportunities are predictable and represent unprecedented ways to gain advantage. They know that it’s better to solve predictable problems before they happen, and that future problems often represent the biggest opportunities. Above all else, they are confident and empowered by having a shared view of the future based on Hard Trends and what I call the Science of Certainty.”

What is the science of certainty? Once you can separate Hard Trends from Soft Trends—once you can differentiate between the things you know will happen from the things that might happen—you can accurately define the certainties going forward. For example, we know that the iPhone 7, 8, and 9 will all have faster processing chips than those before them. We know that after 3G and 4G will come 5G and 6G in a predictable way. And we know that we are putting more and more in the cloud—that we’re not going to discontinue using cloud computing.

Those are technical examples. Here are some non-technical ones: We know that Baby Boomers are not going to get younger. We know that governments are going to continue, all over the world, to issue future regulations. We know the cycles of nature, such as after winter comes summer.

In other words, there is so much we can see that it’s absolutely possible to create certainties using the Hard Trend/Soft Trend model I’ve developed. 

Why is this so important to business? Because strategy based on certainty (on Hard Trends) has low risk, while strategy based on uncertainty (on Soft Trends) has high risk. Also, when you have certainty, you have the confidence to say “yes,” to move forward, to hire, to start businesses. When you have uncertainty, it’s like a giant roadblock. You’re stuck and you don’t move forward. 

To succeed in business these days, simply being lean, agile, and executing well is no longer enough. You and your team need to harness the ability to anticipate the future. In fact, I see this as being the most important missing competency that we’ve seen for decades.

How much time do you spend trying to keep up, putting out fires, crisis managing, and reacting to change? Are these activities helping you to get ahead? Learning to be anticipatory can change that and provide you with a new way to actively shape your future.

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