Tag Archives: The Extreme Future

“You Don’t Need to Embrace Change” – Some Advice You Won’t be Reading These Days

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.

Bob Dylan: The Times, They are a Changin’

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The jury is in.  There is true consensus.  The times, they are a changin’…  and because they are, everyone in business; everyone with a career; everyone! has to change a little (or a lot) to keep up.

Business books, plural, all seem to find a way to say this.

In Get There Early:  Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present Using Foresight to Provoke Strategy and Innovation by Bob Johansen (Institute for the Future), we are reminded that we live in a VUCA world:
the VUCA world of (VUCA originated at the U. S. Army War College – the graduate school for Generals-to-be):  Volatility; Uncertainty; Complexity; Ambiguity.

In As the Future Catches You:  (How Genomics and Other Forces are Changing Your Life, Work, Health, and Wealth), Juan Enriquez:
If it seems like your world has been topsy-turvy over the past few years…  Consider what’s coming.  Your genetic code will be imprinted on an ID card…  For better and worse.  Medicines will be tailored to your genes and will help prevent specific diseases for which you may be at risk…  It all starts because we are mixing apples, oranges, and floppy disks.
Many are unprepared for…  the violence and suddenness with which…   new technologies change…  Lives…  Companies…  Countries…  Because they do not understand what these technologies can do.

In The Extreme Future: The Top Ten Trends That Will Reshape the World for the Next 5, 10, and 20 Years by James Canton, CEO and Chairman, Institute for Global Futures:
Everyone needs to think differently about the future, a future that is riddled with change, challenge, and risk.  It is a new kind of future, not the steady plodding of progress from one moment to the next, punctuated by brief bursts of innovation that characterizes much of history.  Now we face a post-9/11 future.  The future of our lives, of our work, of our businesses – and most of all, the future of our world – depends on us gaining a new understanding of the dizzying changes that lie ahead.  I call this future-readiness.

And, to look at a direct “holy mackerel, what’s going to happen to my job?” concern, in Innovation Is Everybody’s Business:  How To Make Yourself Indispensable In Today’s Hypercompetitive World by Robert B. Tucker:
Simply working harder will not be enough.  Relying solely on your functional skills and expertise will not be enough.  And even accumulating more years of experience on the job will not be enough.
The underlying issue is this.  The system wants to eliminate your job.

I could go on and on. I’ve read hundreds of business books over the last 13+ years, and not once have I read a book that says this:

“You don’t need to embrace change.  Just keep doing what you’re doing, the way you are doing it now, for the next few years.  You’ll be fine.”

Not once.

And I am ready to state something close to an absolute:  if you think your job, your career, your company, your organization, will stay pretty much the same; or, if you think you can do what you need to do to be successful in your job without learning anything new, without preparing yourself for pretty unsettling change(s) – then you are living in fantasyland.

The jury is in. The times, they are a changin’.  And the more we get with that program, the better off we will be.

But, oh, we do not like change.  We do not like preparing for change.  We do not like acknowledging that change is necessary.  We do not like admitting that change is upon us.

But it is.

The times, they are a changin’…

I Keep Thinking About Change

Everyone needs to think differently about the future, a future that is riddled with change, challenge, and risk.  It is a new kind of future, not the steady plodding of progress from one moment to the next, punctuated by brief bursts of innovation that characterizes much of history.  Now we face a post-9/11 future.  The future of our lives, of our work, of our businesses – and most of all, the future of our world – depends on us gaining a new understanding of the dizzying changes that lie ahead.  I call this future-readiness.
• James Canton, The Extreme Future:  The Top Ten Trends That Will Reshape the World for the Next 5, 10, and 20 Years

I keep thinking about change.  I’ve posted a lot about change.  And I am, at times, confused.  Do you ever feel that way?

On the one hand, the business books seem to have a very consistent message.  Change is good.  Change is necessary.  Change is inevitable.  Change is already here.  (The Future Arrived Yesterday).   Change is all around us.  Nothing stays the same.  Nothing can stay the same.  We’ve got to embrace change, pursue change, love change, champion change.  We’ve got to be perpetually innovating, we’ve got to be change agents, we’ve got to lead the way to change.

Is there any one left on the business world planet who is ready to argue that change is bad, that we should oppose change?  Anybody?  I didn’t think so.

So, we agree — change is the way we ought to go, the way we must go.

And yet, I read that change is hard, that change is not popular.  I read that people don’t want to change, that people don’t change.  I read that the status quo is the most powerful force in the universe (ok — the 2nd most powerful force in the universe, right behind the irresistible attraction to Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla).

So — I ‘m confused.  And I suspect I am like a whole lot of others.  I have read a lot of books about change.  I know the vocabulary.  I think I understand the concept pretty well.  And I know the warnings that not changing is career/corporate suicide.

But I don’t like to change.  I don’t even think that I want to change.  Do you?  (And if you say you do, do you really think you are telling the truth?)

If we know that change is so good, so necessary, and if we know that change would enhance our lives, further our careers, help make the world a better place — then why do we not like to change, and why is it so very hard to change?

I really don’t know the answer…  but here’s a thought.  To do things the same way is “easy.”  Oh, it is still work, but it is “easy” work.  To do things in a new way requires a whole new level of effort. And we really are tired — tired from dealing with all the change around us.  It is easier, less effort, to just keep doing stuff the same way.  Even when we know that to do it in a new way, a “changed” way, would be better.  In fact, deep down I think we do know that if we don’t learn the new way, the “changed” way, we might really, really lose — our jobs, our careers, our future…

So, we know we should change.  And we don’t change.  Not enough.  Not often enough.

Anyway, I keep thinking about change.

The Unpredictable Future – Forecasting the Unpredictable

Get There Early

The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. (Abraham Lincoln, 1862 Annual Message to Congress).

I just re-watched Joel Barker’s newest version of his video, The Business of Paradigms.  (See Bob’s interview with Joel Barker from our blog here).  His example of a company that was “sent back to zero,” thus lost out in the midst of a paradigm shift, was Motorola, which switched from analog to digital a few moments too late, and Nokia took over the cell phone market.  The video is a little dated — and now Blackberry, and of course the iPhone, are creating the most buzz, though Nokia is still quite healthy.  Who will lead five years from now?  No one knows for sure.  The life span of a product’s success and dominance has never been as potentially short as it is today.

I recently presented a synopsis of the book Get There Early (Get There Early:  Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present; Using Foresight to Provoke Strategy and Innovation by Bob Johansen, Institute for the Future) to an association of Grantmakers meeting in Sante Fe.  Their world has been greatly effected by the economic downturn.  And one thing was clear – the better you can prepare for the unpredictable future right around the corner, the better you will be able to weather the storm.

Here are some key quotes from this thought-provoking book:

• In today’s marketplace, we have little buffer time between our decisions and their impacts.
• The most intense pain that leaders experience, the pain that keeps them awake at night, is caused by not being able to solve problems…  Every profession has become a dangerous profession – every leader is at risk, and the range of risk is growing.
• For corporations, get there early means finding new markets, new customers, and new products ahead of your competitors…  For non-profits, get there early means anticipating the needs of your stakeholders and sensing emerging issues before they become overwhelming or before others who don’t agree with your issues have taken a commanding position.  Get there early means seeing a possible future before others see it.  Get there early also means being able to act before others have figured out what to do.

Johansen does not claim that we can predict the future.  In fact, he argues that we cannot do so.  But he does strongly recommend forecasting the future.  Here’s another quote:

• A forecast is a plausible, internally consistent view of what might happen.  It is designed to be provocative…  We don’t use the word prediction…  A prediction is almost always wrong… A forecast doesn’t need to come true to be worthwhile.

Johansen recommends a three step approach – foresight, insight, and action.  He includes a number of examples.  Here’s one about Wikipedia:

The Story of Wikipedia’s Encyclopedia for the World

• Foresight:  Much of the world will have limited access to knowledge
• Insight:  The world needs a free, open-source encyclopedia
• Action:  Create Wikipedia

His (Jimmy Wales) ambitious goal is to include “all human knowledge.

I have read (and presented) other books that deal with possible futures coming around the next corner, especially The Extreme Future by James Canton.  He wrote:

Everyone needs to think differently about the future, a future that is riddled with change, challenge, and risk.  It is a new kind of future, not the steady plodding of progress from one moment to the next, punctuated by brief bursts of innovation that characterizes much of history.  Now we face a post-9/11 future.  The future of our lives, of our work, of our businesses – and most of all, the future of our world – depends on us gaining a new understanding of the dizzying changes that lie ahead.  I call this future-readiness.

But the warnings about the potential dangers are everywhere around us in the business book universe.  Gary Hamel in The Future of Management reminds us:

Every business is successful until it’s not.  What’s disconcerting, though, is how often top management is surprised when “not” happens.

And, of course, Nicholas Talib in The Black Swan warns us that there is always another Black Swan waiting to be revealed:

Just imagine how little your understanding of the world on the eve of the events of 1914 would have helped you guess what was to happen next.

So, back to Johansen.  His advice:  forecast!  Create future scenarios, or use some other technique to paint a picture in order to think about the future.  The more possible futures you can imagine and prepare for, the better you will be able to survive that unexpected future that will most assuredly arrive.

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• You can order synopses of my presentations for The Black Swan, The Extreme Future, and The Future of Management, at our companion web site, 15 Minute Business Books.  I hope to add the synopsis for Get There Early to the site soon.

(The Woes of MySpace) The Future is Utterly Predictable — it is a Future of Constant Innovation

Boy, those old staid companies sure do get in trouble because they fail to innovate.  Yes, the times are changing, and companies better learn how to stay fresh, keep improving, keep changing.  When they’ve been around forever, it is awfully easy to get set in their ways, and watch the competition sweep right on by them.

Take that old venerable company known as MySpace.  It has been around forever.  It was way back in August, 2003 when they launched.  Times were different then.  And what they set in place back in those long-gone days just doesn’t seem to work anymore.  So the CEO Owen Van Natta, in a letter to his employees in which he announced and explained the decision to lay off 30% of their workers (400 workers), included this sober assessment:  “We need to become a more innovative company.” (read about the layoffs here, and the entire letter from the CEO here).  (Here’s a little more of his letter:  “The future success of MySpace is dependent upon us operating as a nimble and entrepreneurial company with the adaptive mentality of a start-up…  I believe this is the first difficult step toward a major turnaround – a step that will not only shore us up in the short term, but position us for long term success. We need to become a more innovative company.  Becoming more innovative is an ongoing responsibility for all of us, not a one-time effort”).

It does sound a little ludicrous, doesn’t it?  I mean, I can understand that a company as old and established as GM might get a little behind in the innovation contest.   But MySpace?  This company is only six years old.  It’s been less than six years ago that you could not have built your own MySpace page.  And yet, here it is in stark, sobering words:  “We need to become a more innovative company.”  Competitors like Facebook, and now Twitter, have just swept right on by MySpace because they are more innovative.  Who would have thought?

We should have known it was coming.  We’ve been warned.  The business books of the last 12 years have all said it, loud and clear.  The future is coming, and it’s going to be different from the past.  Constantly different.  Perpetually innovating.  The world is changing faster and faster and faster…  Here’s just a sampling of quotes:

“If it seems like your world has been topsy-turvy over the past few years…  Consider what’s coming…  Technology is not kind.  It does not wait.  It does not say please.  It slams into existing systems, and often destroys them – while creating a new system.”  (Juan Enriquez, As the Future Catches You).

“It’s finally happened.  I’ve seen a company where I can imagine working!”  Innovation is it, for the foreseeable future…”  {Tom Peters, from the foreword}.  (Tom Kelley, The Art of Innovation:  Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm).

“You want to wake up your organization to the need for a strategic shift and a break from the status quo.”  (W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne,  Blue Ocean Strategy:  How to Create Uncontested Market Space and make the Competition Irrelevant).

“Even the world’s “most admired” companies aren’t as adaptable as they need to be, as innovative as they need to be, or as much fun to work in as they should be…  To put it bluntly, management innovation pays…  Remember the old saw about the tendency of generals to refight the last war rather than the one at hand?”  (Gary Hamel, The Future of Management).

“The premise of this book is a simple one:  that breakthrough innovations come by recombining the people, ideas, and objects of past technologies.  The implication, recalling William Gibson, is that the future is already here – it’s just unevenly distributed.”  (Andrew Hargadon, How Breakthroughs Happen:  The Surprising Truth About How Companies Innovate).

“When it comes to thriving in a hypercompetitive marketplace, “playing it safe” is no longer playing it smart…  the more you do something, the more important it is to challenge the assumptions and habits that built your success so as to generate a wave of innovations to build the future…  Remember, the most effective leaders are the most insatiable learners. (William C. Taylor and Polly LaBarre,  Mavericks at Work:  Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win).

“To change is to take a risk – to give up a current state in an attempt to reach a potentially more desirable one.  We tend to resist change…  In this new (postmodern or post-Web corporate world) hypercompetitive environment, market transitions are a lot faster, and the cycle of innovation has gotten increasingly shorter…  new products and services started appearing more and more frequently, resulting in even more competition.  (including:  real-time information).  Reengineering found itself outdated.”  (Benham N. Tabrizi, Rapid Transformation:  A 90-Day Plan For Fast And Effective Change).

“I held only positions that did not exist before I had them…  Conceptualizers see the future.”  (Robert Greenleaf, Servant Leadership:  A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness).

Everyone needs to think differently about the future, a future that is riddled with change, challenge, and risk.  It is a new kind of future, not the steady plodding of progress from one moment to the next, punctuated by brief bursts of innovation that characterizes much of history.  Now we face a post-9/11 future.  The future of our lives, of our work, of our businesses – and most of all, the future of our world – depends on us gaining a new understanding of the dizzying changes that lie ahead.  I call this future-readiness…  The coming Innovation Economy will herald an age of rapid, dramatic change, one in which ideas that create value, offer solutions, and fulfill needs will thrive, sweeping into the recesses of memory the comparatively primitive ideas, products, services, and processes that came before.  Innovation will be the prime source of productivity, prosperity, competition, and potentially even peace.  Innovation will be recognized as an empowering force that will drive individual prosperity and global competition.  (James Canton, Ph.D., CEO and Chairman, Institute for Global Futures, The Extreme Future:  The Top Ten Trends That Will Reshape the World for the Next 5, 10, and 20 Years).

“Never get comfortable with where you are.  Anticipate the inevitability of having to modify or change how you do business to meet your customers’ needs…  Organizations that refuse to change their methods to meet demands are likely the same stubborn organizations that are slowly going out of business.  Change is never over, said Jack Welch.”  (Ron Hunter Jr. & Michael E. Waddell, Toy Box Leadership:  Leadership Lessons from the Toys You Loved as a Child).

So, let’s all let the MySpace story be an object lesson for us all.  If we are not constantly innovating, the competition will simply pass us by.  Remember the warning from Gary Hamel:”  Every business is successful — until it’s not.”

(To purchase my synopses of many of the books quoted, with handout + audio, go to our 15 Minute Business Book site).