Leadership: You can’t predict the future. Get over it.

  |   future Print Friendly and PDF

“We only know two things about the future. It cannot be known. It will be different from what exists now and from what we now expect.”

Peter Drucker wrote that more than half a century ago. Back then, businesses acted as if the future wouldn’t be all that different. We made 5 and 10-year business plans. At one company I worked for, we updated the 10-year plan every 2 years.

You won’t find may businesses doing that today. Oh sure, folks like Jeff Bezos and Eric Schmidt tell you to have a long-term vision, but they’re not talking about a long-term plan. They’re talking about considering the future results of current actions.

If you’re going to lead in today’s world, you must lead differently than most of the people you learned leadership from. Here are three things to master and one thing to remember.

Curious You and The Changing Environment

The thing about change, especially disruptive change, is that it can come at you from any direction. That means you should keep your head up and in swivel mode, looking for possible opportunities and threats.

Develop the habit of curious scanning. Take time every week to poke around the internet and do a little research on whatever catches your attention. It will be fun, and most of the time, you won’t find anything. But when you find something that could have a potential impact on you and your business, you’ll have time to prepare for it.

Science-fiction writer William Gibson has said the future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed. Look for those spots where the future is here today. Pick up books like David Burkus’ Under New Management. Scan business publications for stories about companies doing things we all might do in 5 or 10 years.

One Answer Is Not Enough

When you find something that may disrupt your world, you must decide what to do about it. Don’t come up with just one solution. If you do that, you have an either/or choice. You won’t get many good decisions that way.

Make it a habit, even a rule, to develop at least three possible solutions for every problem. Develop three ways to seize any opportunity, three answers to every “What should we do?” question.

Once you’ve got three or more answers, compare, contrast, combine, and adapt. You’re much more likely to come up with a good, workable answer if you’ve got three or more starting points. Even so, most of your best answers won’t meet the test of reality the first time out.

Plan A Little, Try A Lot

I’ve heard several versions of this story. I will tell the one I heard about Ray Charles. Charles was in a recording session when several of the musicians argued about how to play a passage. Everybody had an opinion with solid, experienced reasoning behind it.

Suddenly, Charles slapped the top of his piano to get the conversation to stop. “Quit talking about it, and play it,” he said. “The only thing that matters is does it sound good!”

There’s a need for planning and discussion in business and most of life, but trying stuff solves a lot of theoretical arguments. Figure out a way to test your solutions. Experiment with new ways to do things. Iterate your way to greater effectiveness.

Human Nature Doesn’t Change

Technology changes almost hourly. Most fads and fashions come and go. Human nature doesn’t change.

Human nature has been the same since we crawled out of caves eons ago. No matter what the future brings, the people you work with will want the same things. Everyone wants to feel safe and do meaningful work with people they like. They want to know what you expect from them and how to determine how they’re doing without you telling them. They want to make progress, be praised for good work, and treated fairly.

Boss’s Bottom Line

The world is changing rapidly, so learn to adapt. Hone your scanning skills. Seek three or more solutions to every problem. Test your ideas and iterate your way to excellence. Develop your practical understanding of human nature to make it a great journey for everyone.

Join The Conversation

What People Are Saying

Travis   |   10 Feb 2019   |   Reply

I agree! One answer is never enough for me. I like to visualize a few options before I act. This seems to have granted me some deal of success thus far. Thank you for sharing.

Wally Bock   |   11 Feb 2019   |   Reply

Thanks, Travis. When you say you “visualize,” do you mean that you draw them on paper, like a mind map?