Develop 'Flash Foresight'

Discover how to solve problems, unearth opportunities, and run a successful business.

May 4, 2011

Author Daniel Burrus describes “flash foresight” as looking into the future and transforming it into a new paradigm for solving problems, unearthing opportunities, and running successful businesses in the 21st century.

Four principles that lead to flash foresight results, according to Burrus:

1. Start with certainty. Use hard trends to see what’s coming. Learn to spot future trends long before your competitors do. Apple accurately harnessed the trends of accelerating bandwidth, processing power, and high-capacity storage to create the megahits iPod, iTunes, iPhone, and iPad. Meanwhile, Polaroid, Kodak, and Motorola spent years clinging to analog models while their competitors triumphed by grasping the arrival of the digital age.

GM failed to respond to trends that were obvious for more than a decade (rising gas prices driven by increased global demand from China and India, and improving quality from foreign rivals). Likewise, Blockbuster lost out to Netflix by failing to embrace the leap to virtual space.

2. Anticipate. Base your strategies on what you know about the future. Change from the “outside in” is typically disruptive. Change from the “inside out” is purposeful and constructive. Ask, “What are the problems I am about to have? What problems will my company be facing in the next few weeks, months, years? What problems will our customers be facing? What problems will my family and friends be facing?” Then look for creative ways to solve those problems before they happen.

3. Transform. Use technology-driven change to your advantage. Changing means continuing to do essentially the same thing, only introducing some variation in degree. Can you build a product a little bigger, smaller, faster, higher, longer? Increase the marketing budget? Add a few staff? Come up with a new slogan?

But GM can’t be fixed by changing, nor can the recorded music industry or television networks survive simply by changing. You must also transform. This means doing something utterly and radically different. It means re-imagining GM on a Dell model.

In the early 1990s Barnes & Noble superstores changed how consumers shop for books. By the mid-1990s, Amazon was transforming how consumers shop for books, which then transformed how they shop for everything.

Considering hard trends, ask, “How can I expect my own industry to transform in the years ahead?”

And equally important, according to Burrus: “How can I give my current and future customers the ability to do what they can’t do but would want to—if they knew it was possible?”

4. Take your biggest problem and skip it. It’s not the real problem anyway.

Eli Lilly wanted to reinvigorate the company and its products. Executives believed to do so they needed to hire at least 1,000 new employees but also believed they couldn’t afford the expense.

So Eli Lilly created an online scientific forum and posted difficult chemical and molecular problems, offering to pay anyone who could solve them. The result? A virtual R&D talent pool that led to the creation of more products.

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