Some years ago, I wrote: “Put simply: the future leaders are you and me, and we must lead on, we must be visionary, and we must learn the power and energy of the whole.” Since you and I are the leaders who must be visionary, I now ask the question: have you thought of yourself as a futurist?
During my doctoral program, I took an enlightening course from Dr. Gary Delka on strategic planning. While this course focused particularly on educational practitioners who were in the throes of restructuring, I sincerely believe the fundamental principles have equal relevance for business owners, especially those who are seeking some connection to the future. I wish to discuss five principles of viewing into the future. While these five do not encompass the entire strategic planning process, they represent basic principles of looking at ourselves as planners and visionaries.
Following a formula for success—Ironically, planning is formulaic. Normally, planning does not just occur. Perhaps some of you have experienced instant success without much planning, but most of us have to plan for it. Consider this formula: p x f = pr. Simply, this formula is “the past interacting with the future equals the present.” If you truly want to compete in the future, this formula should be followed as you strategically plan your future restructuring. Remember: reform is cosmetic; restructuring, on the other hand, is changing the way we do business.
Scanning to see who you are and what you are about—An important ingredient of looking at the future hinges on scanning. All stakeholders need to be involved, looked at, or even visited. Stakeholders include customers, internal and external. Additionally, you must look at what the competition is doing. Analysis of critical issues also plays an integral part of the scanning process. Certainly there are issues that are relevant to your future plans. Bottom line is scanning is taking a look at yourselves, your customers, the competition, and any critical issues that might become barriers in your quest to compete in the future.
Recognizing the present but be willing to go beyond—Many of you have heard of the story about the man who loved to drive his sports car on country roads. One day he was driving out in the country when he approached his most favorite curve. But before he got there, he saw another car coming toward, swerving back and forth, almost out of control. When the car passed him, the woman yelled out, “Pig!” Thinking her comment as rude, he yelled back, “Cow!” Still fuming how could she call him such a sour name, he roared into the curve and ran right into a pig. Instead of thinking beyond his own narrow paradigm, he failed to listen to the warning, thus causing him to crash into a pig. Are you listening and recognizing present warnings that might impede you from performing in the future?
Using the information available—Driselli once said, “As a general rule, the most successful man is the one with the information and uses it effectively.” Our current world spits out information much faster than we can assimilate it. This can cause a problem if we do know how to gather the information that is relevant to our business. As information thunders down the conveyor belt, we must be there to pick off the data that pertains to us. That means, we must know from our scanning what information is relevant to the future growth of our business. Often that information comes from within our own company.
Looking to the future and taking control of it—Many of us sit idly by, thinking—and sometimes hoping and praying— the future might actually pass us by. Unfortunately, if we take this perspective, the future will engulf us, and it definitely will pass us by, leaving us to wonder what happen to us or to our businesses. The key ingredient is that “I am in control of mine own destiny.” Often we find ourselves being puppeteered by someone or something else. Actually, “we are the final generation of an old civilization and the first generation of a new one” (Heidi and Alvin Toffler (1994) in Creating a New Civilization: The Politics of the Third Wave, p. 21). Basically, whether you want to believe it or not, the future is upon us.
Overall, we must think of ourselves as futurists with the ability to peer into the future and see ourselves there, in plain and living color. We must believe we are the ones in control of what we do. Granted, there may be “things” that emerge that we might not be totally prepared for, but our renewed ability to analyze and diagnose a problem will help us overcome these obstacles. More importantly, we must adhere to Virgil’s philosophy of old: “They can because they think they can.” Therefore, think away and be successful!