Think like a Futurist

Taken from an interview with Lisa Bodell.

Lisa Bodell is the CEO of futurethink, an internationally recognized innovation and research training firm. Her book Kill the Company: End the Status Quo, Start an Innovation Revolution was named a Best Business Book of 2012 by Booz & Co.

Today, all entrepreneurs must be strategic futurists. And remember that the future is not something that’s out there already happening—we can shape it and proactively go after the future we want. Here are some trends that will help:

In the future, entrepreneurs will be less concerned about hiring and more concerned about their networks. Instead, businesses will have the Hollywood studio model: You get the best people together for the duration of a project—the best director, best actors, best cinematographer, and so on. Then everyone moves on to other projects. Sometimes they “get the band back together” for another project, but they’re not linked together permanently.

The same will be true for businesses. Just as your data is in the cloud, the people in your network will be, too, and you will be drawing from the best and brightest and bringing them together when needed. In my business, I need to have trainers on every continent, but I don’t want them all the time, just when I need them. Today I’ll begin training someone in Singapore via Skype. I found her by asking around in my network, and two unrelated people recommended her. I won’t meet her in person for a few months, but we’ll know each other well by then.

The cachet of having a fancy office and a big staff will become increasingly passé. Nobody comes to the office; they want you to come to them. People are evaluating you and your business by your website, by your client list, by your LinkedIn profile, by your YouTube videos, by personal recommendations, and by how fast you return a phone call. It all matters because it’s all a reflection of your company.

Plan B will be key. Running a business will increasingly require the ability to pivot. Yes, you have a vision and a strategy, but you must have a Plan B, C, and D. For example, let’s say your idea is for your small business to do everything virtually; then, you realize your clients want more face time. So you go to more of a hub-and-spoke model where you have a headquarters and certain functional employees are in-house. In Plan C, you bring everyone in-house. People used to think going to a backup plan meant failure, but now they know it’s just being smart.

Entrepreneurs must book time every day for scanning. I don’t mean just reading the news, but spending time looking for offbeat things, for “weak signals.” Go to trend websites like Follow people in your industry on Twitter. You can’t think of yourself as just a “New York small business” anymore, because your customers can come from anywhere. So read about international trends—for example, maybe you sell great bikes, and there’s a new passion in South Korea for biking that creates an opportunity for you. Google your business and the year 2020 to see what other people are saying about the future of your business.

Too often small businesses are following lagging indicators, doing what the big guys are doing. In the coming decade, entrepreneurial companies will be the leading indicator. Big companies will be coming to their knees because of small business, not the other way around.