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Keeping Up is a Fool’s Game

Many business consultants agree that benchmarking is imperative to strategic planning. By using metrics, a business will study the practices, designs, and financial outcomes of industry leaders with one distinct purpose: To keep up with the pacesetters.

There’s just one problem. Keeping up—with technology, with the competition, with anything in business or life—is what some would call a fool’s game. Think about it: When you’re merely keeping up, what’s the advantage? In reality, there is no advantage; all you’re doing is making yourself just like everyone else.

So how do you gain advantage and truly stand out from the crowd? Here are three suggestions.

1. Get off the Treadmill

Rather than keeping up, a smarter way to benchmark means you will look to the future. Most benchmarking practices are based on two questions:

  • What path are my competitors on right now?
  • And, what are all the successful companies evolving to?

However, there is a third question to ask yourself – and it’s key to moving past the pacesetters:

  • What’s the likely progression of the industry as a whole?

Asking these questions enables you to go beyond your competition and get off the treadmill of keeping up. It opens your eyes to future possibilities—to stay ahead of the pack instead of side-by-side with them.

In my latest book, The Anticipatory Organization: Turn Disruption and Change into Opportunity and Advantage, I reinforce the major competitive edge that comes from the ability to accurately anticipate the future. Think of being anticipatory as a new competency; it’s a mindset that teaches you to elevate tried-and-true strategies like benchmarking to new levels. Unlike traditional benchmarking, which looks backwards and measures what has already worked, being anticipatory requires you to look forward.

2. Use Hard Trends to Get Ahead

Ask yourself: Is your industry faced with cyclical changes, such as seasonal, economic, or sales cycles? If the answer yes, you can expect the normal ebbs and flows that go along with that. But, if the answer is no, there may be even opportunity out there.

Trends that are linear (and not cyclical) present the best opportunity for exponential change. These are trends in technology and innovation that show no signs of slowing down. Think about the future of virtualization, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT). How could advances in these areas impact your business?

I call the latter, Hard Trends, and they are things that are sure to happen based on their upward trajectory and other considerations I talk about in the Anticipatory Organization. Knowing how to identify them can give you a powerful window to the future.

3. Learn from a Leader

While Blockbuster worked to maintain its foothold as the largest movie-rental outlet, Netflix was redefining the concept altogether.

Though Netflix began in 1997 by lending or selling physical DVDs to its customers, it already had a technology platform. Consumers could order their movies online and have them delivered through the mail. One thing it didn’t do was open a brick-and-mortar store.

Ten years later, Netflix added streaming media to its mail-order business. From there, consumer behavior and digital technology took care of the rest. By the time Netflix reinvented itself as a content creator in 2012, the majority of its content was consumed online – including on tablets and phones, which didn’t even exist when the company began.

The key here is to realize that moving beyond competition into innovation wasn’t just a small tweak in order to hit a benchmark; it was a complete change in direction. Netflix didn’t even try to compete in the physical space, they made a one-way move and invested in the future of streaming technology instead.

Are you anticipating the future with confidence? If you want to learn more about the Anticipatory Organization, my new book is available on Amazon.com now.

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Best Practices Body Language Culture Health and Wellness Management

Elevate Your Success with Five Simple Steps

People often convince themselves that highly successful individuals who possess a special gift set themselves apart from everyone else. However, the reality is that your ability to have success, however you define it, can be accomplished with a few simple steps.

Personal responsibility for our actions is seldom championed in society these days, and like it or not, we all live with the consequences of the lifestyle choices that we make every day. We can sit in an office staring at a spreadsheet waiting for our situation to improve or make a few changes that will put us on a path to shaping a better future for ourselves and others. The following are five simple steps you can take to elevate your level of success.

1. Challenge Your Habits and Change Your Routine

It is incredibly easy to fall into the comforts offered by habits and routines, those that make our lives feel like a scene from Groundhog Day, in which the alarm wakes us at the same time every day as we hit the snooze button at least once before jumping into the shower. The familiarity of the daily grind, in which grabbing a coffee as you head into the office before performing the same tasks, can be comforting, yet we often wonder why nothing ever changes.

Our education system tends to encourage everyone to learn one correct answer and basically think in the same way. And when it comes to creativity, only a small number of people might be thought of as “creatives,” but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Technology is increasingly replacing laborious and repetitive tasks with automation. Creativity and critical thinking have become essential skills in the 21st century and possess the power to make you stand out from the crowd.

There are countless self-help books that advise you how to create new patterns and habits to help you achieve your goals. However, simply getting off the hamster wheel of life and allowing yourself to mix things up by both thinking and doing things differently is a great place to start, and it will stimulate creative thought.

2. Surround Yourself with People Who Lift You Up

They say that we become like the five people we spend the most time with, and ultimately they have the power to either inspire or drain us, so maybe it’s time to re-evaluate the amount of time that you spend with toxic individuals who only bring you down.

Surround yourself with like-minded souls on a similar journey or, better yet, those who can see the big picture better than you can. They will help you see failure as an opportunity and will certainly increase your odds of achieving your dreams.

Business is 80% people and 20% everything else, and this illustrates the importance of investing your time in getting to know open-minded individuals who enjoy helping turn others’ dreams into reality. What if you surrounded yourself with inspiration?

3. Fuel Your Creativity

If you begin your day reading the news that reminds you of all the negative aspects of our world, followed by looking at social media sites that show snapshots of lives that are edited to look much better than your own, you will never increase your productivity or creativity. I like to start each day thinking of all the things I’m grateful for. It’s hard to have a bad day when you start your day like this. Try it!

Whether they are stuck in a traffic jam or are on a delayed train or airplane, or even doing household chores, highly successful people unleash the power of refueling their creativity during these moments of “dead time” by reading books or listening to podcasts.

Books and podcasts on subjects that stretch your thinking are a fantastic way to stay inspired and learn new tools you can use to resolve problems that are stopping you from reaching your goals. Try having fewer calls with people who pull you down and don’t help you move forward, and instead call people who lift you up, or watch a good TED Talk or listen to podcasts or audiobooks that offer advice and insights from others.

Removing yourself from a routine or familiar surroundings and going for a walk in a direction where you haven’t gone before instead of staring at a screen will help a lot. Highly successful individuals often find that their brains will naturally join the dots when they expose themselves to new ideas, surroundings and experiences.

4. Bring Focus and Clarity to Your Dreams

Bringing focus and clarity to your dreams while working alone in front of a computer in a dimly lit room is good, but is not enough on its own. Do not underestimate the importance of sharing and communicating your vision with others. It will attract the right people to you who will begin to see where you are going and offer ideas to help you get there.

By sharing your passion for a future vision and communicating the message with transparency on how it will be achieved, you will find people who can help you to create a solid path to achieve your goals.

5. Embrace Marginal Gains

When Dave Brailsford became the manager of Great Britain’s professional cycling team, no British cyclist had ever won the Tour de France. However, he had a simple concept known as “aggregation of marginal gains” that would revolutionize the sport and lead to his team members becoming tournament champions and Olympic gold medal winners.

The philosophy involved improving tiny areas that were traditionally overlooked by 99 percent in the belief that a long list of 1% improvements would be the difference between being champions or losers.

Researching for a pillow that offered the best sleep for cyclists to take to hotels, and teaching riders the best way to wash their hands to avoid infection, were just a few of a long list of improvements that, although they looked tiny, ended up making a massive difference.

Whether you want to lose weight, build a business or achieve any other goal in life, it’s clear that heading straight for the moon with only one step will almost certainly result in failure or demotivation.

Small changes to your daily routine, such as creating a new email signature or changing those boring, stuffy group meetings by asking better questions, could boost your momentum and enthusiasm. All these changes not only deliver long-term improvements but also improve the overall quality of your life.

Will what got you to where you are be enough to take you to the next level? There are entire chapters on how to act in the future in my latest book The Anticipatory Organization. I’ll buy the book, you pay the shipping cost. Click here to order your copy.
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Best Practices Culture Economics Entrepreneurship Industries Leadership Marketing Personal Development Technology

To See the Future, Think Both/And

Whenever a new game-changing technology is introduced, our instinct is to assume that the current technology we are using will quickly become obsolete and will vanish from our use.

History has shown that the hottest new breakthrough technologies do not necessarily replace older ones. Instead, they often coexist side by side because the old technology has its own unique profile of functional strengths that the new technology never fully replaces.

How many times have you greeted a new innovation with an either/or assumption? Either you use the old or the new. But this is not an either/or world we live in; it’s a both/and world. It’s a world that is both paper and paperless, online and in-person, old media and new media.

Yes, No or Some of Both

In my latest book, The Anticipatory Organization: Turn Disruption and Change into Opportunity and Advantage, I teach readers how to gain a major competitive edge by learning to accurately anticipate the future. This is a skill that can be learned, and in this blog I’ll share one of the principles I have used for decades to accurately predict the future of technological change, one that you will be able to apply in countless ways: the Both/And Principle.

First, a bit of history. In the early 1980s, I developed the Both/And Principle and started applying it with great success. Here are some examples that will help you to see how to use it yourself.

Either/Or Assumption #1:

The introduction of digital documents meant that we would all be 100% paperless in a few years.

For example, in the late 1980s, when CD-ROMs were introduced, industry experts, the press and futurists predicted that by the mid-1990s, offices would be completely paperless. At the time I applied the Both/And Principle and predicted that we would have increasing amounts of both digital documents as well as paper documents in the future. It’s now 2018 and we are still managing both paper and digital documents.

Why is paper still around? Paper is inexpensive, portable and can be folded and tucked in a pocket or purse. It is an inexpensive display medium that does not need power. In addition, a handwritten paper note of gratitude to an employee is far better than sending a text or an email.  So instead of asking “How can I eliminate all paper?” a better question I had my clients ask was, “What is the best use for paper and the best use for digital?”

Either/Or Assumption #2:

E-commerce will render brick-and-mortar retail stores completely obsolete.

In the mid-1990s, around the time that Netscape, Yahoo!, eBay and many other Web-based businesses started rapidly growing, many futurists and the media predicted that bookstores, auto dealerships, shopping malls and retail stores in general would soon be obsolete.

The logic was that a physical store can only hold a few hundred or several thousand items while a virtual store gives you access to millions of items or titles 24/7.

So why do retail stores continue to survive and why are many even thriving? The answer is that physical shopping is experiential, not just transactional. Brick-and-mortar stores and malls that have continued to elevate the customer experience are social gathering places that create a sense of community, which technology can’t fully replace. In addition, many products are difficult to buy without physically seeing them and trying them out. Others require a knowledgeable person to help you make a decision. Why did Apple open an Apple Store? If you have been there, you know why. Why is Amazon opening brick-and-mortar bookstores? Now you know why.

Either/Or Assumption #3:

Smartphones will replace laptops.

Not that long ago, business publications were having a debate about the future of computing. They asked the question, “With our smartphones and tablets becoming our main personal computers, won’t this make laptops obsolete?” The answer is still “no.”

The reality is, we still have the equivalent of mainframe computers, we just use them differently than 20 – or even five – years ago. If they have a smartphone and/or tablet, the majority of business users are already using their laptop differently, and perhaps much less, but they are still using both.

Introducing Both/And Thinking

While others were predicting the end of laptop computers, printed paper and retail stores, I did not fall into the trap of those bad predictions because I had developed a series of research-based guiding principles that would help avoid such mistakes, and the Both/And Principle is a major one.

The premise is simple: Your technology works well for you, but you discover a new app, gadget or process that could significantly transform your business. You don’t want to part with what’s been working for you, but you also don’t want to be left behind.

The Both/And Principle allows you to keep bridging your legacy systems with the new technology or processes. Integrating them in a way that will create higher value than either has by itself provides a pathway forward.

It is a powerful corrective measure to either/or thinking, meaning that the future will only be either one way or the other. The Both/And Principle recognizes the folly of assuming that the “new” will totally supplant the old, and it recognizes that they can be integrated. Once you try it, you will see the Both/And Principle can accelerate your team’s performance because you haven’t settled for one or the other.

Powerful Both/And Duos

Digital documents have powerful strengths; they are here to stay, but so is paper. Here is a short list of Both/And Principle examples:

  • Brick-and-mortar retailers and Internet retailers
  • Digital and analog
  • Paper mail and email
  • Nautical charts and GPS
  • Full service and self service
  • Wiring such as copper and  fiber-optics and wireless
  • Traditional media and digital media
  • Gasoline engines and electric motors
  • Digital music playlists and live concerts
  • Video conferencing and face-to-face meetings

A key success strategy is to integrate the old and the new based on the strengths of each. In fact, the hottest breakthrough technologies tend to coexist and integrate to create new value with their predecessors rather than completely co-opting them. Why? The old technology has its own unique profile of functional strengths.

Case Study: Amazon.com and Kohl’s

In August 2017, Kohl’s announced it would sell Amazon products in its retail stores. But that was just the beginning of this Both/And Principle business maneuver. Kohl’s department stores and Amazon.com have been piloting a retail model that even more perfectly demonstrates an integration of the old and new.

Since September 2017, the two have been running a pilot program in which Amazon.com purchasers who want to return an item can return it to a Kohl’s customer service desk. Customers who bought a product online can now skip the post office and instead return it to an ever-increasing number of Kohl’s stores.

Consumers enjoy the convenience, and according to a number of recent studies, total visits to Kohl’s stores with Amazon’s return program have outperformed other stores in sales by about 8.5%. In other words, customers returning items end up finding more to buy at Kohl’s. Kohl’s also reported an increase in new customers.

Both/And Thinking and You

What are some examples of Both/And thinking that could benefit you? Are there any new technologies that would give you amazing new capabilities that could become something you feel your business could not live without? What are some of the newest technologies that you believe will disrupt and transform your business? What would happen if you combined the old and the new in a way that creates higher value than either has on its own?

If you would like to learn more anticipatory skills so that you can turn disruptive change into your biggest advantage, read my latest book, The Anticipatory Organization: Turn Disruption and Change into Opportunity and Advantage

Click here for a special offer from Daniel Burrus

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Best Practices Economics Entrepreneurship Management Marketing Personal Development Technology

Tesla is Redefining the Customer Experience

One of the harsh realities of this fast-paced digital world is that almost everything we buy is out of date by the time we get it home. To obtain the most value of any purchase, especially if it is an expensive one, we need to adopt a future mind-set to help us avoid picking up legacy products.

Driving has long been considered a symbol of personal freedom — an open road going forward, with almost limitless possibilities and opportunities on the horizon. For this reason alone, car manufacturers like to add new features that make us feel like we are purchasing a car that is equipped to transport us into the future.

I recently found myself wanting to replace my hybrid SUV. I have been very happy with my Lexus, but before buying, I wanted to see what the other major brands — including BMW, Mercedes, Porsche and Cadillac, to name a few — had to offer, to see which was most suited to me and my lifestyle. As you might guess, since I have been forecasting semi-autonomous as well as fully autonomous car features for decades now, I was interested to see what they had to offer at this point in time.

As you would expect, all of the high-end vehicles had great features, including automatic braking and various systems to alert you if you are about to change lanes and hit another car that is in your blind spot. However, it was when I drove the Tesla Model X that I felt like I was driving in the future. After that test drive, my view of the other brands was changed. All the others instantly felt like the past.

From a customer experience perspective, that’s a powerful shift. Any time you can make the competition seem like they are offering yesterday’s features and functions, and you are offering tomorrow’s, you can accelerate growth well into the future.

Buying a car has always been both a left-brain and a right-brain experience. On one hand, we would love to buy that just-out-of-reach dream car, the one that our emotional, creative side would love to have. On the other hand, our rational, logical, sensible mind wants the car to be safe, economical and not too expensive. Tesla has found a way to do both.

The realization that the Tesla is already offering a wealth of future-oriented features — features that can save lives, features you know we will all have someday — has the power to change how potential customers think.

Tesla, like Amazon, is what I call an Anticipatory Organization, one that identifies the Hard Trends that will happen and then uses that knowledge to turn disruption and change into its biggest advantage.

With all of this in mind, where would the greatest young engineering talent want to work? Ford, General Motors or Tesla? I suspect that Tesla would attract the talent because it is showcasing the future, today.

Rather than sitting around waiting to be disrupted, maybe it’s time to jump on board and disrupt both yourself and your industry, to become the disrupter. We often talk about legacy software and hardware holding businesses back, but the reality is that legacy thinking is far more damaging.

If your company wants to attract the most talented employees as well as the imaginations of future customers, you need to follow Hard Trends and learn to become anticipatory rather than getting better at reacting.

When I returned to the showroom a few weeks ago, it quickly became apparent that Tesla is a prime example of an Anticipatory Organization. The majority of competitors within the automotive industry are still taking incremental steps rather than exponential leaps. The majority have embraced the idea of agility as the best way to turn rapid change into an advantage. The problem they are finding is that all organizations are becoming agile organizations, which greatly decreases the advantage of agility and, more importantly, the main advantage of agility is that you can be far better than your slower competitors. Being agile is very important and we all should get better at it, but it is no longer enough.

It’s true that there is more uncertainty today than ever before. On the flipside of this coin is the science of certainty, learning to separate the Hard Trends that will happen from the Soft Trends that might happen. As the exponential pace of technological change continues, having the ability to foresee growing problems, disruptions, customer demands and new opportunities has never been more important.

Technology now surrounds us. The rapid rise of the internet of things (IoT) in our cities, businesses, infrastructure and even our homes will also raise the bar of both our expectations and demands. As our world continues to evolve, why would the automotive industry remain the same? Why would a dealership stay the same as it always has been? Why would I want to buy a new car that has only a few more new features than the car I’m driving now?

Having a business strategy based on certainty has low risk. Leaders now have a choice to anticipate today, before their competitors do, or find themselves left behind in the slow lane. What are you going to do?

Why deploy customer surveys when technology allows you to collect real-time user experiences? Learn to how an Anticipatory Organization saves money in R&D, marketing and other steps along the way.

Order Daniel Burrus’ book today!

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Economics Growth Industries Personal Development Technology

Will Your City Be a Smart City Soon?

Despite the apparent trade-off between privacy and efficiency, authorities across the globe are intent on becoming known for achieving smart city status and for the right reasons. Politicians are seeing the real benefits and cost savings that smart city initiatives can provide, and as citizens we need to get used to the idea of our towns collecting and making use of more and more data to reshape the world around us for the greater good.

As the number of connected sensors, machines and devices rapidly grows in crowded cities, the data generated will provide the ubiquitous big data that we often hear about. But we are only just beginning to realize the value in a network that increasingly consists of everyday objects. Everything from buildings, energy, traffic flow, education, healthcare and even elevators contains information that represents both the daily grind and natural flow of every city.

This increasing volume of data that is generated every second of every day should and will be put to great use in the months and years ahead. Now that we have fully embraced the concept of smart devices with our phones, and we are beginning to experience it in our cars and homes, it’s only natural that we now look to make our cities much smarter too.

Although we are slowly obtaining a greater understanding of the data that surrounds us, the good news is that positive results are already happening. Authorities are faced with a double-edged sword in which almost every choice comes with a compromise. For example, video surveillance in high crime areas has proven to reduce crime rates from 5% to 20%, but as a society, are we willing to reduce crime by introducing cameras watching our every move? This is the kind of trade-off we will have to face if we want to dramatically lower crime rates.

The traffic in every major city across the world is probably our biggest concern, given we have all experienced gridlock. Once again, technology comes to the rescue. Traffic signal optimization has shown to reduce travel times by up to 20%.  And let’s not forget the joy of trying to find a place to park. The average person spends 18 minutes per day trying to find a place to park. Smart parking systems can reduce up to 30% of congestion without authorities even needing to build new lanes and roads.

There is already a wealth of statistics available now that major technology research in cities has revealed the scope of the cost savings. For example, 40% of municipal energy costs comes from street lighting. Intelligent lighting can reduce energy costs by up to 20%. Lansing, Michigan, put in smart street lighting and was able to reduce costs by 70%, a big win for the mayor who championed the initiative.

As a word of caution, it appears that we are still very naive when it comes to security and our responsibility in this digital age. With so much of our lives and infrastructure getting connected, we all need to step up our game and appreciate the implications of ignoring security warnings.

For example, a recent report revealed how vulnerable our hospitals are to cyber-attacks and hackers. Maybe it’s our self-awareness that is in need of a 21st-century upgrade. In years past, 18 USB sticks were dropped purposely on multiple floors of a hospital. Within 24 hours, one of them had been plugged into a nurse’s station, infecting the network with malware, which gave the hackers access to the entire network.

With the majority of public-serving institutions at risk from hackers intent on causing chaos and disruption, it’s more important than ever to re-evaluate your level of security and threat prevention. Threats can appear in many different forms, such as ransomware that will lock all files and demand payment to unlock your data. The only positive aspect of ransomware is that it informs the user instantly of an infection.

However, there is also much stealthier malicious software that can be secretly stealing data or compromising systems completely under the radar of the establishment. Eliminating these risks by upgrading old systems is key, but so is educating users about understanding the vulnerabilities in the workplace and how to prevent them.

The creation of closed systems with hardware-embedded security will make it easier to predict and prevent cybercrime. Crime will continue to be a risk, but new advanced intelligent systems can help predict an attack and prevent it before it happens.

These security challenges should not damage the level of excitement and energy around the future possibilities. In this digital transition, we are merely taking another brave step forward, and there is no doubting how cash-strapped local and state agencies can become more efficient by better using data and implementing new technology.

Many large companies are involved in making cities smart, including Cisco, IBM, and Siemens. Cisco will happily advise governments that a smart city can save energy by 20%, reduce water consumption by 50%, crime by 20%, traffic by 30%, and so on. These facts, backed up by data, will be tough for those in control of budgets to resist.

Businesses, local and state agencies, committees, etc., will always be cost and data driven. Our evolving digital economy will ensure that smart cities, IoT, and local services will all become a natural part of our lives. Yes, there will be security and even privacy challenges, but this is a hard trend that will happen, so the time to start solving predictable problems is before they happen.

Many of our fears of a technology-fueled dystopian future are based on fictional literature and Hollywood movies. But we seldom stop to think that our future reality could be quite different from 1984 or the rise of machines that the Terminator franchise warned us about.

Real life is not always as interesting as art. The implementation of computerized sensors for nearly everything we know and love to drive down costs and improve efficiency could be as exciting as it gets. Is it such a bad thing?

Eliminating waste, intelligent traffic management and vast improvements to public transport during peak periods are mouthwatering prospects on their own. The belated arrival of e-government services, allowing faster access at a lower operating expense for taxpayers, should also be enough to convince even the biggest cynics.

I don’t believe this is an either-or situation. Technology should be able to improve every aspect of our lives in our homes, cities and world. We now interact with each other more than ever before, not less—contrary to popular opinion. The rise of the global community is enabling a greater understanding that shapes our world view and challenges age-old stereotypes.

As citizens of a global community, we expect our smartphones to provide us answers to any questions as they pop into our heads. We have developed an insatiable thirst for real-time information. Reliability and simplicity are expected to be standard, meaning this is how cities will soon be judged by both their inhabitants and visitors.

We now connect and interact in many different ways, which illustrates how technology is bringing us closer together. The real spirit and character that live inside every city across the world do not need to be sacrificed and will continue to thrive as long as we work to keep the best of our past and present, as we build a better future together.

Concentrating on resisting change or fearing the unknown is counterproductive. I have advised major businesses and governments for decades that the best way to improve planning is by learning to separate hard trends, the trends that will happen, from soft trends, the trends that might happen, and use this knowledge to shape the best future possible.

Innovation leads to disruption, not being disrupted. Learn more with the book, Anticipatory Organization, now available for purchase at www.TheAOBook.com
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