Great ideas are like bad pennies. They keep turning up.
Six years ago, I heard one of the most brilliant descriptions of great leadership ever uttered. It came from best-selling author, innovator, and National Geographic Society fellow Andrew Zolli, and it went something like this:
“Great leaders,” he said, “are the ones who systematically scan the horizon for weak signals of disruptive change.”
Since then, I’ve heard variations of that theme over and over again, which tells me Zolli was onto something. In an era of great change and complexity, the winners will be those who can identify game-changing trends before they happen. In this day and age, nothing is more important.
The latest example comes from the best-seller Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration. Author Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios and president of Pixar and Disney Animation, spends the better part of a full chapter examining the “hidden problems” that keep organizations from reaching their full potential. Here’s how he examines the challenges posed by what he calls The Hidden:
“I wondered why the leaders of so many rising Silicon Valley companies made bad decisions. They had management and operational skills; they had grand ambitions; they didn’t think they were making bad decisions, nor did they think they were being arrogant. Yet delusion set in — and as bright as these leaders were, they missed something essential to their continued success.
“The implication, for me, was that we would inevitably be subject to those same delusions at Pixar unless we came to terms with our own limited ability to see.
“We were going to screw up. It was inevitable. And we didn’t know when or how. We had to prepare, then, for an unknown problem — a hidden problem. … Which brings us to one of my core management beliefs: If you don’t try to uncover what is unseen and understand its nature, you will be ill prepared to lead.”
Catcall isn’t talking about Zolli’s weak signals of disruptive change. Rather, his “hidden problem” is our inability to get a complete picture of what is going on at any given time in any given company.
“Acknowledging what you can’t see — getting comfortable with the fact that there are a large number of two-inch events occurring right now, out of our sight, that will affect us for better or worse, in myriad ways — helps promote flexibility,” Catmull writes.
Still, his point is well-taken and increasingly well-spoken: Seeing the unseen, acting on the unknown, positioning your organization to take advantage of trends that haven’t happened yet — are among the most important skills any of us can possess going forward.
It’s not about crystal balls and supernatural powers. It’s simply about anticipating things that you know are going to happen and acting on them before they do.
With a little training and hard work, that’s a skill we all can learn.
Learn the key missing competency of anticipation
The MACPA and the Business Learning Institute have partnered with futurist and best-selling author Daniel Burrus to offer The Anticipatory Organization: Accounting and Finance Edition. This award-winning product is a revolutionary new learning system that combines three- to five-minute educational videos with job aids and rapid-application activities that will teach CPAs and finance professionals how to anticipate the future and apply those lessons to their own careers. It’s an invaluable future-focused program that helps us see change before it arrives and take advantage of it before the competition does.
Learn more about how you can anticipate future trends and get a leg up on your competition here: