Q&A: It's Time to Be Anticipatory; Not Agile with Daniel Burrus


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Within every industry, there are reactionary practices. Although it is wise to be two steps ahead, finessing the art of being anticipatory is difficult in our unpredictable world. 

If taken at face value, the past year has shown that accurate future predictions are difficult to conduct. With that said, we have seen some businesses with better resources use these circumstances to their advantage. Being ahead of the curve, or being anticipatory, has proved to be not only possible but, in the modern day, essential. 

Our guest today is a prominent contributor here at EM360; New York Times bestselling author and World Leading Futurist Daniel Burrus. Daniel has been predicting future technologies since 1983 using his powerful methodology, predicting everything from optical data storage to the internet. 

Daniel, thanks for being here today. Would you be able to walk us through your methodology and how you developed it?

Yes, and I have helped organizations apply it to future planning and innovation for many decades now. After extensive research I developed a methodology for separating hard trends from soft trends. All trends are either hard trends that are based on future facts that will happen, and the key there is that they cannot be changed, or they are soft trends that are based on assumptions that might happen and can be changed. The advantage of a hard trend is that you can see disruptions before they disrupt, giving you a choice to be the disruptor or the disrupted. It lets you see problems before you have them, allowing you pre-solve them, instead of just waiting for them to happen, which is of course reactionary. Soft trends may or may not happen and that doesn’t mean that they won’t happen, some are highly likely, but they are not a future fact. Hard trends provide certainty in a seemingly uncertain world and by identifying future facts, you can redefine risk management and innovate with relatively low risk because if you don’t do it someone else will. Certainty provides the confidence to make bold moves and actively shape the future.

Right now, one of the most popular strategies people have embraced to deal with the accelerating pace of exponential technological change is agility. What I want everyone to understand is that there are two sides to this strategic coin when it comes to planning for the future. I think most of us only know one side, the agility side; I want to show you the other side. The agile side is reactionary, and the faster you can react to change, the more agile you are. That’s agility, and by the way, I want you to be good at agility because there are things you can’t fully predict, i.e. soft trends. But, there are thousands of things that are fully predictable which you can see and that’s why it’s so important to get good at the other side of the strategy coin, becoming anticipatory. My Hard Trend Methodology provides a way to anticipate problems and disruptions before they happen.

There are three categories of hard trends:

1. Demographics.

For example, in a lot of the western world, we have an aging population. In the United States, there are 78 million baby boomers. This number is not accurate, it’s more like 68 million; 10 million have already passed away. So, what’s a hard trend here? They are all getting older and a lot of them are retiring, and that’s predictable. I’ll give you a trend statement, “A lot of baby boomers are going to be retiring in our organizations, and they will take their knowledge with them when they leave.” Now, that statement might be troubling; is that trend statement a hard trend or a soft trend? It turns out that this is what I call a complex trend; there are two trends in one. The first half is a hard trend, but the second half is a soft trend. Baby boomers will be retiring is a hard trend. They will take their knowledge with them is a soft trend that can be changed. Remember, the advantage of a soft trend is that you can change it if you don’t like it. If this example, You can set up a mentorship program, and you could create a knowledge base they could contribute to before they retire. 

2. Technology.

In this pandemic, we have had an acceleration of technology trends that’s accelerated between 5-10 years in just a matter of months. Cloud computing, ecommerce and working remotely are just a few examples of this. Why? Humans, on a global level, were forced to change. If you’re a bank, you now need the cloud and virtual private networks if because your employees are working from home. The pandemic has accelerated sixteen technology trends way beyond an exponential level, and that means you also have many new opportunities as well.

3. Regulation.

Every country has government regulations. No one can predict the future of all regulations, but you can predict a lot. Will we have more regulations around cybersecurity? Of course, there are hard trends at play that we can’t ignore. Will many industries have more confusion because of changing regulations? Yes, that’s why developing an AI related mobile compliance app that lets you know the latest rules based on your GPS location for each task is an opportunity and will become essential. Becoming anticipatory and learning to use hard trends is a great way to discover opportunity for everyone. 

You have previously stated that there are over 300 cycles in this world, and that economists are trained in the science of cycles to help predict the future. What margin of error does this leave?

Economics are trained in cyclical change, an example is the tide. I can tell you when the high tide will be and when the low tide will be a month from now or even a few years from now. Right now, stocks are up. Are they going to go up forever? No, they’ll come back down. There are over 300 cycles; business, celestial, biological and even sales cycles. I like to use cycles to my advantage. If there’s a sales cycle, I like to have the sale completed before the sales cycle begins. Why? Because you can use cycles to your advantage. But what I’m bringing to the table with my Anticipatory Methodology is how to identify the other kind of change, linear/exponential change. Linear means it’s not a cycle; it’s one way, and it’s not coming back. Exponential is when it’s driven by technology, making it ride a curve that’s accelerating and predictable. For example, first we had 1G, then 2G, and now 5G. All of these were very predictable, and we can even know when they’re going to happen and what features we will get out of them. These give us predictable opportunities as well as predictable problems that we can either let play out, or pre-solve. Another insight is that linear/exponential change can impact and even alter old cycles. So, it’s important to know both cyclical change and linear/exponential change because some of the linear/exponential changes can alter the old cycles in predictable ways and that creates new predictable opportunities. 

On that note, how easy do you think it is to predict man-made changes to cycles and how can you anticipate that, plus recover from it?

Very good question! First of all, technology is not good or evil; it’s how we as humans apply it. One of the things that I’m urging people to do is to positively shape the future rather than passively receive it. Why is that? Because from what I’ve seen, most people on the planet are good people and want to use new tools for good. However, there are people that will abuse those tools and use them for negative things. This is where anticipation comes in. Let’s take cybersecurity as an example. 

Currently, the main cybersecurity strategy is to react as quickly as you can to an intrusion, and, notably, when it comes to cybersecurity, milliseconds count. So, when we hear that something’s been hacked and it’s been going on for two months, that’s very alarming! React and respond has long been the model in this field. But, what I’ve been teaching cybersecurity professionals to do is to also predict and prevent by using AI and other tools in the process. I want to use behavioral analytics to see when there’s a behavior change that raises of risk to a super high level, so I know we’re likely to have a problem because of these behavior changes, and I can predict as well as prevent it from happening. 

Now, we’ve seen technology such as endpoint protection on the rise recently. Are there any other types of anticipatory technology that you think will emerge in 2021? 

Absolutely there are many and some using AI we can do right now, and some are emerging and we will be able to do soon. One example is quantum for cybersecurity. Now, I included quantum as one of my key trends to watch in the early nineties, so it’s not a brand new technology category, but the ability to apply it is.  For example, we currently have companies like Amazon that are starting to offer quantum computing as a service (QCaaS), meaning we can start questioning how we want to experiment with, and use, this emerging technology. Quantum will be a game-changer for security. 

In the same breath, we also have AI, namely AI as a service (AIaaS). AI is a technology that we can be applying right now and its capabilities will increase exponentially over the years. So, we can use the technologies we’ve got in an anticipatory way now to help better protect us, as well as predict and prevent and pre-solve problems as we shape a better future for all. 

If you visit https://www.burrus.com/seethefuture, I’ve got a list of 25 technologies that are in play right now and shaping the future. 

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