INTERVIEW DANIEL BURRUS
The New York Times has referred to Daniel Burrus as one of the top three business gurus in the world, and he is a strategic advisor to executives from Fortune 500 companies, helping them to develop game-changing strategies based on his methodologies for capitalizing on technology innovations and their future impact.
I’m fascinated by Burrus’s ability to accurately predict the future and not just guess. I’m also interested in his scientific approach to innovation and his methodologies on how to create business models and products that will actually work and succeed.
So, we met up and talked about the difference between hard and soft trends and Daniel’s ideas
on a different approach to how companies plan and innovate.
You teach what you consider to be the biggest missing competency in companies and organizations today: the ability to anticipate. Please tell me more about this.
We live in a world that reacts. The pace of change is increasing everywhere, and many think agility is the best way to deal with rapid change. I’m not saying that agility isn’t good, because there are a lot of things that you can’t accurately predict. There will always be changes that come out of nowhere.
However, there are an amazing number of things we can accurately predict when we learn how to distinguish between what I call hard trends, trends that will happen, and soft trends, trends that might happen. Think of it as a two-sided coin. Agility is on one side, allowing you to react fast to unforeseen change, and the other side is anticipatory, allowing you to see what is coming and take action before the change occurs.
What do you think of agile innovation?
Agility is basically reacting quickly to change. Therefore, it’s important to understand that agile innovation is reactive innovation. Agile innovation will keep you reacting to disruptive innovation created by others. For example, did Uber or Airbnb use agility to come up with their multibillion-
dollar innovations? No, agility would not help them leap ahead with confidence. They identified the hard trends that were going to happen either through them or someone else, and took action with the confidence certainty can provide. The same hard-trend strategy is used by Amazon and Apple, giving them the ability to leap ahead with low risk and innovate quickly.
In the past few years, there have been several large organizations writing and teaching about the subject of exponential organizations and exponential growth, which is just as valuable as agile innovation is. But if you are going exponentially fast in the wrong direction, you will get into trouble exponentially faster.
Way back in 1983, I was the first to write and speak about the predictability and power of technology-driven exponential change, and that is indeed an important element to drive innovation and growth. But predictable exponential change is only about speed, not direction.
When you learn to identify the hard trends that will have a massive impact, you can gain crucial insights for driving business innovation as well as disruption.
INTERVIEW OTTO SCHARMER
I have read that you believe leaders can train their ability to come closer to their authentic selv. Can you explain that a little more closely?
My experience tells me that what I said before doesn’t just apply to tech entrepreneurs but many young people. I see it in part in the larger mainstream companies and partly in the next generation of leaders in the United States.
I’ve met hundreds of promising leaders, some of them just a few years away from top jobs in the American business community. These people have chosen quite a conventional career, but most of them are not satisfied by their choice—they want more out of life.
That longing I’ve seen time and again. These young leaders have a deeper desire to recreate and rethink the world around them. They want to create a history they can be proud of.
I teach a subject at MIT that’s called U-Lab. There, I meet a great many leaders from all over the world who are halfway through their careers, so to speak. When I ask them what they want out of life as a whole, and what has therefore brought them to MIT, I always get the same answer from them: “The higher up I get in my organization’s internal hierarchy, the less inspired I feel by what my organization expects of me and wants me to do.”
What they’re saying, in other words, is that the higher they’ve climbed up the internal power ladder, the less meaningful they experience things and the further away they feel from the life they dream about. They experience a marked separation between their present and future
selves—what they’re doing today and who they might be tomorrow.
Why is this a problem?
Just take a look at the statistics. We’re seeing in the United States an explosion in the number of depressions and leaders who burn out or, even worse, commit suicide. When that’s said, the statistics aren’t just depressing reading. I also see countertrends and counterevidence in the form of young entrepreneurs who’ve got rich very quickly and who are now working on new and innovative ways of giving something back. Where the rich in the past typically gave something back in a very conventional way, these newly rich people are more innovative and entrepreneurial in their attempts to make the world a better place.
So if you see this as a strong trend, what does it mean for management tomorrow? In my view, the same books about leadership are written again and again. To be quite honest, there’s not much that’s new in them. Do the points you’re making imply anything substantially new for management tomorrow?
In my view, they imply two vital new things. The first has to do with what I call broadening. Our
focus in management is often on the organizations, and I’ve said earlier that organizations today are either too big for the small problems or too small for the big problems. Let me explain that more closely.
The big problems could be climate change or the great inequality in the world. These problems are so massive that no organization will be in a position to solve them alone. This means that we have to establish new platforms for collaboration, which implies we must be able to coordinate very complex systems about human intentions.
What are human intentions? They are the common consciousness about society as a whole. When we think in that way, we experience a connection between all of the various sectors of society and all of the various types of companies and organizations. This is a new perspective
that tomorrow’s leaders must be aware of and take part in.
This also implies two other things, which I’ve chosen to call turning inside out and turning outside in. We’ve seen this demonstrated, for instance, in the tech world, where companies have partly managed to turn inside out through crowdsourcing and co-creation methods with regard to developing new ideas, and partly been able to turn outside in when they invite people and partners from the world outside into their organizations.
We also see this in the health industry and in many other places, and the cleverest leaders manage to expand their consciousness from an ego focus to an ecosystem. They are aware of this gigantic network of relationships and potentials.
In my view, what I’ve just said implies one new aspect of management. I have chosen to call the other new aspect deeping, and that word is used to describe the spread of mindfulness and awareness in management. The philosophy behind this new trend is that where you choose to focus is also where you put your energy.
Mindfulness is today used in thousands of organizations, and the research in this area has exploded. Even the most traditional companies have started to use mindfulness in their leader training.
This way of coming into contact with your present self is probably more important than ever before for authentic leaders.