Today, I spoke to Daniel Burrus, who is considered one of the world’s leading technology forecasters and business strategists, is the founder and CEO of Burrus Research, and author of the The New York Times bestseller Flash Foresight. In this interview, Daniel talks about what flash foresight is, why it’s important in this economy, what the future of technology is, and more.
What is “flash foresight”?
Flash Foresight is a sudden burst of insight about the future that produces a new and radically different way of doing something — crafting must-have products, creating high-demand services or building new businesses — that will open up invisible opportunities and solve seemingly impossible problems often before they happen.
We have all experienced flashes of foresight. Have you ever said to yourself; I knew that was going to happen? Or, I knew I should have purchased that stock? The problem is that we don’t usually act on them because we don’t know if we can trust them. Flash Foresight provides a system based on over 25 years of research and testing that teaches the reader how to know when their foresight will happen and they should take action.
Why is it important in this economy?
Flash Foresight is extremely important at this point in history because government, business and education, not to mention millions of individuals in all professions, are faced with an increasingly uncertain future as they try to solve a growing list of seemingly impossible problems. Flash Foresight shows how large organizations, small companies and individuals have accomplished the impossible by using different combination of the seven triggers to produce a flash of foresight that revealed hidden opportunities and answers to some of their most pressing problems.
Technology can be used to eliminate jobs in an effort to be more efficient and reduce overhead. In addition to this, Flash Foresight shows the reader how to use the certainty of Hard Trends to create new products, services, markets and careers that will drive our economy forward.
How can you predict the future of technology change and how it impacts the business world?
A good example of the predictability of technology change is the next iPhone. Will it have more storage internally? Yes. Will it have a faster processor? Yes. Will our networks have increasing bandwidth? Yes. Will there be more Apps to choose from? Yes.
If you want to try a related but different technology subject how about cloud computing. Will there be more in the cloud next year? Yes. Will companies create private clouds to control security? Yes. Will there be hybrid clouds that use a combination of public and private clouds? Yes.
Will public schools start giving an inexpensive version of tablet computers to students with pre-loaded eTextbooks, and learning apps connected to district servers as part of their cost savings plan in the near future? Yes.
To anticipate the world ahead, it’s helpful to see that the hard trend of technological advancement flows through eight specific pathways, and each of them is a hard trend in itself. (I first published this list in the mid 80s and it provides yet another example of the predictability of technological change.)
- Dematerialization. As technology improves, we are reducing the amount of material it takes to build the tools we use. For example, laptops are getting smaller, lighter, and more portable, even as they become more powerful.
- Virtualization. This means taking things we currently do physically and shifting the medium so that we can now do them purely in a virtual world. Using software, we can now test airplanes, spaceships, and nuclear bombs without actually building them. Virtualization has transformed the world of business. Amazon is a virtual bookstore, and eBay is a virtual yard sale. We have virtual desktops, virtual storage and much more all increasingly in the cloud.
- Mobility. With the advance of wireless technology, we are rapidly becoming untethered from everything. Our mainframe computers became desktops, then laptops, then palmtops, then smart phones and tablets.
- Product intelligence. The degree to which we can now add intelligence to practically any product is about to transform our lives. Imagine you’re driving down the road, and a light blinks on your dashboard: One of your tires is about to go flat. Your GPS speaks up: “Service station with an air hose in three miles; take the next exit.” How does your car know this? It’s intelligent. It has smart tires, and it’s networked. The road you’re driving on will be intelligent, too. It will tell you there’s a pothole ahead. Any tangible thing can be made smart. All you have to do is put a sensor on it and give it the ability to communicate through a network.
- Networking. Telephones were the first modern network, because they allowed us to communicate at great distances in real time. As networking increases in scope, speed, and accessibility, we are enlarging its meaning and application in both a wired and wireless way, working not only in the media of voice and text, but also in video, social media, and even 3D video to name a few.
- Interactivity. During the 20th century, all our media were static. Then came the Web, which was dynamic, with hyperlinks that allowed us to click on content and instantly see more. Now we’re gaining the ability to interact with everything. Web sites like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter allow us to interact with each other in new ways.
- Globalization. With the explosion of outsourcing and task-sharing software, companies can now have a truly global workforce for the first time. Plus, companies are now able to customize products for various markets in the world, instead of selling the same products in different markets.
- Convergence. Filling stations and convenience stores converged in the 1980s; in the ‘90s, so did coffee shops and bookstores. Today, telecommunications, consumer electronics, and information technology are all converging. Products are converging, too. The modern smart phone is an e-mail device, a camera, a video camera, a music player, a GPS device, and more.
What are your seven radical flash foresight triggers?
- Start with Certainty (Use Hard Trends, trends that will happen, to see what’s coming);
- Anticipate (shift from crisis management to opportunity management based you what you do know about the future);
- Transform (use technology to transform how you sell, market, collaborate, communicate, educate and innovate before your competition does it for you);
- Take your biggest problem — and skip it (skipping what you think the problem is will help you discover what the real problem so that you can solve it quickly);
- Go opposite (look where no one else is looking to see what no one else is seeing);
- Redefine and reinvent (use tech-driven change to create new products and services);
- Strategically direct your future (or someone else will direct it for you).
Which trigger is your favorite and why?
I love them all and use them all every day. When people first look at the triggers, they seem to enjoy Take your biggest problem — and skip it the most. I think this is because our biggest problems keep us stuck and seem impossible to solve, so the thought of skipping them brings an immediate smile and sense of joy to our mind. Of course the reason this works so well is that the problem you can’t solve is the wrong problem, that’s why you haven’t been able to solve it. By skipping it, it is like pealing an onion back a few layers allowing you to discover the real problem which is easy to solve.
Soft trends might happen, hard trends will happen. Knowing what will happen next provides a powerful competitive weapon, as well as saving time and money. In 2000, the U.S. government was predicting a trillion- dollar surplus, a soft trend that didn’t happen. Many state and local governments based their spending on that soft trend and are still paying for their costly mistake.
Apple, on the other hand, used the Hard Trends of accelerating bandwidth, processing power, and high-capacity storage and harnessed them to create the megahits iPod, iTunes, iPhone and iPad. Meanwhile, Polaroid, Kodak and Motorola spent years clinging to analog models while their competitors triumphed by grasping the arrival of the digital age. GM failed to respond to trends that were obvious for over a decade (rising gas prices driven by increased global demand from China and India, and improving quality from foreign rivals), and Blockbuster lost out to Netflix by failing to embrace the leap to virtual space.
Anyone can avoid the fate of Polaroid, Kodak, Motorola, GM and Blockbuster, and instead create must-have products and high-demand services — as Apple, Canon, Toyota, Netflix and so many others have — by seeing what others can’t: the hard trends that are shaping our future. All it takes is learning where and how to look, by developing your sense of flash foresight.
Daniel Burrus is considered one of the world’s leading technology forecasters and business strategists, and is the founder and CEO of Burrus Research, a research and consulting firm that monitors global advancements in technology driven trends to help clients understand how technological, social and business forces are converging to create enormous untapped opportunities. He is a strategic advisor to leaders from Fortune 500 companies helping them to see invisible opportunities and solve seemingly impossible problems. He is the author of six books, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal best seller Flash Foresight as well as the highly acclaimed Technotrends.