Science and technology will always be interesting because of its future impact to people, culture and society. This is what makes the future exciting for global trends futurist Daniel Burrus. He has become the top strategic adviser for companies because he can see disruption before it happens, giving him the choice of where to stand when it happens. Learn how he teaches this to his clients, so that they can create solutions for possible problems. Daniel also explains the difference between a soft trend, a hard trend, and the “Skip It” technique.
We have Daniel Burrus joining us for this episode. He is one of the world’s leading futurist on global trends and innovations. He has written so many bestselling books and he is the go-to top companies rely on for help with thinking of what’s going to happen down the road. This guy can figure it out for you. I’m really excited to talk to him because he is very much a leader in foresight and a lot of the courses I’ve taught have dealt with that.
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Global Trends Futurist, How To Become One with Daniel Burrus
I am with Daniel Burrus who’s considered one of the world’s leading futurist on global trends and innovation. The New York Times has referred to him as one of the top three business gurus with the highest demand as a speaker. He is a strategic adviser to executives from Fortune 500 Companies, helping them to accelerate innovation and results by developing game-changing strategies based on his proven methodologies for capitalizing on technology, innovations, and their future impact. His client list includes companies such as Microsoft, GE, American Express, Google, Procter & Gamble, the list goes on and on. He’s an author of seven books including The New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller, Flash Foresight, and his latest book, The Anticipatory Organization, is something I want to talk about. I’m so glad you’re here.
Thank you. It’s really a pleasure.
I’m a professor and I saw you started by teaching Biology and Physics.
I did. I’m a teacher, and with all of the writing and speaking I’m doing, I’ve just redefined the classroom.
It’s good to have a research background because it helps you, especially with your book writing, to see all of the information. You like to look into the future which I wish a lot of people had a better way of doing that. Do you have a real sense of natural foresight? Would you ever have thought you’re going to be a futurist when you were growing up or is this something that surprises you?
I didn’t really think about it but I always was interested in science and technology and its future impact. The impact of innovations that are taking place in the present, I always go to “What does that mean, where does that go, and how will we use it?” That was also of interest to me. Decades ago, I realized that we’re all going to spend the rest of our life in the future, maybe we have to think about it. It started to unfold.
Were you a naturally curious person? How curious were you and how important is it do you think to have curiosity?
It’s extremely a child-like wondering curiosity is the key not only to a happy life but to a successful life, especially in business as an entrepreneur because it gets you asking questions. Little kids ask hundreds of times more questions a day than a PhD professor typically. Asking questions and wanting to learn and that curiosity, asking yourself, “Why and how does that work?” and all of those things, that is beginning of discovering things that were invisible to you.
You’re talking about learning, and you have a video learning system. Didn’t that lead to your latest book?
Yes, it did. Just talking about success and so on, six of the companies that I started, five were profitable in the first year, four were national leaders in the first year. One of them was on aviation. I have my own airplane design. I was a test pilot for my own plane and ended up with 37 national locations. I only share that as a setup to two things that are really up. Number one, I didn’t try to compete and I really have never tried to compete because competition is difficult. The more you look at your competition, the more you act like them and the more your margins are low. What I did on purpose was look at what the competition was doing and then on purpose not do that. When I started my learning system several years ago, what I did was first of all I looked at all of the latest learning systems by not only the big companies but also the innovative startups so that I knew what not to do. Then I look at where technology was going so that I could create what the best practice would be instead of ifs. I did get a Product of the Year award within the first several months. It’s being used for leadership training in the military and it’s being used by large and small companies all over the world. It became so successful that I thought I just got to do a book around this because typically what an author does is put out a book and then develop systems around it. In this case, I did another principle I teach and that is opposites work better. I did the opposite in this case, did the learning system, got it where I was working great, and then did a learning system as a complementary part of that.
I’ve developed a lot of courses and I was the MBA Program Chair at Forbes School of Business and I’ve worked for a bunch of different universities where we use different LMS’s. It’s very challenging to create a course and have it be so successful.
A lot of people don’t know what LMS is, and that’s a Learning Management System. In my work, I looked at all the Learning Management Systems and they were really geared for the past versus where we’re going in the future with the video and everything. I actually ended up building my own. I had to. I couldn’t find one that was good enough. In fact, when I talk to people that had good ones, big companies, they would all say, “We’re looking for another one because it’s not that good.” That tells you something right there.
I know a lot of schools are using Canvas now. I really want to look at your software.
You got to check it out. Just like with the website whenever you do anything, what do you do? We’re already working on making it better because there’s always a way to elevate everything which excites me about the future. Everything, whether it’s a bottle opener, it doesn’t matter, can be made better. How wonderful is that? That takes curiosity and wonder, by the way.
I’ve taught some foresight classes. One of them, we started with the end, the world exploding and then we went backwards. It was an interesting course. We talk about trends, and I know you’re big on talking about hard and soft trends. Can you distinguish between those and why they’re so important?
This is based on 35 years of research. I’ve started a number of companies but my core company, Burrus Research, has been around that long. This isn’t a new idea and it’s very powerful. It’s change the companies, from the Deloitte’s and the IBMs to even the Pentagon plan and innovate. Here’s how it works. Instead of, “I’m the only guy with good trends, forget everybody else’s.” I’m not doing that at all. There’s no shortage of trends. The problem is which ones will happen and which ones won’t. This is a way to overlay. There are two types of trends. I call them hard trends and soft trends. Hard trends are based on future facts. They will happen. This is not an ‘if’ or a ‘maybe’. It’s the future for sure. It’s amazing the power of that, because we live in an uncertain world and it seems like other than Bethlehem and Texas, everything is uncertain. Yet once you start saying how much certainty there is, certainty gives you the confidence to make a bold move. When you’re uncertain, you don’t make bold moves. Why do some kids not know which course to take or should I even go to college? They’re uncertain. However, when you have certainty, you write big checks and say, “Yes,” and you move forward. Certainty has a very strong power.
Then there are soft trends. In soft trends are based on not future facts. They are based on assumptions about the future. The problem is a lot of us think those assumptions are really a future fact and we don’t challenge them. The strategy based on an assumption about the future versus a future fact has different levels of risk. A strategy based on certainty has lower risk, a strategy based on uncertainty has high. I like both, and the reason I like both is hard trend, I can see it coming. I can see disruption before it disrupts. Get them turning disruption into a choice. Do I want to be the disruptor or the disrupted? Now I can make a choice. Because this is going to happen if I don’t do it, someone else will. Soft trends, the beauty of those are if you don’t like them, you can change them. I was speaking recently to a couple of thousand CEOs from the US Healthcare Systems. We have CEOs from hospitals and drug companies, etc. Before I gave my keynote speech, they, like all of us in the United States, have seen healthcare cross go up for a long time. In other words, that trend line just keeps going up. Before I talk to them, we’re all just dealing with it. “That’s the way it’s going to be,” in other words, “That’s the future fact and we’re going to deal with that.” Once I started explaining this, I help them to see that actually that’s a soft trend. If you don’t like it, you can change it.
If you think it’s unstoppable, you don’t try. A quick example, we could use a technology called blockchain to bring increase in security, transparency, and therefore trust, to a disconnected healthcare system and flush billions of dollars of ways to out-buy, creating actual competition. For example, you’d probably read in magazine articles about how you might be paying $60 for an Aspirin in the hospital. Why are you doing that? That’s because you don’t it cost $60. Once we know what things cost then we get transparency. By the way, that is going to happen. Blockchain is real and the system is very broken. How about using Cloud and virtualization? These are not things that need to be invented, by the way. They’re already exist to completely transform, not change, purchasing the logistics with hospitals.
You can do literally sweep billions of dollars of ways annually out of that. In other words, “We can lower healthcare cost.” The key is what do you want to change? If you want to change it, you can. If it’s a soft trend, you can change it. It’s just like increasing obesity. That’s been going on in this country, and others by the way, for a long time and the US just did a big study to see how obese we will be in 2025.We just think, “How are we going to pay for that mess?” Instead, you can change that and here’s an example of a company that did manpower. They gave all of their employees Fitbits and said, “We got weekly competitions with prices.” Over a couple of years, they were getting off the cholesterol and drugs. They were getting off of high blood pressure pills. They were losing weight. It was like, “The rest of the world can get fat, but we don’t have to weaken that effect.”That’s actually a soft trend.
Having worked in pharmaceuticals for fifteen years, I’m envisioning the blockchain thing. You’re saying it’s similar to what we’re seeing with cryptocurrency where you’re getting a transparency of how you’re tracking things. Is that how this is going to work?
The underlying technology for cryptocurrency is blockchain. It can be used for an unbelievable number of things, including voting, which we aren’t going to get to yet but we will get to eventually. A lot of people aren’t going to like that because that will make it too fair. Nonetheless, it’s amazing what this underlying tool can do. We don’t want to get too tied up on the tools and how they work. You could go to my website Burrus.com and I have a list of the 25 technologies that are shaping the future. You can find blockchain and other things on there and learn more about them.
You have a great content. I was looking at a lot of the stuff that you have out there, your TEDx Talk about invisible solutions to impossible problems. You say to solve impossible problems, you have to work on the right ones. How do we know we’re working on the right problems?
Here’s a hint for you. Whatever problem you’ve got, that’s not it. The reality is you’ll define it. If you drill down, you can find what the right problem is and solve it. I’ll give you a real simple example. It just happened not so long ago. I’ve got a niece named Kelly. She called and said, “Uncle Dan, I got my first job and I’m trying to save money but I can’t save money. I’m really working hard at saving money but it’s not working. I just don’t know what I’m doing wrong.” She knows it’s possible by the way because her older sister, Aubrey, can save money like crazy, but Kelly can’t. She’s really trying hard to save money. I said, “That’s because you’re working on the wrong problem. You got to work on how you spend money. If you work on how you spend money, you’ll save money by default.” She’s working on the wrong one.
Now that’s a very simple example. When I first started advising the DOD and the Joint Chiefs and the Head of Cybersecurity at the Pentagon, I asked, “What’s your biggest problem?” From a technical standpoint, they said, “I got to get all my legacy systems,” by the way that means their older systems. “I’ve got to get all my legacy systems into the Cloud as quickly as possible. That’s my biggest problem.” My response was, “If you get all of your legacy systems into the Cloud, won’t you just have a legacy Cloud?” They laughed and thought, “I guess that’s not it.” Whatever you’ve got, that’s not it. Secondly, the principle that you’re referring to in my book, I call it the Skip It principle. The key is some of these problems you’ve got, you can completely skip altogether. Let me give you a quick example of Skip It. A large hotel chain, they have many new hotels they’ve built around the country. It turned out everyone in every hotel is complaining about the elevator systems because they were slow. To put in new elevators or to make the elevators fast would cost way too much money. Forget it. It’s impossible to fix. Everyone is complaining about the slow elevators. What do we do? We skipped fixing the elevators. We just put nice full-length mirrors next to all of the floors where you get on the elevator. Everybody started looking at themselves and checking their clothes and didn’t realize that it was slow, and everybody stopped complaining. Skip fixing the elevator.
You’re talking about the money situation and not spending. Does it come naturally for people to come up to you and ask you, since you’re a foresight guy, to predict the stock market?
That is a perfect segue into change itself. Economists use cyclical change and extra training to predict the future. It served them quite well up until recently and we all know economists haven’t been doing that good lately. That’s because there’s another change. Let’s stay with cyclical. The stock market is cyclical. When you’re setting records, at some point it’s not going up forever. It’s a cycle. It will go down. It just went down recently and it’s going to go up again. Warren Buffett knows that when everybody’s buying, he’s selling, when everybody’s selling, he’s buying. He uses it to his advantage. There were over 500 known cycles, business cycles, weather cycles. There are even sale cycles. I like to have the sale completed before the sale cycle begins. See that way I can use it to my advantage.
There’s another change. The economist doesn’t have training in this but is now changing our world quickly on this. That would be linear, meaning it’s not a cycle. It’s one way/exponential, meaning it’s growing like two for four becomes eight, becomes sixteen, and so on. Once you get a smartphone, you’re not going back to a dumb phone. That’s not cycle. Once the people in India get refrigeration for their home, they’re not going to say, “I don’t need refrigeration.” One more example, when the Chinese parked their bicycle and get a car, they’re not going to say, “Let go back to the bike.” These are one- way changes that have predictable problems as well as predictable opportunities. It’s amazing what you can see when you start making everything visible.
In your book you say, “Going exponentially fast in the wrong direction can get you into trouble faster.” How do you know if you’re going the wrong way with change?
There are some organizations when people say, “It’s all about going exponentially fast.” That can lead you into really big trouble as a lot of entrepreneurs have been finding out. The key is hard trends and soft trends. That can help you determine directions. Where is the future going? When you see that there are not just tens or twenties or hundreds, but there are thousands of absolute predictable hard trends, all of a sudden you’ve got opportunity. This isn’t that difficult actually. There are only three categories of hard trends. For example one of the three categories of hard trends is demographics. For example, in this country, you’ve got 78 million people. Hard trend, they’re going to get older. They’re not going to get younger. We can predict a lot about the future. As a matter of fact, you can predict amazing opportunities.
A quick example of an opportunity out of that, how about we create a smart watch for seniors, 80 years old and older. You might say, “They’re not going to buy a smart watch.” I would say, “You’re right. You’re going to buy it for them.” Why are you going to buy it for them? Today and the future ones have a little chip and it’s called an accelerometer. It can sense motion. If 90-year-old grandma, all of a sudden her watch rapidly moves four feet, what happened to grandma? She fell. Does grandma need to know that? No, she’s on the floor. You need to know if it’s your grandma. Grandpa, let’s say, gets lost when he takes walk. He can’t remember how to find his way home. What does grandpa do? He just asks his watch, “How do I get home?” It will tell him in a voice, “Turn right, walk a block.” I won’t go into all of the health benefits and everything else, and monitoring blood pressure and blood oxygen levels. You already get the idea. That watch does not exist today. Do you think a watch like that will exist or do you think that’s impossible?
I think it’s possible and I hope it has extra big letters so I can actually see it.
That’s the beauty of voice because now you can just ask it and have it tell you. Even better yet, “What time is it?” and it’ll talk to you. Second one is technology. We are doing things today that were impossible just two years ago. We’ll be doing things two years from now that are impossible today. I would say, “How do you like to know what those things are?” When you start using hard trends, you can start to see that. For example, let’s take the iPhone 15. We just got the 10. Do we know anything about it? No, the sample guy left it in a bar. How would we know? I would say, “Will the iPhone 15 have a faster chip than the iPhone 14, 13, 12, 11, 10?” Most certainly it will. Can we fit more information into it or is it full? No, we’ll get more information and do it. As a matter of fact, let’s talk about the Cloud. Can we get more in the Cloud or is the Cloud getting full? No, Clouds are not getting full. After 3G wireless and 4G wireless and 5G wireless, is that it? No, it’ll be followed by 6G wireless and 7G wireless. As a matter of fact, we even know when they’ll come out and how powerful they will be because of something I put in my book, The Anticipatory Organization and that is how to know not just the what will happen but how to use a three digital accelerators to even know the when it will happen. That gives you some amazing timelines.
The last one, and this is the shocker for people, is government regulation. When you get a new law put into place, there’s amazing opportunities that come into play. Most of us when we get a new regulation, we don’t like it. We look at all the things we don’t like, but one of the principles I teach in the book is opposites work better.
In this case, start with what you do like. A quick example, I’m in California and there was a law that was passed, and that is within three years, kindergarten and first graders in the entire State of California, half their reading has to be non-fiction. Today it’s all fiction. When you hear that, you say, “Why are they doing that? How stupid. Why don’t they do something else? Don’t they have something better to do?” You get all upset. A 28-year-old teacher in San Diego did the opposite. They had three phone calls. Call the San Diego School District, San Francisco School District, the LA School District, three very big ones and said, “We got this law. In three years, half of the books have to be non-fiction for those little kids. If I supply the books, would you be interested?” They said, “Yeah, of course we would.” To make the long story short, they became a guaranteed customer, underwrote her business, and she didn’t have to go on Shark Tank. The reason is she was using government regulations to see opportunity and took a move. All of those – government regulations, demographics, technology – is amazingly predictable, giving you a whole world of opportunity.
I’m fascinated by the changes in education because I have taught for so long, and all you hear about is how education, especially higher education, needs to be reinvented. Do you have people come to you asking you about what you think should be done with higher education or different industries like that? What do you think needs to be done? What’s the ‘what’ and the ‘when’? There’s government regulation there.
I do work with a number of universities and looking at the future of where it’s going. First of all, are we preparing students at every level to thrive in the world that is ceasing to exist? The answer is yes. There are some eternal principles that were true in the past and will be true in the future, and you better continue to teach those, but have we even figured out what those are? No. Secondly, what are the new principles that will help you to go forward and thrive in that future world? We’ve got AI coming in. Everyone thinks AI’s going to do everything. There is something that you know because you’re an educator, old stone, and that’s there is the cognitive domain. In education, we tend to teach to the lower levels of the cognitive domain, which is basically just information and regurgitating facts and so on.
When you get to the higher levels of the cognitive domain: analysis, problem solving, synthesis, that’s where it gets exciting. Those are the very things that AI doesn’t do that well. What we are going to see is that there is an art and a science to every profession. Typically, in school we learn the science and then we go out and learn the art on our own. We’re going to see AI getting really good at the science and humans are going to thrive with the art part. We’re going to be really spending a lot of time looking at how can we create a symbiotic relationship with AI. In symbiosis, you end up with two different animals that can’t exist without each other. That’s the future of AI and humans together. For example, watch an IBM super computer. It knows more about oncology than any oncologist right now. I’m going to give you three choices. A really good oncologist is choice one. Choice two, just watching, no human. Choice three, a really good oncologist that has access for watching. That is symbiotic computing. We are going to be working with AI rather than AI saying, “We don’t need humans anymore. You’re out of here.”
A lot of the meetings I go to, the biggest complaint is that people have the hard skills, the stuff that you’re saying the AI are going to do, but they don’t have the soft skills. Do you think what we’re lacking in what we’re teaching then in that respect?
I don’t like to fix the blame, I like to fix the problem. For example, if you’re a leader but there’s the educators and everyone else, and you say, “We need to change.” You’re basically saying you’re doing something wrong. What we need to instead do, with education as well as everything else, is elevate what we do to increasing relevancy based on the direction the future is going because, there’s no beg around elevation. It’s just like with the brand. I don’t want you to change your brand, I want you to elevate your brand to increasing relevancy. In this, instead of saying, “Teachers, you’re doing it all wrong,” which makes them already not like you, instead we’ve got to say, “The world’s changed. We’ve got to look at what are the things that we’re going to keep that are essential for us to be teaching ten, fifteen, twenty years from now. If we don’t teach these things we’re in trouble but if you take everything, we’ll fail.”What do we got to take and what do we get to leave behind? That separates the wheat from the chaff, and educators can get into that. Then secondly, what are the new things? That’s the art side that we want to teach.
One last little thought for it is, and you’ll find this interesting and I’m getting a lot of people really liking this idea because of how quickly things are changing and making students of all ages, whether you’re 80 or eight, adaptable. That is, remember boy scouts and girl scouts have all these badges? You’re going to be learning something, and when you learn something, you get a badge. A number of badges leads to certification, and that a number of certifications leads to a degree. What we’re going to do is see badges, certifications, and degrees, and since there are so many different kind of badges you can get, it allows you to find a way forward without having to wait four years or whatever degree you’re working at. Even if you got a PhD, you need a few new badges and certifications. One last comment on this, they say, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” I got news for you, we’re not dogs. When you’ve got someone that is older and they are open-minded enough to work with some young people and learn a few new tricks, look out, you gotten out wisdom combined with new knowledge, you got something really powerful there.
I’ve been talking about how things will become more A la carte and the ramifications in that type of thing to try and to get people more interested in different aspects of it. I’m wondering if we let people pick and choose, how much of the humanity’s part are we going to lose. Isn’t that the glue? Are we going to lose anything of that?
I didn’t say allow people to pick and choose necessarily. Once you get out of formal school, picking and choosing plays a fairly good role. In school, that’s where you need a really good foundation, otherwise you won’t be creative, you won’t be curious and you won’t have a wide enough palette. From a knowledge standpoint, you’d be able to go in different directions and see solutions, it will be too narrow. The more focused and narrow you are, the less you’re going to come up with innovative new solutions to not just big problems but even everyday problems. I like creating a good foundation in that lower level. There’s plenty of room to grow that foundation.
I definitely think younger generations are going to value different things than the boomers did in terms of the four-year degrees that are still what older executives’ value. It’ll be interesting to see what younger people value for education. I definitely think it’s going to change. Your book’s title is so interesting to me, The Anticipatory Organization. What I see a lot in online education, for example, is a lot of these schools aren’t anticipating. They’re only looking back at what they did and what worked in the past. “This is how we got students in the past,” but then supply and demand changed completely because regular universities got in and for-profits’ in a different direction. What are you doing to help organizations be more anticipatory?
The reason I titled that book The Anticipatory Organization instead of The Anticipatory Individual is because we all tend to work with other people in organizations of some kind. If you’re the only one that’s anticipatory and everyone else is agile and reactionary, you’re going to find yourself an unhappy camper. How can we, as an individual, which I do teach in the book, but also how the people around this, to not just react quickly? Most people think it’s all about being agile. Agile is reacting quickly after a problem occurs. It’s reacting quickly after disruption occurs. What I’m saying is there are two sides to a coin. You can’t predict everything. I want you to be agile but what you need is a new competency, which I’m teaching in this book, and that is the other side of the coin. How do I anticipate problems before you have them so you can pre-solve them and not have them in the first place? How do I anticipate disruptions before they disrupt, turning disruption into a choice? Rather than just react after the fact, since technological change is increasing at an exponential rate, we need to get on the other side of that and start predicting again the problem as well as the opportunities, and seeing what’s out there and acting before the fact. We end up with some excellent results.
I’ve been teaching this methodology. It’s a way of thinking. Change how you think, you change the results. By becoming anticipatory, the companies or organizations that are embracing this are doing amazing things in a short amount of time because they freed themselves of what I call rearview mirror thinking. There’s a reason your rearview mirror so small and your windshield is so big. Usually when we are thinking about the future, we’re using a rearview mirror mindset. It’s our past perspective that’s drawing us forward instead of, “Let’s look at what’s really coming up ahead so we can see all the amazing opportunities that lie before us.”I was a commencement speaker this last spring. I’m sure I shocked the parents when I said to all the graduates, “I don’t want you to focus on being successful because success is all about you, it’s inwardly focused. Instead, I’d like you to focus on being significant. I’d like you to live a life of significance rather than success because significance is about others, it’s not about you. It’s what you’re doing for others. If you live a life with significance, you’ll be successful by default.” It’s being careful of what you’re looking for, you might get it.
One last thing I shared with them and I want to share with you and that is think big about your future and then realize you just thought small because there’s always a bigger big. Never do the big, always do the bigger big. That means think through your very best ideas. “Here is where I’m going. Here’s what I’m doing.” After you got that worked out and it looks really good, then I’d like you to step back and say, “How can I render that obsolete with something far better?” Do that instead. Just think back to yourself when you were twenty and you were thinking big about your future. Now in hindsight, were you really thinking small? The answer is, “Of course, we all were.” Here’s what I’m saying right now, “You’re thinking small right now. You still are doing it.”Don’t do the big, always do the bigger big and try to live a significant life rather than just the successful life.
I went out recently with Naveen Jain who is the billionaire behind Moon Express and Viome, and all the companies that he’s created. He was part of this big meeting I went to and the theme of the meeting was Moonshot: Was this your Moonshot. That’s basically what you’re saying. What would you do if you take away the way the limitations that you think you have and think bigger? People are afraid to think bigger sometimes, don’t you think?
Yes, that’s because of the risk. It’s like innovation. There is every day innovation, which is something that’s not taught that I teach in the book, which are inventive solutions to everyday problems. You can empower everybody with that. Then there’s also exponential innovation where you take a giant leap ahead, and most people will not do that. That’s your moonshot concept. The reason is there’s high risk, but here’s the beauty, when you layout the future facts, the hard trends and you can see what’s up ahead for sure with certainty, you can do exponential innovation with low risk. If you don’t do it, someone else will. It’s going to happen anyway. All of a sudden, you can innovate with lower risk. That’s what gives people the confidence to make bold moves rather than hunker down and stick with the smaller ideas.
Don’t you have to have some creativity? You can’t predict everything. I’m sure you’ve had some surprises.
Yeah, you can’t predict everything that’s why you needed agility. There are two sides to the coin. What I’m saying is you’ll be shock at how much you can predict and what a powerful tool that is, because uncertainty doesn’t give you the confidence to move forward. Certainty gives you the window to move forward and to make the bold move. That’s why this whole thing of hard trends is so powerful. Once again, I like the soft trends. If I don’t like them, I could change them. As a matter of fact, I’m working with a major drug company. Then I’m going away doing that very thing, becoming a positive disruptor, because disruption is thought as negative. Why? Because it happened to you and you didn’t see it coming. The reality is, and don’t tell that to Amazon or to Airbnb or the others or to others that have been doing that, the disruptor is doing well. It’s all positive to them. I want us to create positive disruptions to create a better future for ourselves. Do that for yourself, for your family and others. You see hope is not a strategy and just hunkering down and saying, “Let’s see what’s going to happen,” isn’t going to move you forward. It’s when you decide, “I’m going to make it happen.” I’ve seen what I think the ideal of future is for myself, for my organization, or the people that I serve. What is the ideal? There are some new tools to help us do that now. You’ll find some hard trends that allow you to leverage that. All of a sudden, you can start seeing why the subtitle of my book is so good and nails it. That is, Turn Disruption and Change into Opportunity and Advantage.
It is a great subtitle and it makes me think of what you had said in a talk. You were talking about why the Airbnb, the Uber, and all that. You said why a cab driver didn’t invent Uber. Was there any surprise to you of these companies of who came up with them as compared to who logically would have come up with them?
Not really. In the question that I asked in the video that you’re referring to. I was giving a speech and I said, “Why didn’t a cab driver think of Uber? Why didn’t Hilton or Marriott think of Airbnb?” The reason is they were all too busy doing what they’ve always done. You can busy yourself right out of business. It’s important to step back and look at the new big picture. Look at those hard trends that are shaping the future and what is now possible. Then realize if you don’t do it, someone else will. That’s the idea of seeing disruption before it disrupts. Let me just go back to when I launched the book back in 1993 called Techno Trends, I’m happy to say another bestseller. In that book, I was speaking at the American Booksellers Annual Convention. 10,000 booksellers in the audience. This is two years before Amazon was founded. You can get the old audio tape for that speech because they taped it. I clearly said, “In two years, we’re going to have a virtual bookstore,” and if you listen to it I’m basically describing Amazon. I said, “Any of you could do this right now but I don’t think you are. I don’t think you will. You’re too busy doing what you do. It will take someone from the outside.” The reason I was able to make that prediction is because the tools to do it were there, and one of the principles that I teach is, “If it can be done, it will be done. If you don’t do it, someone else will.” Using the methodologies I’m teaching, you can see what will be done, and then you’ve got some choice.
Why aren’t you Bezos? Why didn’t you not do it yourself? Have you ever thought of doing some of those things?
I have. I started six companies, five were profitable in the first year. I’ve done really well but at my core, the reason is, and I think you can relate to this knowing your background, and that is the two most important moments in the person’s life is the day you’re born and the day you find out why you’re born. I knew long ago why I was put on the planet, and that is I was put on the planet to teach. I remember decades ago, the companies were growing quickly and I was about to open up a West Coast manufacturing place for my airplane design, and so on. I thought, “If I’m 95 years old and I’d look back at my life, and this is how it unfolded from a professional standpoint, am I happy?” The answer was no. I knew that wasn’t the answer for me. There’s more than one right answer. In giving almost 3,000 speeches all over the world and then writing the books and the thousands of articles is helping others to unlock the potential within themselves and to create a better future for not just themselves but for everyone else. To me, that’s a worthy thing. Financially, I’ve done extremely well but money is about success. I’m living what I told you. I’d rather live a life as significance and empower people with a God-given gift, and that is teaching. I was just given this gift. If you’re given a gift, you should use it.
Maybe you didn’t want to be Bezos and have Amazon. You’ve wanted to do this direction. Have you ever looked at something, “This is going to be the next big thing,” and it didn’t come true? Have you had any predictions or anything surprise you?
The truth is not really. If you go back through my time, and again with all that I’ve written and all of that has been thousands of predictions that have amazingly been accurate, the key is I live at the bright side on what you’re wrong about. Instead of looking at the soft trends, the ‘ifs’ and ‘maybes’, I stick with the hard trends. It’s pretty easy to be able to see and make that invisible visible. It was five or six years ago when you’re just starting to hear about the drones getting big. One of the things that I did was I talked about, “Let’s look at what is the ideal use of drones and then you’ll start seeing where drones are going.” One of the predictions I said is, “We’re going to see them used for lifeguards.”If somebody’s drowning out there, wouldn’t that be a good use for a drone to glide the drone out there with a microphone on the drone to say, “Here, grab this life preserver, we’ll be out in a minute.” If you’re paying attention to the news, that was just done recently in Australia, and you’ll see it done by beaches all around. I was that guy who put that out there five years ago.
All I’m doing is letting people know what is possible, giving them applications for it, and all of a sudden it starts happening. I’ve seen that happen for decades. I’m actually helping to give people thoughts and ideas about how to use these things in a positive way, and it’s good. Going back to when I was writing my last book, Flash Foresight, I started writing it in the recession. The real estate was a big part of that. I thought, as I’m writing the book, “Why don’t I start a company with no money and no employees and use the principles of the book and see how good the book is?” What I did was I used the principles hard trends, soft trends, and I could see mobile apps were going to not be a soft trend but what would be continuing to grow.
Back in 2010, when I was started writing that book, mobile apps were not business. They were more games, how do you make your phone look like a beer when you pour it next to your face, and all that 99 cents. I thought there’s going to be mobile apps for purchasing logistics, supply chain, remote disease monitor, finding your lost dog. If I don’t make them, someone else will. I generated a list and then I used a free tool, Google Search, to see out of all of those things, which thing I already have that the biggest number of people looking for. The answer was foreclosures. I created the first national real estate app and I did that by, again I used my own principle, the Skip It principle. I didn’t want to hire somebody, so I called the local university, asked for the computer division, talked to the dean and said, “I like the name of an undergraduate getting a degree in the Software Programming that’s smarter than all the teachers.”They said, “You mean Steve?” I said, “Yes, Steve.” I talked to Steve and said, “What are you doing on this side that make money?” He said, “I’m programming websites.” I said, “I bet you’re bored.” He said, “Yeah, but I’ve been doing this since junior high.” I said, “How would you like to make a mobile app that no one’s ever seen before?” He said, “Cool.” I said, “I can’t pay you any money but I can give you a percentage of the profit for the first several years after.” He said, “I’m in.”
I was able to do it without having to learn how to program or without hiring somebody. I used the Skip It principle and the principles I teach. It took six months to launch. I actually put out three apps. One was called Complete Foreclosures and the other one was Complete Homes, the third one was Complete Rentals. They were the 17th most downloaded app in the first week. I was in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times because I was just disrupting real estate. By the second week, I was on national TV. I made all of the apps free so that I could make more money. I was the first guy to come up with a way to get recurring revenue in an app. I made the apps free and I charged real estate agents $24.95 a month to have an exclusive zip code in the app. What that did was when all the zip codes were gone, that was $1.7 million a month in recurring revenue. Now I started getting busy and you can start to see me on the path of being a Bezos kind of guy. Then, I would have been busy doing that and you would have never read the book that I just wrote. You wouldn’t have read the last book. You wouldn’t have read a lot of stuff. I wouldn’t have given all of those speeches. I would have been too busy growing a real estate empire. That’s not why I was put on the planet. What I did was I licensed that off to a little company called Zillow and I just go back to doing what I do. It’s really about what is your future. Everyone has to shape that and decide what success is and what that means to them on their own. It’s not the same definition for everyone.
You definitely have a beautiful mind for thinking this stuff and seeing things that other people don’t. Do you have any predictions for the next couple of years so that we can get people who aren’t as good at seeing these things as clearly as you are to get them working on disruption?
Yeah, I’ll give you that and the action they should take. First of all, over the next four or five years, we will not just change. We will truly transform, which is very different than change, every business process: how we sell, how we market, how we communicate, how we collaborate, how we innovate, how we train, how we educate. We’re transforming the whole shooting edge. Here’s the hard trend. The tools to do that exist today. It is going to happen. That’s the hard trend. The soft trend, whether you transformed your business processes, that’s up to you. That’s the “maybe” part. We have tools to do it and the fact that it is going to happen. Eventually, if you don’t, you’re in trouble. That’s all hard. There is a solid mountain of amazing opportunity for all of us right in front of us. It’s a steep mountain and it’s amazing. It’s exponential and it’s curve. It’s fogged in.
The reason you can’t see it is the fog. The fog is the news because bad new sells and good news doesn’t sell. If there’s no bad news, they give you the anniversary of bad news. What I’d like people to do is to blow away the fog. Here are some actions for you all. Spend one hour a week unplugging from the present and plugging into your future. That is where you’re going to spend the rest of your life. In that hour, instead of looking at all the things you’re uncertain about why don’t you start looking at the hard trends and the things you can be certain about. Then tie each one to an opportunity for you. Pick one and do it, and you’ll see yourself shaping the future. To help all of your listeners to do just that, I’m going to give you a hardcover copy of my book for free. You all have to pay a few bucks for shipping but I’m going to give it to you. I’m going to do that because I know you’re going to love it so much you’re going to recommend it to your friend and I’ll end up doing fine.
The name of the book is The Anticipatory Organization. I’m going to make it easier, go to TheAOBook.com. Read that book and then spend an hour a week doing what I just said. You’ll find yourself being an amazing futurist. I’m a teacher, I’m not a teller. I’m actually trying to show you how to do it.
What a nice offer and it’s been so interesting, Daniel. I love our conversation. Thank you so much for being on the show.
Thank you. It’s a real pleasure.
Thank you so much to Daniel Burrus. That was so interesting. I hope all of you have taken him up on his offer to get his free book. Thank you so much, Daniel, for that.
About Daniel Burrus
Daniel Burrus is considered one of the world’s leading futurists on global trends and innovation. The New York Times has referred to him as one of the top three business gurus in the highest demand as a speaker. He is a strategic advisor to executives from Fortune 500 companies, helping them to accelerate innovation and results by developing game-changing strategies based on his proven methodologies for capitalizing on technology innovations and their future impact. His client list includes companies such as Microsoft, GE, American Express, Google, Deloitte, Procter & Gamble, Honda, and IBM. He is the author of seven books, including The New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller Flash Foresight, and his latest book The Anticipatory Organization.
- Daniel Burrus
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