Rob-Jan de Jong on FuturePriming: A Process for Anticipating, Clarifying, and Seizing on Future Events

Photo of Rob-Jan de Jong, author of AnticipateThe following is a guest post from Rob-Jan de Jong, author of Anticipate: The Art of Leading by Looking Ahead, discussing the concept of FuturePriming.

What if you could develop super early-detection powers for future breakthroughs and game-changing events? You can by following four simple rules of FuturePriming, a process which is essentially about writing your own FutureFacts. You engage your imagination by entertaining unconventional, possibly disruptive, future events. This way, you are priming your mind to notice these first hints that initially only present themselves at the periphery of our attention.

Here are my four simple rules for developing your FutureFacts:

Rule 1: Scope for relevance and time. Look for relevant changing realities in your business, industry, and geography. Your scope should be wide enough to capture any relevant signals, but not so wide that you have too much information to consider. For example, if you are working in the United Kingdom’s financial sector, consider the influence of regulations from the European Union, growing financial power in the Middle East, and eroding trust in business leadership. For a timeline, a three- to seven-year scope works best. It’s far enough out to be creative, and it is near enough to already be relevant to think about today.

Rule 2: Don’t make your own company part of your FutureFact. FuturePriming is an outside-in approach. The point of this practice is to be attuned to the outside world and what might be happening there. If you are working at GreatBiz, FutureFacts such as GreatBiz Introduces New P-Ray Technology First and GreatBiz Merges with StrongBiz won’t be helpful if you want to improve your visionary capacity.                            

Rule 3: Explore the area between the conventional and the absurd. Ideas that simply confirm current trends or conventional wisdom neither add to your learning about the future nor challenge your assumptions. On the other hand, wildly far-fetched FutureFacts, like 60 Percent of Toddlers Now Have Mobile Phones, are not going to help grow your visionary capacity either. The fertile ground for useful FutureFacts is the area between the conventional and the absurd. You should stretch what you—and those around you—currently already believe. Without going overboard.

Rule 4: Describe an event, not a trend. Write your FutureFact as an event you might read about in the newspaper. Create a memorable hook that highlights something significant about the event. Vague descriptions of trends, such as “ever-growing need for clean water,” won’t cut it. To promote looking ahead with clarity, FutureFacts must make a possible changing reality concrete. For example: “Solar Roadways Builds First Highway Strip” and “DNA Profile Taken into Account in Health Insurance Pricing.”                       

Jacket Art for Anticipate by Rob-Jan de Jong

Rob-Jan de Jong is one of five faculty members in Wharton’s flagship executive program “Global Strategic Leadership.” A sought-after international consultant, he helps leaders and companies anticipate the future and arrive at winning strategies. His clients include Philips, ING, HCL, Dannon, and other top organizations.

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