Interview with Daniel Burrus by Jonathan Løw
The following interview with Daniel Burrus is one out of many interviews and articles from the GuruBook. In this interview, serial entrepreneur Jonathan Løw interviews Otto Scharmer.
Daniel Burrus (USA) has built a worldwide reputation for predicting technological change and its impact on the world of business. He is the author of seven books including the New York Times bestseller Flash Foresight, and his new book The Anticipatory Organization, and is followed by millions of readers on the social media. He is the founder of 6 companies – three were national leaders in the U.S. in their first year, and five were profitable within the first year of business.
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.
The New York Times has referred to Daniel Burrus as one of the top three business gurus in the world
I’m fascinated by Burrus’ ability to accurately predict the future and not just guess. Also, I’m 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 Burrus’ ideas on a different approach to how companies plan and innovative…
Jonathan Løw: You teach, what you consider to be the biggest missing competency in companies and organizations today: The missing ability to anticipate. Please tell me more about this…
Daniel Burrus: 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 agile 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.
Jonathan Løw: What do you think of agile innovation?
Daniel Burrus: Agility is basically reacting fast to change. Therefore it’s important to understand that agile innovation is reactive innovation. Agile reactive innovation will keep you in a crisis management reactive role to disruptive innovation 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 by 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 their ability to leap ahead with low risk and innovate quickly.
if you are going exponentially fast in the wrong direction, you will get into trouble exponentially faster
The past few years there have been several large organizations writing and teaching about the subject of exponential organizations and exponential growth, which is valuable just like 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.
Jonathan Løw: You’re obviously right about that, but is that really something we can predict with a high level of certainty?
Daniel Burrus: Absolutely! There is no shortage of trends out there. The problem is knowing which trends are going to happen and when. As I mentioned earlier, you can divide trends into two categories: Hard Trends and Soft Trends.
Hard trends are based on future facts, they WILL happen. It’s a 100% certain. You can’t stop them from happening, but you can see them ahead of time. The three main categories of Hard Trends are Technology, Demographics, and Government Regulation. The last one is usually a surprise, but equally surprising is how powerful this can be when you learn how to see the future of regulations.
Hard trends are based on future facts, they WILL happen. It’s a 100% certain
Using my Hard Trend Methodology, you can see disruptions, before they disrupt, and turn predictable disruption into an opportunity. You can see the problems you will have before you have them. You can see the game-changers and take action on them before the game is changed on you.
Jonathan Løw: What is a Soft Trend?
Daniel Burrus: A Soft Trend might happen and is a trend that is based on an assumption and not future facts. There are various levels of assumptions with different levels of risk. The power of Soft Trends is that you can influence them to your advantage. In other words, if you don’t like a Soft Trend, you can change it.
My Hard Trend Methodology is a proven methodology that represents a powerful way to manage risk. Strategies based on uncertainty have high risk, strategies based on certainty have low risk. When leaders understand the difference between the Soft and Hard Trends, it allows them to both innovate and even disrupt with low risk.
Jonathan Løw: Is there a way to know when a Hard Trend will happen?
Daniel Burrus: Based on my research in 1983 when I started my company, came across Moore’s Law which basically states that processing power will double every 18 months as the price drops in half.
Not a lot of people were looking at Moore’s Law in the early 1980s, but I knew he nailed it. Based on Moore’s law, I identified what I called the Three Digital Accelerators: the predictable exponential growth of computing power, bandwidth, and digital storage.
They don’t follow the exact same exponential curves as Moore’s law, but very close. Those are the three main factors driving the predictable and exponential pace of change. Hard Trends provides the “what” and the Digital Accelerators provides the “when” to the visible future.
The key to harnessing the power of exponential is the ability to accurately anticipate the hard Trends that are shaping the future.
Jonathan Løw: I think that everybody wants to see the future, but can you tell me more about how you actually do it?
Daniel Burrus: A key principle I teach is; if it can be done, it will be done, and if you don’t do it, someone else will.
I’ve conducted over thirty years of research to understand trends and the driving forces of change.
For example, in 1983, I listed digital electronics, the Internet, optical storage, wireless networking, artificial intelligence, nanotech, supercomputers, genetic engineering — twenty technology categories in all, that would drive economic growth for decades to come. My original list of twenty has stood the test of time.
Based on seven books, hundreds of articles and 2,800 keynote speeches worldwide, I have proven that it is possible to accurately predict the future, but more importantly, I can teach others to do this as well and turn change into an advantage.
Today, we’re at a unique point in human history, where we can do things that were impossible just a few years ago. Because of this unique tipping point, it’s not enough to be agile and innovate in a reactionary way. We need to get out in front and drive positive innovation and change with the confidence certainty can provide as well as pre-solve predictable problems way before they happen.
Jonathan Løw: Pre-solve predictable problems. I like that…
Daniel Burrus: Yes. If you are waiting for problems to happen and then solve them as a reaction to the problem, the number of problems in the future will pile up on you and bury you. The key is to pre-solve them before they happen.
First, you need to be able to separate Hard Trends from Soft Trends. Once you do this, you have the confidence to then act on the future facts.
Going back to Soft Trends, imagine that you’re managing a city and working with smart signage, new ways of parking etc. The question is: Will you add networked intelligence to make these things smart? The tools are there to do it, but I can’t accurately predict that you or someone else will decide to do it or not. The tools to do it are there and represent Hard Trends, they will happen. Whether you decide to transform your business processes, that is up to you, that is a Soft Trend.
We are most often looking ahead using a review mirror mindset much more than the windshield
Too many companies think that most of the future is unpredictable. However, this is a dangerous misconception and is a problem in our way of thinking. We are most often looking ahead using a review mirror mindset much more than the windshield.
Most don’t have a future mindset based on the new realities. We’re too busy solving day-to-day problems. This is one of the biggest problems with most organizations today: They are simply too busy putting out fires to take the actions that will make them more relevant in the years ahead. Today you can busy yourself right out of business.
Jonathan Løw: I guess that most companies are busy doing business, because that is how they survive. Do you suggest that they stop focusing on their core business and look at the future instead?
Daniel Burrus: No, but you do need to start devoting time to being an opportunity manager, not just a crisis manager putting out fires and reacting to change. You can start by devoting one hour per week and ask yourself: What am I certain about, what are the Hard Trends that are shaping the future?
To understand the Hard Trends shaping the future, start by creating a list of them and identify the opportunities for each of them. Ask yourself; which one could I do that would have the biggest payoff for my company? How can I benefit from this Hard Tact, and use the Three Digital Accelerators to see when it will happen.
When you start thinking like this, you train your anticipatory mindset. And, if you encounter any problems, then you can use another principle I teach, you can take your problems and skip them. I call it problem-skipping.
Jonathan Løw: Problem-skipping?
Yes. A problem could be: We don’t have enough staff. Then skip the problem! Use outsourced people, software, and hardware. Virtualize as much as possible.
Every single problem and barrier in most companies is perceived a problem. They are mental barriers
Another problem: I don’t have the money to do it. Skip the problem! Get the money upfront from an ideal customer to fund what you want to sell them.
Every single problem and barrier in most companies is perceived a problem. They are mental barriers. A big problem for many is their assumption that they can’t do something. They think of this assumption as a future fact but it’s not! In other words, we spend too much energy looking at, why we can’t do it. Try putting the same energy into the belief that you can actually do it.
Jonathan Løw: I would like to go back to the Hard Trends to make sure that both the readers and I fully understand these…
Daniel Burrus: Look at 4G wireless and what is now being implemented in some areas, 5G wireless. What is a Hard Trend related to this? That we’re going to have 6G wireless followed by 7G.
It will happen, and, using my Three Digital Accelerators, we even know when it will happen and how powerful each will be. The accelerators are all advancing tech like this along with a predictable exponential curve. Ask yourself; how can our company benefit from knowing this?
Another Hard Trend example, Baby Boomers are going to get older, they will not get younger. This will happen. We can predict both opportunities and problems based on that. Try it!
In the U.S., obesity is predicted to grow as a problem. The same with Alzheimer’s. Are these trends hard Trends that can’t be changed? No! They are Soft Trends that we can influence or not, we have a choice.
You can’t make advances in artificial intelligence stop or disappear, and you can’t make mobility go away. They are Hard Trends that will just become increasingly powerful, so what can you benefit from this?
Your job as a leader, an innovator and an entrepreneur is to turn these Hard Trends into opportunities. Make the trends come to life. Look at these opportunities for your business and for your customers.
When you start doing this and seeing the future more clearly, pick something that is in alignment with the direction that you’re going.
Jonathan Løw: I’m fascinated by the idea and methods around Hard Trends, because most people think that you can’t predict the future and be right…
Daniel Burrus: I have a 35-year record of showing that you can use Hard Trends to predict much of the future and be correct, and you can learn to do this as well. Here is a simple example of a future fact; we will have summer again next year at the same time. Do you think that I’m right? Yes, because of the science of cycles.
There are more than 500 known cycles. But there is another kind of predictable change, it’s linear in that it is not a cycle, it is going in one direction, and it’s exponential in its speed. Once you get a smartphone, you’re not going back to a dumb phone. Smartphones will get smarter. They will have more capabilities, not less. I know this for a fact. You know this for a fact.
Jonathan Løw: Your way of thinking reminds me of the beautiful serenity prayer:
God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.
Daniel Burrus: Very true. My passion is to wake people up to the fact that you can learn to see more than enough of what is up ahead to make a significant difference in your organization and your life. And we can use that knowledge to shape a better future for all.
Over the decades working with executives around the world, I’ve collected thousands of Hard Trends for my clients. And we’ve used them to transform their businesses. I started out as a researcher and I taught biology and physics. In other words, I’ve applied scientific principles to forecasting. Most futurists make educated guesses about the future and call them trends. My Hard Trend methodology is changing how companies plan and innovate. You can do this as well.
Jonathan Løw: Let us try looking at a very hyped thing at the moment and applying your methodology to this: The self-driving cars. Elon Musk and others talk about them all the time. How will I know as a company, when this will happen, and what it will mean for my business?
Daniel Burrus: I help companies become Anticipatory Organizations. This means following a number of principles – one of these being the Both/And Principle when it comes to looking at technology.
Typically we tend to think in either/or terms about new technology. Either the cars of the future will all be fully autonomous, or this will not happen.
Using this principle, you will see that we will have both semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicles in the future; it will depend on the use. For example, can you imagine Porsche sell a car without a steering wheel? Their customers like to drive, but as a Porsche customer, I don’t like accidents. So, in this case of Porsche, they will use this tech to eliminate the accident part of driving and at the same time let you drive when you want to drive. It’s Both/And.
Better to ask; what is the ideal place for real autonomous vehicles? I will predict very large companies with giant campuses and multiple buildings. Vehicles going from building to building. Busses are another great example, because they follow the same route and stop at the same places. It’s not all or nothing. It’s Both/And.
Jonathan Løw: Finally, I want to understand your principle of “flash foresight”, that was the name of your last book. What is that?
Daniel Burrus: Flash Foresight is the concept of using my principles to see the invisible and do the impossible. Humans have been doing impossible things ever since they set foot on the planet. We have created glasses, chairs, and jet engines. Things that at one time were thought to be impossible.
How do you do impossible things? The answer is that when a solution to a seemingly impossible problem becomes visible, or when an invisible opportunity becomes visible, you get a flash of foresight that lets you move forward from where you were previously stuck.
What I want people to do is not be passive and hope for a better future. Hope is not a strategy. I want people to actively shape the future! And, I want people to think big about their future and then realize that they just thought small. Never to the big, always to the bigger big. Let’s actively shape a better future together, and let’s do it today!
You can learn more by going to Burrus.com
Jonathan Løw’s latest books Listen Louder and The Disruption Book (Danish books), both made it to the top of the bestseller-lists in 2015 in the category “Business and Entrepreneurship”.
Additionally, Jonathan Løw is the editor of The GuruBook – published in March 2018 by Taylor & Francis from which the above interview originates.