As motorists, we continually scan the areas of the road to our left, right, and behind us, but the most important place to examine is immediately in front of us. Therefore, our driving teachers have stressed the need to always focus on the roadway in front of us.
While we are stuck in traffic and driving at a modest speed, we may not need to pay as much attention to what is happening in front of us; nevertheless, as our speed increases, we need to glance farther and further along the road to see what is approaching.
Try going in the middle of the night on a very long, dark rural road while keeping your usual headlight beams on. Then, as soon as you can, you switch on the high beams of your headlights so that you can see further down the road as you speed along it.
Why is it that so many of us fail to look up and look farther out in our lives and for our companies, even though we are aware that we need to keep our eyes on the road ahead of us as we go down the highway, and that we gaze even more ahead of us the faster we go?
While establishing strategic plans, how many of us look out three to six months instead of three to six years or even beyond in the future? (One may ask how strategic a plan is if it only goes out a quarter, but that’s just a thought.) How many of us hardly glance up from our desk and daily deliverables, much alone crank on the highlights and stare steadfastly into the future? How many of us rarely look up from our desks at all?
I’d say the vast majority of us.
We continue to refuse to look even further down the road and instead keep our eyes trained on the very near future, even though technological advancements are happening at a faster rate, that our lives are happening at a quicker pace, and that our markets and customers are changing at a more rapid pace.
The rate of change, analogous to the speed at which our automobile was hurtling down that pitch-black rural road, is, if anything, picking up pace. Even in good times, we are deathly afraid that the worst will swoop in and destroy us; for some reason, we fear some horrible Black Swan event that will ultimately kill our companies, so we constantly look for the short-term fix. On the other hand, I blame our propensity for short-term profits over long-term profits; this almost scarcity-based thinking that successive recessions have produced in us. This is something that I blame on our tendency for short-term gains over long-term gains. Because of the inherent unpredictability of Black Swan occurrences, the most significant thing you can do is strengthen your resilience.
If you give it some thought, we consistently make the wrong decision regarding the marshmallow test. We always choose to take the available marshmallow rather than wait for the two marshmallows that will be available tomorrow.
We have to get over our crippling fear of what is ahead.
We must be open to the future, which means we must be available to change. One way to do this is to construct potential future scenarios, determine which situations are the most likely, and then develop accurate strategic plans that map to those scenarios.
We may backcast to today and prepare ourselves not only to live and prosper in the future but also to build the future we want. This is similar to what happens when we take the maze in the other direction.
We need to turn on our highlights, stare as far ahead as we can, look up, and focus our sights further down the road as we journey down this road toward the future at an increasingly rapid pace.
Should we fail to act, someone else certainly will.