By Charles Warnock and
Nick Davis: Lessons from Future Ready: A Changemaker’s Guide to the Exponential Future

“Action is a great restorer and builder of confidence. Inaction is not only the result, but the cause of fear.” ― Norman Vincent Peale

Those of us who live and work at the intersection of strategy, innovation, leadership, and technology are hearing it loud and clear. 

People are scared. 

We often concern ourselves with fears of the future, and the importance of managing those fears and expectations. Today, we don’t have to look into the future to see those fears. Amid safety concerns driven by COVID-19 and the resulting global economic chaos, today’s level of fear and uncertainty often surfaces in personal conversations, conference calls, and across social media channels. The powerful combination of an existential threat to our health and safety, along with a healthy dose of economic uncertainty, is enough to unnerve even the most hearty individual.

But we can’t stop moving. We can take advantage of this unexpected — and unwelcome — break in business-as-usual to reassess our paths and work on our maps and plans to move forward. Fear is a deeply ingrained human response, and helped us survive when our early ancestors wandered the planes, weighed down by concerns about predators or exclusion from their tribes. 

Yet, though COVID-19 and its global spread are novel, pandemics are not. Following the unprecedented hardships and losses of WW1, the Spanish Flu affected more than a third of the world’s population and took as many as 50 million lives. Interestingly, objective information during that pandemic was difficult to obtain as nations engaged in wartime propaganda to maintain morale and shows of strength. Humans came through those dark times, and will survive this pandemic. At the same time, we are learning lessons on how to harness our rapidly emerging and converging technologies to better prepare for the next large-scale threat to our health and well-being.  

Putting fear in its place

“People are shaped not by how things go when things are going well; people’s lives are shaped by the most difficult times.” — Tony Robbins

Here are four actions we can do today to put fear in its place and continue on our path to future growth and impact. 

Update and document your strategy 

A key difference between a traditional business and a future-ready strategy is speed and flexibility. We’ve always thought of strategy as understanding the technology and trends around us to gain a competitive advantage for the future. That is still a good way to think about current strategy, but we’ve gotten a strong reminder that today’s strategic thinking and planning must include a deeper appreciation for the unknown future, and how fast it can impact us — in days and weeks, not months and years. The global business climate is dramatically different than it was just 30 days ago. 

And while traditional planning cycles might involve forecasting three to five years ahead, that timeframe is no longer sufficient to maintain a competitive advantage. In addition to a longer horizon, we must be faster and more flexible about how we take in information about upcoming market and global trends, competitors, and relevant emerging technologies. Today’s most successful organizations are fast and agile learners that harness trends and technologies before their competitors. They take a proactive role in building their own futures, and update their strategies from traditional to 10x as needed. 

Acknowledge that the future of work is now

The future of work is a hot topic, and it will only become hotter as we work our way through the effects of COVID-19, including instant telecommuting and a potential recession looming in the months ahead. After years of speculation on how technologies like AI, robotics,

automation, and machine learning will dramatically impact the future of employment, we’ve received a real jolt as to how quickly things change. Most of us believe that technology is on an unstoppable trajectory to help us achieve a more productive future with robots and automation. But can we agree that this process will continue to accelerate, creating a will be a new norm for us all — and how to best prepare for this faster future? 

Lead for extraordinary circumstances

We often talk about the need to become an exponential leader to prepare for an uncertain future, but what should people expect from their leaders in troubled times? Leaders who are informed, realistic, transparent — and prepared to take action are always needed, and especially in times of extreme circumstances and uncertainty.  

In our programs, we use the metaphor that exponential leaders must be both the surfer and the creator of the wave. 

  • Being the surfer means you must keep your balance and navigate the ever-changing waters, through all types of business and economic conditions. 
  • Being the wave means that through your actions as a leader, you also create new innovations and opportunities — waves of change that affect your organization and industry.

We need more leaders who are highly adaptive, mentally agile and comfortable being uncomfortable. According to Brian Hackett, founder of The Learning Forum, the most important leadership capabilities for successful leadership in our changing world are situational awareness, mental agility, learned instinct, and “commander’s calm” as the uncertain future is characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA). Leaders must become comfortable with an increasingly faster future to achieve peak performance and growth

Practice exponential thinking and mindset

The “new normal” can seem like a series of overwhelming disruptions. We’re just getting into the implications of what this future looks like, and there’s a lot of uncertainty.  But we have no choice but to move from traditional, incremental business thinking to practicing exponential thinking. It can feel overwhelming and anxiety-inducing.

But there are solutions.

Our focus is on building an abundant future for all, not just for a privileged few. Our vision includes using exponential technologies like AI, robotics, digital manufacturing, and nanotechnology to solve the challenges of providing basic needs like clean water, nutrition, and education to every person on the planet. The sooner we begin sharing this vision, the sooner we begin taking proactive steps toward that goal. Taking active roles in building a world of future growth and abundance helps us overcome the feeling that the future is simply happening to us. Being proactive includes building an exponential mindset and frequently focusing on what we can accomplish during times of crises, large and small. 

Finding your power in a post-pandemic future

The challenging times we’re all living through can be painful. Many individuals have already lost their jobs, and many organizations have watched their income plummet or disappear entirely in a matter of weeks, as we are urged to stay at home to preserve our health. Some vulnerable groups, such as low-income seniors, already are struggling to meet their basic needs. Our government support systems and community service organizations will be stress-tested as never before. 

Challenging times bring teachable moments. 

It’s time for organizational leaders, entrepreneurs, and changemakers to hit pause and evaluate their business models and strategies. Are our systems set up to succeed in bygone business environments — or for today’s faster, more chaotic, and connected world? If necessity is the mother of invention, then these challenging times are signaling that we must embrace reinvention. It’s time to be bold, and to reimagine and how we will adapt and improve to succeed in this new environment. Time to move from being future-aware to truly future-ready.

Charles Warnock is an author, tech journalist and Principal Consultant at contentmarketingfactory.com

Nick Davis is a Managing Partner at Reaching the Future Faster Inc. and the prior Global VP of Enterprise Solutions and current Faculty Chair for Corporate Innovation at Singularity University. Nick is a recognized thought leader in the innovation space who specializes in identifying exponential trends that enable enterprise organizations to deliver customer value through new and existing technology platforms.