For many leaders, their work day gets spent in getting through multiple transactions.
They jump from one meeting to another, they are always busy with no time to breathe. At the end of the day however, hardly a few things get done. In all this to develop an eye for the future seems distant. However the ask from leaders of today in a VUCA enviroment, is that they future proof the organisation. For this they need to have an ability to build foresight.
In her book “Seeing around corners” Rita McGrath, Professor Columbia Business School and an expert on Innovation/Strategy, says that the future happens gradually than suddenly and we can be prepared to handle it if only we care to notice the signals. These could be leading indicators of success and can help us develop foresight.
That begs the question - why are leaders not able to notice the signals? Why for some of them the dots seem to connect in retrospect but they still manage to notice them run time? Why for some, the signals get completely missed?
"Strategic thinking" is one of the goals that many mid-senior professionals explore during our coaching conversations. The conversations most likely borders around -
"I have too many operational stuff to take care of, that I don't have time to think strategically about myself or my business."
Does that mean, one has to drop operations and just sit thinking about the future? No.
Signal to Noise ratio is a measurement parameter in use in the fields of science and engineering that compares the level of the desired signal to the level of background noise . The intention is to maximise the signal & reduce the noise as much as possible.
As a leader how do you improve your signal to noise ratio?
1. Optimal Up-time Vs Down-time: Uptime is the time availability of you, the leader, for handling Business As Usual (BAU) which may also involve working with others to get the transactions moving. If the leader goes by 99.99% uptime like machines, obviously they won't have any energy left for 'zooming out' and looking at the big picture. This needs to be alternated with planned down-times that help them work individually without distractions to define a vision/sketch and then work with others to refine it. What is optimal can be defined subjectively but it can't be skewed on one side.
2. An outward looking gaze: A leader's job is to look at the environment & market outside their own organisation. "Signals" not in their control are available most likely outside than inside. Not knowing what customers are going through, the latest trends, the competitor strategy etc can limit a leader's ability to anticipate the future. Being aware of the industry and its dynamics helps to be prepared.
3. Encouraging reverse flow of information: Usually information flows top-down in an organisation. Being a leader who has a temperament to hear bad news that flows bottom up is crucial to be in touch with the grassroots of the organisation and outside information of relevance. This gives the leader an insider view of reality instead of just walking in the clouds.
4. Diversity of thought
A team diverse in thought greatly influences the preparedness for the future. This team keeps hyper focus on the present challenges and yet can help taking bets on the future. Hiring people who think differently from the leader helps in creating a culture that is futuristic yet productive. Being able to shift among Divergent, Emergent & Convergent thinking is absolutely critical to be future ready.
What is the smallest step you will take to develop foresight?