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"If you start looking where no one else is looking, you can see what no one else is seeing, so you can do what no one else is doing." Daniel Burrus

Flash foresights, a concept created by futurist Daniel Burrus, are intense flashes of insight that reveal the future. Lest we think it's out of our realm, consider literacy; there was a time when only scribes and priests knew how to read. What about the Internet? At first, only academics knew how to use it. Burrus argues that now it's time for everyone to know how to use flash foresights. One way to trigger a flash foresight is to look where no one else is looking.

Go Opposite

Who watches the Super Bowl for the football? Well, sure, there are a few - but it also enjoys wide viewership because of the ads. This is the time when brands pull out all the stops - including the stops on their budget. Thirty-second spots can cost north of $4.5 million. We'd expect, to compete, brands would hire the most expensive agencies and go all out.

This is exactly what Doritos did not do. Instead, they ran a contest and encouraged consumers to create their own ads. The winner would air during the big game - and it cost $200 to make.

How can you go opposite?

  1. Make a list of everything that your competitors are doing. Look at each item and ask how you could benefit by doing the opposite.
  2. Identify the current ways of thinking in your industry. Try thinking the opposite to see new opportunities.
  3. Break projects, goals, or objectives into components. Look at each part and consider doing the opposite. What would change? What opportunities would emerge?
  4. Identify steps or elements that everyone in your space uses. Is there a creative way to do the exact opposite? (Think Doritos!)
  5. The "way we've always done it" is going to be obsolete, fast. Realize that the best path is one which no one else is taking - and if you don't break that trail, someone else certainly will.

Redefining and Reinventing Your Business

A related concept - and another trigger for flash foresights - is to redefine and reinvent your business. This will enable you to leapfrog past the competition; and like going opposite; it emphasizes the need to turn the status quo on its head.

According to Burrus, "Redefining and reinventing means seizing the opportunity to rewrite your own history - before it happens." So, redefine and reinvent what exactly? Simple. Everything.

In 1983, for example, automaker Chrysler realized the old station wagon just wouldn't cut it anymore. Baby boomers, then parents with young kids, needed plenty of room. But they didn't want to drive what their parents drove.

This flash foresight led to the introduction of the Dodge Caravan, the first minivan. Chrysler redefined the family car and leapfrogged past the completion. The Caravan remains one of the most popular minivans today - thanks to continual innovation.

Finding a Way to Compete

When Amazon opened its virtual doors, Barnes & Noble could not compete price-wise. So they compete on the experience of sitting in a store and drinking a hot, fragrant cappuccino. Your business can compete on:

  • Price
  • Customer service
  • Reputation
  • Image
  • Quality
  • Design
  • Speed
  • Innovation
  • Knowledge

But why not compete in all of these areas? Burrus suggests asking for each one, "How can I redefine how we compete on ____________?" Think of creative ways to leapfrog the competition; remember, if you don't, someone else will.

Using the Redefining/Reinventing Trigger

How can you put this principle to work for you?

  1. Don't worry about competing. Instead, leapfrog past the competition by redefining and reinventing everything about your business.
  2. De-commoditize. Find ways to make "bland, vanilla" products exciting. Starbucks, for instance, turned a simple meal accompaniment (coffee) in a fresh experience. How can you make the ordinary extraordinary?
  3. Reinvent the old by using it in new ways. How can you "repurpose" existing technology? In 1993, for instance, critical care nurses spent 4 hours per shift talking to patients' families - time spent away from the patients. Then the "reinvention" of pagers; before only doctors had them. Go opposite, and give them to families. Nurses told loved ones that if there were a change in the patients' condition, they would beep them. This cut the time spent away from patients to just 45 minutes.
  4. Be extraordinary. Ask yourself whether you're innovating or imitating. What can you do to leapfrog? Start by looking at what the competition is doing, and then doing the opposite.

In a rapidly changing, complex world, adhering to the status quo will kill your organization. How can you break away from "business as usual" and blaze a new trail?


Larry Hart

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