As drivers, we are constantly checking the road to the left, right, behind, and most importantly, directly in front of us. Our driving instructors have told us that we need to keep our eyes on the road ahead of us.
When we are in traffic, moving slowly, we may not need to pay as much attention to what is going on in front of us, but as we accelerate, we must look further and further ahead down the road to see what’s coming.
Try driving down a long, dark country road with your regular headlight beams on in the middle of the night. The moment you are able to, you flip on those high beams, so you can see farther down the road, as you zip down the road.
While we are aware that we need to look ahead as we accelerate down the road, and we look even further ahead the faster we go, why do so many of us fail to look up and look further out in our lives and for our companies?
How many of us simply look out at the next 3–6 months when developing strategic plans instead of the next 3–6 years, or even further out? (One might wonder how strategic a plan is if it only goes out a quarter?) How many of us barely look up from our desk and our daily deliverables, even for a moment, let alone fire up the high beams and stare solidly into the future?
Most of us, I’d argue.
For some reason, even though technologies are moving forward more rapidly, and our lives are moving faster, and our markets and customers are changing faster, we still refuse to look even further down the road, and keep our eyes trained on the very near future.
If anything, the speed of change, like the speed of our car barreling down that dark country road, is increasing. On the one 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 — even in good times we are deathly afraid that the worst will just swoop in and destroy us — for some reason we dread some horrible Black Swan event which will completely kill our companies, so we constantly look for the short-term fix. Black Swan events are inherently unpredictable, so the best you can do is to be resilient.
If you think about it, we are constantly picking the wrong choice for the marshmallow test — we are continually taking the marshmallow of today, instead of waiting for the two marshmallows of tomorrow.
We need to stop being so afraid of the future.
We need to embrace the future — embrace change — by developing scenarios of the future, taking the most probable of those, and developing true strategic plans which map to those scenarios.
As we do when we take the maze backward, we can easily backcast to today, and prepare ourselves not only to survive and thrive in that future but to create the future that we want.
As we travel that road to the future faster and faster, we need to look up, focus our eyes way down the road, put on our high beams, and look as far forward as we can.
If we don’t, then someone else will.