Create the Future: Tactics for Disruptive Thinking
Today, we learn ways to create the future with Jeremy Gutsche, who joined me on The Business of Government Hour to discuss his book Create the Future: Tactics for Disruptive Thinking. “You are capable of much more than you think,” asserts Gutsche. Most people get stuck in established and recognized patterns of behavior that prevent them from seeing and seizing opportunities. “We are more dependent on our past decisions than we like to admit”, explains Gutsche. “Once a path is set, we often walk down it blindly, failing to question why it was put there to begin with and whether a better path might exist.” This book offers more than just big ideas about how to break free of old patters. It provides practical insights, thought-provoking exercises, and what Gutsche calls “battle-tested techniques.” For him, this book is more than just my life’s work; it is the collective wisdom culled together from the work of his team and the support and journey of his clients (some of the largest and most innovative companies in the world). “I wanted to make the most useful, comprehensive guidebook I could,” declares Gutsche, “combining all of the best tactics I’ve learned from working with so many innovators.” He did just that!
This is a synopsis of the insights shared from his book and the discussion we had on The Business of Government Hour.
Disruption is Accelerating
If you look at any metric over time, you can measure its intervals of change. When you look at all of the changes that occurred in human history, you would expect that each interval encompassed a similar amount of time. For example, with literacy, we reached 20% literacy in 1900. The next 20% interval took 50 years, meaning we reached 40% literacy by 1950. The next 20% took less than 40 years, and the next 20% took roughly 20 years. However, the rate of change is accelerating so much that when you plot out the intervals visually, which I do in my book, it almost looks ridiculous. The pace is increasing exponentially. The rate of acceleration threatens the status quo, but it also presents opportunities. The rules of the game have changed. Now it is more important to better understand the reality of chaos and rapid change. I hope my book can help leaders navigate the new road ahead. If you want a deeper explanation of how and why this pace will continue to accelerate, read the Appendix in the book about the three megatrends that will have the greatest impact on our long-term future.
Past is Prologue: Setting Us On A Specific Path...
People miss out because we lead busy lives and get caught up in a predictable groove, repeating past decisions. This makes it difficult to spot opportunity, and more difficult to act. Even when we have a great idea, it can be a struggle to get buy-in, influence others, and make change happen. It doesn’t have to be that way. For example, the width of NASA's solid rocket boosters matches the width of the two-horse Roman war chariot. These chariots tore up the paths leaving deep ruts along the way. Other types of wagons needed to adapt to fit those wheel ruts, so they did. Wagon wheels led to carts pulled by horses in mines which led to European train tracks which led to America’s train tracks which led to NASA deciding that when they needed to ship the solid rocket boosters on a train from Utah to Florida, that they needed to have them be the same width, which is effectively the width of two horse butts. It may seem odd, but it is true. Everyone wants innovation to happen, but realistically we tend to repeat past decisions. Over time, it seems that we find fixed paths to travel within, just like those grooved ruts carved by the chariot wagons of the Roman Empire. Long ago, it seemed easier to build a wagon to fit the grooves than to imagine a new vehicle that could chart its own path. One decision leads to another, and eventually we end up in a place that makes no sense. Events such as what we are experiencing with COVID-19 are scary, but they also create an urgency that can break path dependency, opening new opportunities for one to chart new paths.
Seven Traps of Path Dependency
Over time, it seems that we find fixed paths to travel within. One decision leads to another, and eventually we end up in a place that makes no sense. There are several factors that cause us to stay in those grooved paths, which I call the 7 traps of path dependency. Path dependency is a concept from social psychology. These are the traps that keep you from attaining success. I have been working on tactics for these traps with some of the brightest minds in the world, and by the end of this book, you will be better equipped to break from the path. IF YOU WANT TO CREATE THE FUTURE, YOU NEED TO DODGE THE
TRAPS KEEPING YOU FIXATED ON THE PATH YOU ARE ALREADY ON.
- The Subtlety Opportunity. When people miss an opportunity it’s not because they were blind to new ideas. Typically, smart people miss out because new ideas seem different. To find your breakthrough, you need to better spot the subtle clues that hint toward great ideas. It is about finding a way to open up your mind, assume the potential of rival ideas, challenge your own thinking by asking outsiders for opinions, and trying to look at what you do from different perspectives. For example, look at your area, but then think, how would a organization outside your market or area of expertise would approach it? How would Google, Facebook, or Patagonia approach this? It’s that the idea of thinking about things from different perspectives can actually help you to realize the potential in your own area and see where you’re strong and where you’re weak.
- Neurological Shortcuts. Our brain is actually hardwired to repeat past decisions. If you looked at your neural structure, we actually have white fatty tissue that forms little highway connections that allow you to repeat things that you’ve practiced. Our brain becomes fast and efficient by creating shortcuts. These shortcuts enable us to process familiar situations quickly. However, they also cause us to skip steps and miss out. In addition, we become so familiar with how we do something that we become resistant to change, particularly in areas where we have expertise. Over time, we become better at understanding multiple points of view, anticipating change, considering other possible outcomes, acknowledging uncertainty, and searching for compromise. The key to unlocking our new skillsets is also acknowledging the ways we are becoming more limited in our thinking. We need to internalize the way myelin (and other shortcuts) works in our brain. These shortcuts create neurological blind spots, meaning that we have a natural tendency to completely dismiss our new shortcomings.
- The Ease of Inaction. Most people do not intentionally resist change or adaptation, but we get so caught up with everything that needs to be done that we become less proactive about ideas that are different, are not in our department, or are not our greatest concern. A multitude of factors make it easier for us to lack urgency, and if you can address those factors, you can spark the action you need to create the future.It’s no secret that we have a desire to preserve the status quo. We like stability. Stability is not the enemy; it serves us well. The complication happens when we need innovation and change.
- Optionality. Optionality is a concept from the wonderful world of finance where instead of making decisions based on profitability, we consider how much they open up our set of options. It’s about creating options. We tend to make decisions that get short-term results, not realizing that certain choices can fi x us to the path we are on and reduce our future potential. Optionality is about making decisions that increase our future choices. What are the key choices that led you to where you are now? How did you make those choices at the time? So often, we make seemingly small decisions haphazardly, assuming the impact will be short term, while these decisions can have profound implications for our future. What could you do to make those decisions in a better way? PUSH YOURSELF TO MAKE CHOICES THAT CREATE HIGH OPTIONALITY
- The Traps of Success. For evolutionary reasons, we are prewired to be loyal, consistent, and disciplined about our craft. These traits serve us well, enabling us to provide for our families and thrive in organizations. However, these same traits also have a darker side, which is that success makes us complacent, repetitive, and protective. There are certain tactics outlined in the book to overcome this trap: be curious, be insatiable, willing to destroy old ways of doing things, recognize that your greatest strength creates your greatest weakness, ask outsiders for opinions, and simulate starting from scratch.
- Linear Thinking. We began out conversation today talking about the trap of linear thinking. How much is your world going to change in the next few years? Our brains are not designed for an exponentially evolving world. We understand that our world is changing, but we assume the next interval of change will be similar to the last. We have a very diffi cult time understanding the compounding impact of change. We are terrible at predicting three to five years out. We overestimate our own ability to make progress, and we underestimate how much technology and other trends will change the game. Given our exponentially changing planet, it’s imperative to fix the human trap of linear thinking. Even if we are caught up on what’s happening today, we fail to forecast tomorrow, because we forget that the pace of change is not simply faster—it’s accelerating, and that’s a completely different story.
- Discomfort vs. Breakthrough. Breakthrough, by definition, is something that’s out of your comfort zone. And people hate being outside their comfort zones. That’s why so many people miss out on great ideas that were always close within their grasp. If you want to predict the future, you have to put in the effort, and you have to become comfortable with discomfort. You also would be well served to learn the characteristics of each type of breakthrough so that you can best identify your big idea when the clues are close within your grasp.
Now is the time to start taking steps to brush up on your skills of adapting and handling chaos. I have in my book exercises and tactics that can help you hone your abilities to adapt and thrive in what you know for certain will be more chaotic times ahead.
Mastering the Ability to Change
Many people will tell you that culture is the most important thing you need for innovation to happen. I used to be one of them. However, after working with 700 leadership teams and brands, I have come to a deeper realization: whether you are an entrepreneur dreaming of your next idea, an ambitious hard-worker or a leader, the most important trait you need for our fast-moving future is the ability to change. Master change and you will be in a position to better spot new ideas, act on opportunity, and know how to convince others about your wonderful new vision. The key is to realize that your ability to change is hindered by the seven traps that I identified. In many ways these traps are like puzzles, because if you understand how they work, you can defeat them to your own advantage.