Ken Blanchard says it is difficult for leaders to plan for the future while they are also managing the day-to-day. For that reason, he suggests organizations have two groups of leaders: one that focuses on the present and a second that looks toward the future. In their new book Lead from the Future, Mark W. Johnson and Josh Suskewicz recognize this same challenge and provide a playbook to help leaders envision the breakthrough opportunities that will drive long-term growth.
We often look at visionaries like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos as having extraordinary talents that can’t be duplicated. But Johnson and Suskewicz believe developing and deploying an inspiring and actionable vision of the future is a skill that can be learned. Many leaders use present-forward thinking, which focuses on extending the life of their existing business by way of continuous improvements. But Lead from the Future illustrates the idea of future-back thinking—a method of achieving breakthrough growth through anticipating and shaping the market of the future. Rather than approach business with a mindset of describing what is and how to sustain it, the authors ask readers to think about what could be and then transform processes and systems to support that vision.
Johnson and Suskewicz’s research indicates that 75 percent of organizations base their strategic plan no more than five years into the future. Organizations that extend their five-year plan to ten years, however, give themselves a competitive advantage. Planning for three to five years keeps a company in the same competitive market, while planning ten years into the future creates a new market where that company can be the leader that others want to emulate.
Future-back thinking consists of three major phases.
- In phase one, leaders develop a vision. This includes exploring what the future is likely to hold, understanding what customer needs will be, identifying threats and opportunities, and creating a point of view to serve that future.
- Phase two is where leaders translate the vision into a clear strategy by walking back in stages to create initiatives that need to be in place to achieve the vision, including explicit benchmarks and goals.
- In phase three, leaders implement the strategy. The authors emphasize the importance of creating new structures, processes, and norms to drive the new initiative rather than trying to roll out a significant change using conventional methods.
Ultimately, leaders who embrace future-back thinking must be able to deal with ambiguity while giving themselves time to explore, envision, and discover. According to the authors, they need to be “comfortable being uncomfortable.” And when these leaders develop a narrative that supports the company’s future, the passion and opportunity that now lie dormant will be unleashed throughout the organization.
An easy-to-read and engaging book, Lead from the Future is filled with examples of leaders who have successfully practiced the future-back thinking method.