Attend to the Present
To envision the future, you have to look around and notice what’s going on. Right now as you listen to your constituents, what are the hot topics of conversation? What are they saying they need and
want? What are they saying that gets in the way of them doing the very best they can? What are they saying should be changed? Is there anything they have stopped talking about that seems puzzling? What does all this tell you about where things are going? What’s it telling you about what lies just around the corner?
Gautam Aggarwal knew that he would need to attend to the present when he was promoted to product manager in the medical diagnostics division of Labo America. Gautam realized that he needed to “develop a clear vision of what kind of group we needed to be and how we would go about achieving our goals.” He explained, “I understood that a leader’s vision for the future has to be supported with facts about both the past and present.”
One of the first things he did was to hold an open forum with all reports, direct and indirect, about how they perceived the product line’s presence in the market at the time, and where they saw it three to five years in the future. “We would all have to be on the same page about where we were today before we could go to any place in the future,” he reasoned. “I gave everyone the opportunity of provid- ing feedback on what we had been doing right, and what needed both immediate as well as long-term improvement.” These discus- sions provided Gautam and his colleagues with a realistic assessment of current conditions, strengths, and challenges, while also helping them identify and make choices about which of the many promising paths forward they should pursue. To be able to envision the future, you have to realize what’s already going on. You have to spot the trends and patterns, and appreciate both the whole and the parts. You have to be able to see the forest and the trees.7
Imagine the future as a jigsaw puzzle. You see the pieces, and you begin to figure out how they fit together, one by one, into a whole. Similarly, with your vision, you need to rummage through the bits and bytes of data that accumulate daily, and notice how they
G E fit together into a picture of what’s ahead. Envisioning the future is
not about gazing into a fortune-teller’s crystal ball; it’s about paying attention to the little things that are going on all around you and being able to recognize patterns that point to the future.