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Leadership decision-making in a rapidly evolving world

by Rohit Talwar, Steve Wells, Alexandra Whittington & Helena Calle, Fast Future

Is it time for all leaders to become futurists?  Certainly there are futurist principles that can be applied to help create the “futurist mindset” for successful decision-making and leadership.

This means being able to look over the horizon on a continuous basis, and constantly adjusting our present-day actions in response to what we see. It also means trying rapid change experiments through which we can learn and evolve. This is necessary if we are to be able to act quickly in response to new opportunities and risks.

In The Future Leader’s Handbook, our forthcoming guide for thriving at the helm, we aim to help address these challenges with practical thinking. Let us share some of the key principles for leading successfully into the ever-evolving future.

1. Shape a Forward-Looking Culture
Look at the dominant behaviours and stories around the organisation. Who do we make heroes of? Are we celebrating and rewarding those who scout out emerging change and seek to pioneer new ideas? How are we using public spaces: are staff surrounded by constantly changing images, icons, and questions of what’s next – or charts of past performance, safety notices, and policy statements? How is our appraisal and bonus system designed: are innovation and challenging the “system” encouraged and rewarded?

2. Continuous Foresight and Experimentation Cycles
The old planning model has been overturned, an annual or bi-annual long-term planning exercise to guide strategic leadership just won’t cut it, when sectors are being disrupted on an almost quarterly basis. The emerging best practice model is to scan continuously - looking far, wide, and into the shadows for what might be coming towards us. These insights need to drive at least a twice-yearly update of scenarios of how our world might play out in the near, medium, and longer terms. These scenarios and scanning insights should help us iterate our way towards the future using rapid idea testing experiments around possible new products and services, processes, channels to market, business models, and customer engagement approaches. The goal here is to help us learn key information rapidly, develop new knowledge and capabilities, fail fast when appropriate, and progress quickly. 

3. Hire a Futurist
Alongside learning and development, and managing your digital ecosystem, continuous scanning and evaluation of the future will be a critical core function for future-proofed organisations. Like it or not, the organisation needs constant prodding to ensure it is looking at new potential threats and opportunities early enough to address them before they create a crisis.  Many leading companies are hiring futurists or directors of strategic foresight or other job titles that denote a role involved in continuously thinking about the future. Well-known organisations that have created positions for in-house futurists include Google, Intel, Volkswagen, Hersheys,, and even the City of New York. 

4. Learn Something New Every Day, Then Watch it Grow
Don’t leave scanning just to the futurists. Allocate at least a couple of hours a week to exploring what’s coming next. Good future leaders learn quickly to establish the habits of a trendspotter and seek out new information at every possible turn.  Subscribe to newsletters, follow thought leaders on social media, join webinars, and work daily to widen your media diet to include information that broadens your mind. Seek out diverse information sources and cultivate your findings on a link-sharing or social media page of your own. Watch and learn as your observations go from fringe to mainstream.

5. Rebalance Technical and Soft Skills
If we accept that in the past our success as leaders has been based on our technical knowledge, then acknowledging the pace and scale of emerging change should lead us to conclude that softer skills will become increasingly important. Presuming that automation takes away the need from some technical know-how, perhaps future leaders will be required to demonstrate a tolerance of uncertainty, the ability to cope with complexity, to exhibit empathy within our organisations, and to value collaboration and relationship development.

6. Take a Sustainability Perspective
Sustainability has often been talked about in the context of the environment; climate change, wildlife protection, and natural resource consumption. Increasingly, we see organisations taking a much broader view of sustainability that includes economy, business, and employment, eradicating inequality, developing ethical business practices, our communities and ecosystems, education, and personal fulfilment. Perhaps we should be posing questions about how our businesses and our business practices support sustainability, rather than damaging it.

7. Define and Redefine Organisational Identity
Fluctuating conditions in the business environment impact organisations in different ways. Being attentive to unexpected shifts in society gives future leaders an innate sense for when company culture, identity, and values should evolve. A future leader inspires others with a consistently positive attitude towards change.

Never has it been more important for those leading organisations to demonstrate a) a deep understanding of the forces, trends, developments, and ideas that could shape the emerging future; and b) a commitment to ongoing dialogue with key stakeholders. This is the most natural way for data gathering: talking constantly to customers, prospects, suppliers, partners, shareholders, competitors, industry associations, business networks, advisors, industry analysts, commentators, journalists and - most importantly – their own staff.

Future leaders need trend-spotter habits, the ability to bring people together around new ideas, and the ability to remain attuned to connections between ideas. We believe that being a future leader is a learnable skill. All human beings have within them the innate tendency to look ahead. We have the capacity to learn and experiment. Tapping into these traits will enable some to be the successful future leaders.

About the Authors

Rohit Talwar, Steve Wells, Alexandra Whittington and Helena Calle are from Fast Future which publishes books from future thinkers around the world exploring how developments such as AI, robotics and disruptive thinking could impact individuals, society and business and create new trillion-dollar sectors. The latest books from Fast Future include: Beyond Genuine Stupidity - Ensuring AI Serves Humanity, and The Future - Reinvented: Reimagining Life, Society, and Business. And their forthcoming book is 500 Futures. See:

Fast Future’s forthcoming book, The Future Leader’s Handbook - A Guide to Leading With Foresight, is a resource for those at the helm of business who want to use insights on what’s next to ensure better decision-making today.  The book explains how to apply futurist perspectives and applied foresight approaches to future-proof decision-making in business, government, NGOs, non-profits, and academia. The book lays the groundwork for understanding and acting on the critical trends, forces, ideas, developments, issues, and forecasts influencing the next decade. The Future Leader’s Handbook - A Guide to Leading With Foresight is aimed at professionals at the sharp end of decision-making, who are preparing organisations, communities, and their own lives for the arrival of a future that does not resemble the past.


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