Seeing What Others Don’t or Won’t

What Ram Charan defines as perceptual acuity, I call thinking like a futurist. I agree leaders who want to be catalysts for change need to practice this discipline by whatever name they want to call it.

Charan, writing for Strategy + Business, defines perceptual acuity as the psychological and mental preparedness to “see around corners” and spot potentially significant anomalies. Then he goes on to explain this exactly the way I describe what futurists do:  “looking over the horizon and searching for new ideas, events, technologies or trends, the things that an imaginative person could combine to meet an unmet need or create a totally new product.”

So if you haven’t yet taken this advice from me, take it from Charan. He offers some very practical tips that can help turn you into a change catalyst who creates the future.

Almost the first thing I tell leaders is to challenge your assumptions. Charan advises looking for “things that depart from or challenge familiar patterns and differ from what you know or believed previously.”  

He recommends scanning a variety of media and talking with other people, especially people with different or opposing perspectives or who work in other industries. I coach people to pay attention to what is happening in other industries and organizations. You can spot changes in some very unlikely places that offer great insight for your future opportunities.

I really like Charan’s recommendation to ask people you meet “what’s new?” He suggests devoting 10 minutes at team meetings to answering this question. I like to ask questions like this when I am networking. Ask good questions and listen—that might be the best behavior any leader can practice.

Charan also advises leaders to “pay attention to how society is changing and what new consumer behaviors are emerging.” When people begin thinking like a futurist, they often get caught up in technology and innovation.  The nonprofit and association leaders I work with are usually seeking some substantive and structural changes in their world. Changes in society, particularly changes in values, can provide the best leverage to bring about these kinds of changes.

Take it from Charan or take it from me.  If you want to lead change, you have to practice seeing what others can’t or won’t.