Are you a futurist? This might conjure up an image of Carl Sagan and his famously wonderful misquote about “billions and billions of stars and each one may be a sun to someone,” but the real definition of a futurist is “a person who studies the future and makes predictions about it based on current trends.” If you’re a business owner who is not a futurist, then your business is likely to miss trends that could make you more money or, worse, put you out of business. So how do you become a futurist?
Going out of business
We’ve all seen it happen. A place that we visited or depended upon in the past is now out of business. No one goes out of business intentionally. They go out of business because of a lack of intention. They were happy with their situation and somehow thought in a changing world that it would go on forever.
You know the types: “People will always have televisions so they will always need television repair.” While it is true that people still have televisions and some of them have very expensive televisions, it doesn’t follow that need repairs on them. Unbelievably, even those giant 65-inch televisions are disposable and don’t require maintenance during their lifespan like tube televisions did.
In the recent past, the phrase, “people will always have televisions so they will always need television repair” was true and people built their business on that truism. But something changed that made that truism no longer true. A futurist would see the writing on the wall before their competition and would have shifted their business before the competition did.
A futurist who owned a television repair shop would have seen that when televisions made the switch from tube to electronics that demand for repairs were going to diminish. They would have diversified their business into other technologies. Perhaps they could have gone into commercial signage? The market was pretty big back then and it’s only getting bigger as time passes.
Taking our commercial signage analogy one step further, it uses some of the same skills that a television repair person has. So our TV repair person in a contracting industry actually has a base of knowledge from which to build from, learn some new skills, and continue to have a thriving business and career ahead of them.
But if they were not futurists and were not running their business with intention, then they likely went out of business. If you’re hockey fan you’ll recognize this trait as skating to where the puck is going to be. Because hockey is such a fast-paced game and the puck is faster than a human skater a good player needs to see the future and be at the place where the puck is going to be rather than trying to chase after it. No one gets to the NHL chasing the puck.
Similarly, if you keep doing the same thing or keep your head down because you’re “just makin’ money,” pretty soon you will have lost sight of the puck and you’ll find your business in jeopardy.
The problem with solving problems
Perhaps you’re a heads-down technical type. You just like to solve problems. People call with a problem with their computer and you are there for them to save the day. You get it fixed right, quickly and on the first call. Your customers love you. Businesses will always have computers and users will always get error messages they don’t understand so someone like you will need to be there for them to get it fixed. This is what your business does!
I recently interviewed a heads-down, get-it-fixed-quickly, very highly competent technical guy. He had lots of energy. At his previous job he had the highest ticket-close rate with the shortest time on tickets of anyone else at the company. He knew everything we threw at him, but he was unemployed in a hot market. So I asked what happened to his job. He was very animated and happy to tell me all about how his previous employer was amazingly stupid. The employer was unhappy that he wasn’t generating new business on those calls, didn’t take the time to chat with the person that called, and that he had refused to attend training on a phone system they sold because he felt it was too much like sales. He was incredulous that he was being asked to do someone else’s job while his job was to get things fixed. We didn’t hire him. I image that he thinks that we are incredibly stupid, too.
We didn’t hire him because he had no future. He wasn’t trainable and he just wanted to solve problems but he was incapable of seeing the bigger picture of helping the client’s business succeed. My business is built around the idea that IT has no purpose other than to make your business great. It’s our mantra. You can’t make a business great if you only spend your time solving problems but fail to see the bigger picture. And if you can’t see the bigger picture then there’s no way you can be a futurist. And if you aren’t a futurist then you’re destined to be left behind.
Many IT business owners are like this person I interviewed. While they may have moved their business from break-fix to MSP, they are still focused on fixing things that are broken. All they really did was change the payment model they did not modernize their approach to business. This is because most IT businesses are started by technical people that were frustrated by a previous employer. They wanted to do things their way, which is fine, but if you aren’t a futurist able to see trends and make predictions then you’ll end up like the many television repair businesses that are no longer in business.
To be an intentional business owner, you need to continually be in training so you can predict where your business needs to be.
There’s no class on the future
When I say training, you probably immediately start thinking about training your staff. Training isn’t just for your staff — It’s for the business owner, too. You need to read because there’s no class you can take on the future. Read is a four-letter word for some people. They think that they don’t have the time to read but without reading, there’s no way you are going to be able to run an intentional business that is headed toward a fruitful future. Nor will you ever become a futurist.
The future is everyone’s best guess. You will need to read technical blogs to see what the latest updates are for the type of tech you support. This will allow you to understand the roadmap, read between the lines, and stay ahead of the curve. You’ll need to read about cutting-edge technology. You need to read general news articles on trends in business to stay knowledgeable on what others in your industry are doing and where they are headed. You need to read economic articles to learn where the economy is heading because this will affect your bottom line, too. You need to read general business management articles to learn new techniques for employee motivation, education, laws, and policies. Just reading is a big part of a business owners job and is the only way to be able to make informed long-term strategic decisions for your business.
That may sound like a lot, but it really boils down to these three things.
- Technical trends and roadmaps.
- Economic status of your service area and the nation.
- Business management.
Together these topics will allow you to form a worldview of your industry. With this worldview, you will be able to predict the future, position your business for that future, and continue to have a thriving business. I’m not suggesting that you jump on every trend. On the contrary, continuous reading and self-training will allow you to recognize and avoid the sales hype and instead hone in on the real trends that you can make your decisions upon.
A futurist in action and intention
A futurist has to have the right people behind them. You can attempt to lead your employees into the future but if they don’t understand why they are making these changes then they are unlikely to adopt them. They will be fighting the changes all the way. Those heads-down technical people may be great at getting things done but they won’t be great for your business long term unless they can also see the future. So don’t forget your staff. Bring them along into the future with you. Tell them your vision and get their buy-in. The result will be a business with purpose moving confidently into the future.
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