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The key to keeping up: How to think like a futurist

Posted 3 years ago in Advisors by Sophie Lamell
Posted by Sophie Lamell

Whether you’re a scientist mastering new machinery or a small business owner making the transition from Post-it notes to online accounting, everyone is asking the same question: how can we keep up in an increasingly fast-paced industry? The answer is surprisingly simple. ‘We can’t predict the future,’ explains futurist Reanna Browne. ‘What we can do, however, is expand our thinking around it.’

As our global workforce embraces digitisation, virtually every industry is undergoing massive change. From accounting to aerospace engineering, the pressure to stay current shows no signs of slowing. In July’s episode of Xero Now, we spoke to a range of experts about how they keep up with the latest trends in business and technology. We sat down with founder of The Friday Lab Reanna to explore how you can future-proof your thinking.

1. Remember, the future hasn’t happened yet.

‘There are no future facts’, explains Reanna. Sure, it might sound obvious. But coming to understand that nothing can be predicted with absolute certainty gives us agency (not to mention, room to breathe). And while the unknown might seem scary at first, with the smallest shift in your mindset, it becomes laden with possibility. 

Instead of racing to stay ahead on the dreaded ‘hamster wheel’ that is the competitive world of industry trends, we’re able to stop and take stock of a range of future opportunities that are happening around us. 

2. Keep your gaze set on scanning for change.

So, how can we spot emerging industry trends and other signals of change? It’s all about scanning our environment, explains Reanna. ‘As futurists, we don’t “predict the future” – we interpret change. We are constantly scanning for emerging patterns and signals of change in any given industry over time.’ 

It all comes down to paying attention and staying curious. Or as Reanna describes it, ‘Keeping your gaze lifted and questioning: What’s changing – technologically, socially, environmentally and economically – in our environment? How might our future business or customers be different? And, in turn, what decisions might we need to make about our business and workforce today?’

This means harnessing everything from social media to subscriptions, podcasts, reports, surveys, books and industry research, as well as getting out there and attending future-focused events like Xerocon. By slowing down and taking the time to search, listen and learn, we’re in the perfect position to tap into new trends. Reanna explains, ‘Instead of focusing on “getting ahead” and assuming that it results in competitive advantage, it pays to get a sense of what’s emerging in your environment. By being curious about change, you’re far more likely to anticipate and find genuine business opportunities.’

And if you’re in doubting your abilities, remember: ‘Everyone has an innate foresight capacity – it’s why Melburnians pack an umbrella, sandals and sunscreen on any given day.’

3. Focus on making small bets in the long game.

Keeping up is an ongoing process that doesn’t benefit from being rushed. But simple frameworks can help alleviate the pressure, Reanna says. ‘We can’t just immediately upend our current business in response to new trends. That’s why I always suggest doing what you can with what you have.’

What does this look like in practice? Based on what you’re learning about potential future trends (thanks to your newfound scanning skills), Reanna suggests: ‘Consider some of the “small bets” that you can start making today that respond to potential changes and opportunities in the future.’ For instance, perhaps you’re part of an accounting firm noticing that app advisory is having a significant impact on like-minded practices. Rather than ignoring a growing industry development, why not consider upskilling some of your people in this space? 

4. Lastly, don’t let the pressure of keeping up get ahead of you.

No matter how trend savvy you might be, keeping up can be exhausting. Or, as Tradiepad’s Clinton Cowin exclaimed during his Xero Now segment, ‘Keeping up is a full time job these days!’ So, it’s only natural that it might all feel a bit too much sometimes. Reanna adds, ‘The common response is: “I’m so overwhelmed! Change is so rapid!” But we also need to remember that by not responding to change, we’re still choosing an action that will impact our business in the future.’

A healthy approach, she counsels, all comes down to how we view the future and how we scan for what might emerge. ‘We all tend to carry this sense of, “If only I could predict and control everything.” The thing is, we can’t possibly. Instead, what we can do is to listen and respond to change.’ 

As soon as we shift our mindset to see the future as an opportunity rather than something to be feared, we’re able to take the time to truly listen to our surroundings. And adapt to keep up with them in turn.

Looking to find out more (or fancy yourself as something of a budding futurist)? Reanna has shared her top tools of the trade:

In July’s episode of Xero Now, we discussed the challenges of keeping up with those who master change every day. Accountants and bookkeepers across Australia, don’t forget to register for Xero Hour so you can continue the conversation online.

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