When I was in my first job as an account coordinator, I had a boss who seemingly knew everything. Every morning, I would watch her come into the office, get a cup of coffee, and sit at her desk, reading the papers and magazines our receptionist piled up on her desk just a few minutes before. She wouldn’t answer her phone for the first hour nor talk to anyone who stopped by her office. It didn’t take long for people to understand that was her reading time, and she was not to be disturbed.
At the time, I remember thinking, “How do I get paid to read the news every morning?” Little did I know in my naive, entitled brain that she was preparing for a day of strategic counseling with our clients. Because she spent the first hour or so every morning reading, she knew what was going on in the world, which informed her decision-making.
Fast forward to today and people always ask me how I have time to read as much as I do. It’s become part of my daily habit, just like it was hers. I’m not as disciplined as using only the first hour of each workday like she was, but I do manage to get at least an hour of reading in every day, between reading industry news for clients, keeping on our industry trends, and reading the world’s news.
Predicting the Future
A few years ago, I was on the board of a company that sold in February of 2020. Talk about timing! Had it been a month later, that deal definitely would not have gone through. Outside of impeccable timing, the CEO was incredibly good at reviewing global data and industry trends to make predictions on where his business would be in the next quarter, the next six months, the next year, and even several years later. He knew something was coming, but we all thought it was going to be another recession. No one predicted a global shutdown.
Regardless, because he was prepared for some sort of economic downturn, he was able to sell his company ahead of anything to come.
During every quarterly board meeting, he would begin the day with a recap on global trends and industry insights to put us all on the same page and understand what he was using to make decisions.
I learned a ton about how to run my own business from him, but more importantly, I learned how he used that data to predict the future. He didn’t use a crystal ball or a Magic 8 ball. He looked at what was happening, what the experts said was to come, and what history has taught us about the trends he was seeing.
By Using Anti-Fragile Tactics
My very first boss did the same thing. She observed what was going on around the globe and she used that information to inform her recommendations for clients. People always thought she was a great predictor of the future.
In the 2022 Corporate Growth Strategies Survey, Gartner found that high-growth organizations anticipate more than 10% revenue growth in the fiscal year and use anti-fragile tactics at a higher rate than organizations that expect less than 10% growth.
Anti-fragile tactics mean an organization improves more under uncertainty and disruption than not. It seems counterintuitive to do that, but think about all of the organizations that come out of economic uncertainty—or a pandemic—for the better. It’s because they’ve built a structure that allows them to grow no matter what’s going on around them.
The people who lead these organizations, including marketing and comms professionals, are those who can use historical data and current global trends to predict the future. This is most helpful in the environment we find ourselves in, with overlapping crises that continue to confront our society and world.
It’s nearly impossible to anticipate the next political shift, or the next boycott, or the next cancellation, or the next social upheaval, or the next economic downturn, or the next invasion, or the next shooting, or, or, or. Most companies are dealing with all of this by just going through the motions without strategy or budget. Hanging on by their teeth, waiting for the next implosion.
It turns out you don’t have to be some visionary to use anti-fragile tactics and predict the future. It simply takes setting aside some time every day to read and be ready to put what you’ve learned into action.
Let’s talk about how to do that.
In the past, we’ve relied on stability and predictability to ensure our campaigns and programs are successful. But in an ever-changing landscape, embracing uncertainty is vital. If you embrace an anti-fragile mindset, you will quickly begin to understand that volatility provides valuable insights. Instead of fearing uncertainty, you will actively seek it out, recognizing that it holds the potential for innovation and growth. Uncertainty, FTW!
Experiment and Iterate
Perhaps it’s because I own my own business and I have the freedom to take some risk, I love to experiment and test things out. We do this with our clients, who have adopted a “you haven’t strayed us wrong yet” attitude.
To understand how to predict the future, you must adopt the same mindset. Rather than relying on a single strategy, engage in multiple small-scale experiments to gauge their effectiveness.
By quickly iterating and adapting based on feedback, you’ll be able to identify winning strategies and discard ineffective ones. This iterative approach will allow you to stay agile and respond to customer behavior and market dynamics changes—no matter what the world throws at you.
Monitor and Analyze Data
Many years ago, Mitch Joel launched Ctrl, Alt, Delete. His main message was, “It’s time to have sex with data.” It was a great way to grab people’s attention—and a little naughty, to boot, which made it memorable.
His point was that data is incredibly important in our work—and it plays a pivotal role in anti-fragile marketing. When you study data as if you’re having a relationship with it, you will uncover patterns and trends that inform future strategies. This real-time monitoring will help you identify emerging opportunities and potential risks, enabling proactive decision-making.
Foster a Learning Culture
We’ve already talked about this a bit, but the idea of fostering a learning culture starts with setting aside time to read every day. Just like with anything else, it’s challenging for most of us to add something more to our already overfull plates, but reading every day will make you more efficient in other areas. It’s a great place to make an investment with your time.
It will help you predict the future and encourage curiosity and intellectual exploration, which will lead to valuable insights and fresh perspectives. Regular training, knowledge sharing, and cross-functional collaboration foster an environment of adaptability, enabling you to pull out your crystal ball and make some predictions.
Stay Agile and Flexible
As we age, it becomes more challenging for us to be agile and flexible. I love the “get off my lawn!” statement because I can use it with some of my friends and colleagues who are very rigid in their way of doing things—and it says to them, “It’s OK to be a little flexible on this.”
If you are working toward anti-fragile tactics and predicting the future, it’s imperative you be agile and flexible. This will allow you to adjust your strategies and tactics based on new information or unexpected developments. You’ll also be able to seize emerging opportunities quickly and mitigate potential risks.
Write “get off my lawn!” on a post-it note and tape it to your computer screen to remind yourself that being agile and flexible is important.
Emphasize Feedback Loops
Just like anything else we do, asking for feedback and getting information from customers is critical. Actively seek customer feedback, gather analytics insights, and engage in conversations with your target audiences. This will help you refine marketing strategies, improve communication, and identify potential areas for growth and improvement.
Anticipate Black Swans
A black swan event is an unexpected occurrence that has far-reaching consequences. Like the CEO whose board I served on, he knew something was coming in 2020 because of how in tune he was with the industry and global trends. He knew he had to sell his business as early in the year as possible or risk losing any and all deals.
Just like in crisis planning, by considering worst-case scenarios and preparing contingency plans, you can minimize the negative effects of these events and position the organization to capitalize on emerging opportunities that may arise from them.
None of us knew a shutdown was coming in 2020, but those who predicted there would be an economic disturbance were ready for it.
Test Hypotheses and Assumptions
One of my favorite things my rising fifth grader does is create hypotheses. About everything. She’s extremely curious and off-the-charts creative. She’ll say, “I was thinking about this, and my hypothesis is XYZ. Can we test it?”
Sometimes she’s right, sometimes not, but I love that she’s willing to try.
The same goes for you. Challenge assumptions and test hypotheses regularly. You should be open to questioning long-held beliefs and be willing to pivot if the evidence suggests a different direction. This scientific approach enables you to make informed decisions based on data and evidence, increasing your predictive capabilities.
Get Off My Lawn!
By setting aside time every day to read and follow some of these ideas (get off my lawn!), you will enhance your ability to predict the future. By experimenting, staying agile, leveraging data, fostering learning, and embracing feedback, you will confidently navigate the ever-changing landscape and stay ahead of the curve.