Note: I recently re-read this book and am even more impressed now by the quality of its insights than I was three years ago when it was first published.
Serendipity “on the other side of complexity”
In this book written with John David Mann, Daniel Burrus discusses a skill that uses “the data of your five senses, as well as that intuitive sixth sense we all have that some call a gut feeling or hunch. But flash foresight goes further, because in using it you synthesize those sensory and intuitive faculties and project them forward through the dimensions of time. A flash foresight is a blinding flash of the future obvious. It is an intuitive grasp of the foreseeable future that, once you see it, it reveals hidden opportunities and allows you to solve your biggest problems – before they happen. Flash foresight will allow anyone to both see and shape his or her future.”
How valuable would someone be to an organization if she or he mastered that skill? How valuable would a team be if all of its members had mastered that skill? How to do that? Burrus explains the process in his book.
More specifically, he suggests that there are seven “triggers,” any one or several of which can produce a flash foresight:
1. Start with Certainty (i.e. identify and verify hard trends)
2. Anticipate (i.e. determine degree of probability of relevant contingencies)
3. Transform (i.e. leverage technology-driven change)
4. Skip what you think is your biggest problem (in fact, it isn’t…and never was)
5. Go opposite (e.g. look where no one else does, see what no one else sees, do what no one else does)
6. Redefine and reinvent (i.e. leverage your unique strengths in new and better ways)
7. Direct your future (or have someone else will do it for you)
Zappos offers an excellent example. Its leaders were certain that online sales would continue to increase and that it was probable that the process of purchasing commodities would be more important to the consumer than the products themselves would be. They concluded that the most efficient operations (e.g. order processing) would be driven by high technology and that returns rather than sizing was its biggest problem. They defied conventional wisdom that that selling shoes online could not be profit. Until Zappos, that was true.
As for #6, consider these comments by CEO Tony Hsieh: “We hope that ten years from now, people won’t even realize that we started out selling shoes online, and that when you say `Zappos,’ they’ll think, `Oh, that’s the place with the absolute best service.’ And that doesn’t even have to be limited to being an online experience. We’ve had customers email us and ask if we would please start an airline or run the IRS.”
Years ago, Oliver Wendell Holmes said that he “didn’t care a fig about simplicity this side of complexity” but that he would “give his life for simplicity on the other side of complexity.” Daniel Burrus would make the same claim for serendipity. I think his Flash Foresight may well prove to be the best business book published in 2011. Is it that good? Yes.