How to think about time

Photo by Icons8 team on Unsplash

Amy Webb, founder of the Future Today Institute, just shared the institute’s 2019 Tech Trends report, which includes more than 300 tech and science trends and 48 scenarios for consideration.

In the introductory remarks, they provide a summary of how leaders should think about time and plan for the future:

The organizations the Future Today Institute advises are always thinking about the future. But most often, their planning timeframes miss the mark. We observe teams stuck in a rut of three or five-year planning cycles. Many are reluctant to do any serious planning beyond five years. They argue it’s pointless, given all the technological disruption.

To effectively plan for the future, organizations need to learn how think about time differently. For any given uncertainty about the future—whether that’s risk, opportunity or growth—leaders must think strategically about tactics, strategy, vision and systems-level change.

Start retraining yourself to think about change and disruption to your organization and industry across different timeframes and build actions for each. The next 12-36 months – tactical actions. 3-5 years – strategic action. 5-10 years – vision and R&D initiatives. 10+ years – how you and your organization can create systems-level change so that you catalyze that change for your benefit.

The Future Today Institute’s 2019 Tech Trends report

12-36 Months: Tactical Actions

3-5 Years: Strategic Action

5-10 Years: Vision and R&D Initiatives

10+ Years: Systems-Level Change

Sometimes, when we think about planning horizons, it becomes either/or. Instead, this frame provides a helpful rubric for multiple levels of simultaneous work and thought to prepare organizations for future needs while acting on immediate opportunities.

The Future Today Institute’s 2019 Tech Trends report

As much time and effort into the small number of things that give huge rewards

Since this is related so closely to yesterday’s post, we’ll go ahead and add it here.

One of the problems here is a sort of digital FOMO. “If I don’t have that thing”—Facebook, Instagram, whatever—”what benefit might I be missing out on?” You’re pretty unplugged. How do you deal with that digital FOMO?
There’s a rarefied number of activities to invest time in that are really important and return a lot of value—the amount of value [in these activities] is way higher than, say, the little bit of value you get by seeing a funny Tweet or writing a comment on a friend’s Facebook post. Spreading your time and attention over these low value things takes your time and attention away from the things that are disproportionately higher value.

If you want to maximize the amount of value you feel in your life, the mathematics are clear: You want to put as much of your time and effort as possible into the small number of things to give you these huge rewards. When you think about it that way, fear of missing out looks like, just mathematically speaking, a really bad strategy.

– Cal Newport, author of Digital Minimalism (and a number of other great books), in this interview

What a challenging, but clarifying way to see the trade offs of technology and how we spend our time.

What business are you in?

That chart above is a summary of Starbucks’ stock prices over the last few decades. Howard Schultz may be in the news for other reasons now, but a 2012 article about the Starbucks CEO/Chairman records a fascinating exchange with the head of a company that was about to embark on 7 years of growth. In it, the interviewer asks if Starbucks has lost its vision and strayed too far away from its core product. Here’s what Schultz says:

When I ask Schultz whether Starbucks might be straying too far from its core, he says, “Well, you have to ask: What is the core?” Starbucks is not a tech company, he points out, nor is it an apparel company. “We have 40-plus years of acquiring real estate and designing and operating stores all over the world. We understand how to elevate and romanticize an experience built around a beverage. And we think we can do that again on a platform of health and wellness, and elevate the nutritious value of what fresh fruit and vegetables can be in a world that is longing for educational tools to eat and live healthier.” The company can, he vows, “bring that to life in a way that has not been done.”

from What’s at the core?

If you’re at a college or university, what business are you in?

What we hear from Mr. Schultz at the front end of a series of successful launches (blonde roast, anyone?) and growth reveals that innovators don’t always answer that question in an expected way.

The standard brick and mortar residential college experience for 18- to 21-year-olds is one answer to the “what business are we in” question. But that’s not the entire market. (We know it’s a very small portion of the market). Others would say “research and knowledge creation” or maybe “accessible education for all.” Each answer defines priorities.

Regardless, the answer to the “what business are you in” question – and whether it is answered broadly or narrowly – defines focus in a way unlike any other. As we survey the current higher ed landscape, it may be time to ask better questions about the nature of our business and challenge ourselves to find new expressions and models.