One of the key skills that separates great athletes from good is their ability to anticipate. This means that great athletes are better able to accurately anticipate opponent’s’ intentions before they take a shot or hit the ball. Researchers have found that these athletes are just better at identifying which information to pay attention to, and which information to block out, and are able to extract meaning from the important information more efficiently and effectively than novices (Mann, Williams, Ward & Janelle, 2007). Of course strength and endurance matter, but what matters just as much is the ability to anticipate.
This is what Think Ahead means at Esoko.
But there are many different circumstances in which we can use our ability to anticipate in order to be truly great. High performing teams tend to be comprised of people who anticipate the needs of their colleagues. Each team member thinks about the information they have that others need to be successful. And they anticipate what others outside of the team need to know or have. When making a presentation, they anticipate the questions that are likely to be asked and are prepared with answers.
The best salespeople are a lot like elite athletes in this way, too. They anticipate the problem that the customers have, and focus on the most important information. Great salespeople play where the puck is going to be.
Warren Buffett has said that there is a natural progression to how good new ideas go wrong. He called this progression the “three I’s.” First come the innovators, who see opportunities that others don’t. Then come the imitators, who copy what the innovators have done. And then come the idiots, whose greed undermines the very innovations they are trying to take advantage of to get rich quick. This is the story of the housing crisis of 2008.
Imitators and idiots are not thinking ahead. They are thinking of right now. And while they may be successful in the short run, thinking only of now never makes for great leaders or great companies.
The people and companies that we admire most have at their core an innate ability to think ahead. Think of Apple. Virgin. Tesla. Google. Uber. Think of Martin Luther King. Nelson Mandela. These companies and people had vision for a different way of doing things, a different world than the one we know now.
That doesn’t mean that you have to be King or Mandela to Think Ahead. Here are some simple things you can do every day to be more innovative and Think Ahead.
- Focus on understanding the problem. Our brains are wired to reduce pain first before seeking pleasure. Sometimes the most remarkable experience you can give someone is to ease the pain they are experiencing. But to ease their pain, you need to understand the cause. Albert Einstein said: “If I had an hour to save the world, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute finding solutions.” So, spend 59 minutes understanding the pain that your customers and colleagues are feeling before you spend one minute trying to solve it.
- Work with people who are not like you. If everyone thinks the way you do, it’s unlikely that new ways of doing things will emerge. Seek out people with different backgrounds, experience, perspectives and get them on your team. Ask them to critique your ideas…and listen to what they have to say. Diversity is a powerful inoculant of innovation.
- Seek out ideas. While it might seem nonsensical, thinking ahead sometimes requires thinking sideways. Innovation doesn’t mean coming up with ideas that don’t exist in any other sphere. Often it means taking ideas and applying them in different ways or in new sectors. Seek out ideas in other fields like psychics, finance or architecture and think about the problems they are trying to solve. How does that problem relate to the problem you are trying to solve? Are there elements of their solution that could be applied in your situation?
- Don’t just do something, stand there! It may seem counterintuitive but in order for you to be innovative, sometimes you need to stop thinking. It’s not really stopping, exactly. It’s more like quieting your mind. Meditation, for example, increases the amount of grey matter in your brain, which processes information, and white matter, which conveys information between different parts of the brain. It also promotes whole brain synchronization, which is a characteristic of many of the world’s greatest thinkers. Meditation also alters the brainwave patterns to produce a state that is more conducive to learning, processing and using information for problem solving. But meditation isn’t the only way to quiet the mind. Getting enough sleep, practicing yoga and listening to music are other effective ways to quiet the mind.
Innovation is not divine inspiration. Innovation requires hard work. Michael Jordan, Mohammed Ali, Diego Maradona and Serena Williams all had to hone their skill of anticipation. Work at it. Practice it.
To get ahead, you need to Think Ahead. To Think Ahead, you need to practice.