Stop Reacting!

One of Tony Robbins’ most famous quotes is: ”Losers React. Leaders Anticipate.” He elaborates on this “leadership weak spot” by explaining that entrepreneurs are actually running two businesses: the one they are running today and the one they are becoming.  What’s he mean by this? Leaders are those entrepreneurs who anticipate. Leadership doesn’t happen merely through reaction. Let’s rephrase this point as a more personal and direct question…

 

Do things happen TO you or BECAUSE OF you?

 

That nuance is quite significant: if it feels like everything happens to you or your business, then you may be trapped in a reactive state. It’s time to shift. Anticipation is a proactive, strategic skill. Leaders make things happen. In other words… leaders anticipate.

 

Anticipation may not create perfect success every time: accuracy isn’t guaranteed, especially as you develop this skill. It does mean, however, that this skill is required to be an effective leader. If entrepreneurs don’t anticipate, they aren’t leading… they’re following. Staying behind. Extend this analogy on a bigger scale: are the most successful businesses at the top because they followed the rest? Or because they anticipated and led the market?

 

This reminds us of a story that a friend shared with us about an experience at a large U.S.-based financial institution a few years ago. Many financial firms had started outsourcing back-end, administrative functions to overseas units (and we aren’t talking about customer-service call centers) to save on overhead. Our friend recalled a job candidate who, during his interview, asked if any of the department’s functions were slated to be outsourced. After the interview, our friend’s director joked with staff how absurd that question was. Within 2 years, one-third of the department was outsourced and that director’s position was eliminated. The problem? A lack of anticipation. A lack of leadership.

 

An even more astounding example of missed anticipation is the Netflix / Blockbuster tale. Did you know that, in 2000, Netflix offered itself to Blockbuster for $50 million? Here’s what you might not know: then CFO Barry McCarthy reported being “nearly laughed out of the office” by Blockbuster. At the time, Blockbuster didn’t anticipate that Netflix’s subscription services would be a huge appeal for consumers. By 2010, after competing with Netflix, Blockbuster declared bankruptcy while Netflix was worth roughly $13 billion. Blockbuster’s lost opportunity is a tremendous learning experience for all entrepreneurs about anticipation. Of course, we rarely hear about the rejected offers that turned out to be the right decision, but we can still learn from the mis-steps like this one.

 

The good news: anticipation is a skill that you can build.

 

If leaders anticipate, then of course you want to know how! Some practical suggestions we’ve learned for building anticipation skills include:

  • Talk with (not at) customers and listen.
  • Research your competitors and fast-growing rivals.
  • Roleplay possible scenarios.
  • Learn why you lost customers.
  • Attend conferences (network, anyone?).

 

One way to organize and summarize these suggestions for anticipating is through the SEE approach: Search, Evaluate, Execute. Search: look around you, behind, and ahead. Gather clues and pay attention. Evaluate: who’s present and who is absent? Everything, including the tone and pace of business activity, may offer an insight that will teach you something. Execute: model different scenarios and see what action is best suited for the results you want to achieve.

 

As suggested on CMO.com, you can even organize the approach and assign these responsibilities to a person or a team, whether to brainstorm possible scenarios or function as a “technology scout.” Be open for input from different sources. Anticipation must be well-informed across a variety of subjects—it isn’t a “jack-of-all trades, master of none.” Collaborative projects with other businesses might be risky, but can also be an opportunity to develop new insights, particularly with start-ups.

 

Essentially, these expert suggestions reflect one of Fast Inc. Network’s underlying principles: entrepreneurs cannot remain isolated in a silo. We must continue to engage, whether it’s learning about basic resources for our business or providing insight that provides strategic, competitive advantages.

 

Leaders anticipate… even when they learn from others.


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