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Flash forward and profit

Published on Friday, 22 Jul 2011
Illustration: Bay Leung
Book: Flash Foresight
Author: Daniel Burrus, with John David Mann
Publisher: Harper Collins
Daniel Burrus

Will Daniel Burrus achieve Stephen Covey-like guru-status with this book? Since Covey's The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People came out in 1989, many imitators have followed. But Burrus has the originality and verve to really stand out in an increasingly crowded market.

His Flash Foresight is an engaging study of seven guiding principles that the author claims could lead the reader to attain his business and personal goals.

In addition to being the author of several business titles, Burrus describes himself as a "technology forecaster and business strategist". He is the founder and CEO of Burrus Research, a consultancy based in Wisconsin.

Having made a career of predicting technological changes, Burrus maintains in Flash Foresight that the savvy business person can develop this gift of "flash foresight" - the eureka moments that open up opportunities and solve seemingly intractable problems. It's all about tapping into our "sixth sense", he says, citing companies such as Crocs, Starbucks, and Amazon as flash-foresight players.

Case studies bring the author's central idea to life, such as how Netflix redefined the home-entertainment industry or how Singapore transformed itself from a sleepy backwater into an anodyne and chillingly efficient hub of regional commerce.

So how do you nurture flash foresight? Start with certainty. That is to say, identify and verify hard trends. Secondly, anticipate. Yeah, well, we all know that, right?

Thankfully, the chapters that follow the first two are rather less predictable and much more thought-provoking. In particular, the reader will find the chapter entitled "Take Your Biggest Problem And Skip It" an intriguing piece of outside-the-box thinking. Likewise "Go Opposite" - rather easier to put forward on paper than execute in the real world, but a useful part of the book nevertheless. The most boring chapter here is "Redefine And Reinvent", which is one long yawn.

Flash Foresight recalls the message of Malcolm Gladwell's brilliant Blink and also the lateral thinking-inspired tone of Gladwell's What the Dog Saw. But the prose is drier, and Burrus doesn't have the populist touch of Gladwell or the "new Gladwell" - British business guru and author Tim Harford. Close, but no cigar for this new face in an overcrowded field of motivational authors.

Burrus will get you thinking, though. He debunks the zero-sum game, in which the pie is assumed to be of a fixed size - and therefore emerging technologies or emerging markets inevitably threaten the existence of the old. That's not true, Burrus argues, by means of the principle of his "both/and" theory, which puts forth that new and the old can and will continue to coexist.

There's also the occasional zinger buried in these earnest pages. Burrus tells of an incident when a CEO told him he was loathe to spend to upgrade his employees' skills. "What if I do," the CEO said, "and then they leave?" Burrus' Taoist riposte was: "I see your point, but what if you don't - and then they stay?"

Burrus echoes Harford (author of Adapt - this year's mega-selling business title) in pointing out that organisations that are succeeding today are those that do not fail to learn from failure.

Perhaps the cleverest thing Burrus has done is to elicit a testimonial from the great man himself, Stephen Covey, author of the aforementioned The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and to which Flash Foresight owes a great deal.

"Superbly written and thoroughly researched, Flash Foresight equips the reader with seven valuable principles that provide uniquely effective strategies to grow personally as well as professionally," says Covey. And he means it - because Covey's paramount principle is integrity. And Burrus is a worthy disciple.


Five insights

  • Identify and verify hard trends before you do anything else
  • Anticipate the future through probability
  • Take what you think is your biggest problem - in fact, it isn't and never was - and disregard it
  • Look seriously at doing the opposite - sometimes you'll surprise yourself
  • Leverage your unique strengths in new and more effective ways


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