How to Think Like a Futurist

The following is an excerpt of article that was first published in the Summer 2021 issue of HP’s Innovation Journal:

The world around us is changing and advancing at breakneck speed. From cars that can see around corners to robots on Mars, hyperloop travel, and artificial intelligence (AI) that can write a poem like Coleridge or fiction like Kafka, keeping up can be overwhelming. For business leaders, innovators, and organizations, the central question becomes: How do we lead this change, rather than being led by it?

I’d posit that we all need to learn to think like futurists. Thinking like a futurist shouldn’t be reserved for a select group of people, but instead is a basic skill set that anyone can learn.

Tapping into your inner futurist requires that you stay aware of what’s happening in the world around you, and think through the long-term impact on countries, societies, industries, and our day-to-day lives. But it’s not a spectator sport; it also requires that you anticipate, plan for, and take action to create the future you want. It’s about monitoring shifts, visualizing outcomes, and adopting an innovation mindset.

Monitoring shifts

No one can predict the future, but understanding the global socioeconomic, demographic, and technological shifts that are shaping the world around us can help point the way. It’s important to understand how these trends will influence our human experiences — from how and where we work, to how we make things, to how we stay healthy, learn, and live our lives. Being aware of these shifts enables you to spot new opportunities, reach your goals, and make plans based on the world of the future, not the world of the past.

For example, prior to the pandemic, only a quarter of US workers did some work at home. During the pandemic that number skyrocketed to more than 80%. The future of work will undoubtedly see many jobs becoming primarily hybrid. Many employees will do their desk work at home or at coworking spaces, while offices transform into places employees go to collaborate and innovate as a team.

The pandemic and today’s geopolitics have also shone a light on the need for supply chains to become more flexible and resilient. As we look to the future, the inherently digital nature of 3D printing opens a world of possibilities for manufacturing to become more digitized and sustainable as well, and for products to become more personalized.

Similar shifts are happening in healthcare, education, retail, and across our business and personal lives in general. Moreover, the role of business in society is changing, as customers increasingly expect more from the companies they engage with, and companies must stand for more than the products they sell.

Read more in the Summer 2021 issue of HP’s Innovation Journal.

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How to lead a remote team during COVID-19

Our “new normal” requires leaders to rethink how they lead. These tips will help you lead a team that’s working from home.

Internet access has also become congested because more people are online during the day performing their jobs and attending school virtually. Carriers have reported their customers are using more voice calls and many of them are using Wi-Fi rather than cellular. In addition, Facebook has seen a 70% weekly increase in the number of people using Facebook Messenger for group video calls.

As the pandemic continues to alter our everyday lives, we’ve become reliant on services that allow us to work from home. Meetings are happening on Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Google Hangouts. In fact, Zoom reported daily users spiked to 200 million in March, up from 10 million in December.

Creating a culture of a high-performing team can be challenging under normal circumstances, but what does it look like during a global pandemic? As a leader how can you adapt your leadership style and processes to meet your employees’ new expectations? Here are the top tips I have learned through my own experience leading a global, remote team.

  1. Communication is crucial.
    Implement tools that allow you to communicate easily. We use Skype and Microsoft Teams, and find it great to stay in touch with quick messages and updates on projects without cluttering our email inboxes.

    You can use a messaging tool to encourage socializing, too. Create a group in Whatsapp or whichever messaging platform you use that is not specific to work. Keep the “water cooler conversations” going and allow your team a space to share their non-work related content.

    For updates that require more than an email or chat message, hold daily or weekly stand-ups. We use Zoom for video meetings and find it a great tool to hold virtual meetings. Your team can share what they are working on, any challenges they may have, and ask questions. If you plan on having your stand-up as a video call, make sure your team knows that ahead of time and that everyone joins using video.  It not only makes the meetings more engaging, but it also discourages multitasking. 😃

  2. Manage expectations.
    Does your company require your team to be online during certain hours of the day? Communicate that with your employees, don’t assume they will follow the same hours as when they were in the office.

    If you don’t already use a project management tool, consider implementing one so that your team can keep track of upcoming deadlines, project statuses, and the items on their plate.

  3. Be flexible.
    Work isn’t the only thing in our lives that has been disrupted by COVID-19. For those who are at home with their children, caring for a loved one, or experiencing another life event that is disrupting their normal, flexibility is paramount.

    One important aspect of emotional intelligence I’ve discussed in the past is empathy. It’s the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand how they might feel in a certain situation. As leaders, the more we’re able to relate to others, the better we help them feel understood and inspired.

    Check-in with your team on a regular basis and be fully present in your conversations, so you can make genuine connections and better understand their point of view. Once you have checked in, be flexible in creating a schedule and culture that considers their needs and current demands they’re facing.

  4. Cut yourself some slack.
    Remember, you and your team are going through massive changes in a quick time frame, so don’t expect things to be perfect from the start. Focus on small changes to start, and you will build a stronger and more supportive work culture.

    Don’t forget to take care of yourself, too. We’re all in this together.

Are you leading a remote team? I’d love to hear about your experience and any tips you’ve learned along the way. Please share them in the comments below.

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