The world is changing and changing at increasing speed. In such kind of world, our ability to anticipate the future is very important. Those who can anticipate the future will have more time to prepare and thus will be ready when changes come. Since they become among the first few people who are ready, they can reap the greatest benefit of the new trends. Most people will come only later when the best parts have already been taken.
I use the term “anticipation engine” for this ability to anticipate the future. This is an important part of being a versatilist (see Be a Winner by Being a Versatilist: What, Why and How). But how do we build the anticipation engine?
The bottom line is you should be able to see how the dots are connecting. See how the dots are connecting in the past and present, and then project them into the future. This is how you anticipate the future.
So here are 6 things you should do:
- Read smart about the past
I use the term “read smart” and not just “read”. “Read smart” means reading selectively to get only what you need without being distracted by unnecessary stuff.
First of all, you need to read smart about the past. This is important to allow you see how the dots connected in the past. Since your goal is seeing how the dots connected, your readings should be those which are concerned with getting the patterns of history instead of just telling historical events.
My favorite book for this purpose is Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond. It does exactly what we want: connecting the dots in the history.
- Read smart about the present
After seeing how the dots connected in the past, you should see how the dots are connecting in the present. Here you should be able to recognize patterns in our present world. This is important not just to anticipate the future, but also to see whether or not you are ready to face the present challenges. Who knows, maybe you aren’t ready for the present. This part should give you immediate benefit because the actions you take will directly affect how you perform in the present.
My favorite book for this is The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman. It clearly shows how the present world – which he said is in the “globalization 3.0” era – works.
- Read smart about the future
The next thing is of course seeing how the dots would connect in the future. Since they are still in the future, what you see are still possibilities, not certainty. But you do need to know what the possibilities are. Be careful when reading about the future though. You’d better be sure that your readings based their predictions on facts rather than just imaginations.
My favorite book for this is Visions by Michio Kaku. It clearly describes what scientific achievements are predicted to occur in the 21st century and beyond, and how they will affect our life.
- Read smart about how trends evolve
Now that you have got the big picture of the past, present, and future, you should learn how one dot connects to the next. That’s why you need to read smart about how trends evolve.
A good book for this is The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. It talks about how social epidemics work, and the knowledge you gain from the book may help you spot the clues of coming social epidemics.
- Do content analysis
You can spot trends by doing content analysis. You do content analysis by analyzing the content of the media such as magazines, newspapers, movies, and books. See what are currently popular and why. Seek the patterns of what is going on behind the content you analyze. After reading smart about the past, present, and future, and learning how trend evolves, you should know enough to look for the patterns behind the content. Books like Megatrends 2000 by John Naisbitt are built upon content analysis.
While the first four steps prepare the framework (the big picture), content analysis fill in the details.
- Project the dots into the future
Now that you have got the big picture and the details, you should have enough information to project the dots into the future. The clues of coming trends should be here and there in your content analysis, and your understanding of the big picture should help you recognize and connect them. You can then see your current situation to see which coming trends are most likely to influence you and take the necessary actions to prepare yourself.
The resources I mention above are the best resources I know. Do you know of other good resources to help us anticipate the future? Feel free to share them in the comments.