Needed: Some Outside-In Thinking — Fast!

Posted 04.14.2008

What's that on the horizon?

Yesterday’s Washington Post ran a thought-provoking package of articles on the future. The primary point is that while, for understandable reasons, we focus on the issues that are right in front of us (e.g. the election, the economy, the war), the future is rushing in on us and changing our world so quickly we don’t really notice. For example, in his article, “The Future is Now,” Joel Achenbach made this pretty amazing point:

Consider the Internet. This powerful but highly disruptive technology crept out of the lab (a Pentagon think tank, actually) and all but devoured modern civilization — with almost no advance warning. The first use of the word "internet" to refer to a computer network seems to have appeared in this newspaper on Sept. 26, 1988, in the Financial section, on page F30 — about as deep into the paper as you can go without hitting the bedrock of the classified ads.

The entire reference: "SMS Data Products Group Inc. in McLean won a $1,005,048 contract from the Air Force to supply a defense data network internet protocol router.

1988! Twenty years later, the print newspaper industry is close to being on life support because of a technology that barely had a name 20 years ago. Those classified ads Achenbach was talking about? Who needs them when you have Craigslist?

Outside-in thinking is one of the behaviors I identify in The Next Level that leaders need to pick up. One version of this to question the assumptions that have led to your success. What if things changed? As leaders, we need to be asking the question, What are they (whoever "they" is) doing out there that could affect us? Maybe more importantly, what are they doing out there that we can learn from?