What’s your future potential? … Look forwards not back, as an individual and a business … with more courage, scope and capacity … to be more, do more, and achieve more

May 8, 2020

Our potential is what lies ahead … how we can be more, do more, achieve more.

Yet we spend too much time looking backwards, not enough time looking forwards. And as a result our future defaults to an extrapolation of what we have done, not what we could do.  In a world of turbulent change, a future based on the past, can be quite limiting, and with diminishing returns.

Of course, we take comfort from looking backwards. It is much easier to define, to evaluate.

As an individual, when was the last time you went for a new job? You most likely tried to demonstrate your future potential by describing what you’ve done in the past. You proudly laid out your resume, eloquently describing your past experiences, impressive qualifications and previous achievements. It’s probably impressive, but it’s an old story.

As a business, you probably do the same. Daily schedules, meetings and reports, are spent pouring over the past. Performance is all about what we have done, last quarter, last year, and compared to previous years. Strategy is too often based on what we have done, our capabilities and assets, and how can we use them to go forwards.

Yet we all know that what got us here, is unlikely to be what gets us to where we want to go.

As individuals, and as organisations, we know it is not what we have done that matters, but what we can do, could do, next. Yet what we do next is most likely to be a repeat of what we’ve done, unless we change something. What is that change, that will unlock more  than was previously possible? What is the key to our future potential?

Think of some of the great people who have changed to realise their potential:

  • JK Rowling was a secretary at a publishing firm. On her way to and from work, she used to dream of writing a novel, sketching out plots in her head. As a secretary, her potential was conventionally limited to roles in administrative support. But then she threw in her job,  took the bold step to write her first manuscript, and her potential was transformed.
  • Eliud Kipchoge was a very good runner. He was one of the hundreds of African endurance athletes who competed around the world, picking up medals at major events. But then, realising that his career was drawing to a close, he wanted to leave more of a mark. He switched to the marathon. Olympic champion, world record holder. The first man under 2 hours.

“Future potential” is the desire and ability to be more.

Individually and organisationally, it is typically driven by three factors:

  • Future courage … Do we dare to be more than we currently are? Future Potential demands personal ambition and drive to go beyond your current world, to let go of what you know, to go further, to enter the unknown.
  • Future scope …  Do we know where we are heading, and is it the right direction? Future Potential demands more opportunity space, more fertile ground to support new growth, to stretch further and wider ahead.
  • Future capacity … Do we have the talent, creativity and resources to get there? Future Potential demands that we become more, dig deeper into ourselves, to develop new mindsets and future-relevant capabilities.

I work with many organisations, and it is quickly apparent which have the greater “future potential”.

The organisations who do, typically see the future beyond the frames of today, they look to go beyond their sector, innovate new business models, disrupt the current game. Disney, for example, with the recent launch of Disney+ has redefined its future potential, by opening up an entirely new space in content distribution for innovative growth. Orsted, was a Danish coal-based electricity generator, but within 10 years has transformed entirely to renewables, with huge growth potential.

The ones who don’t, essentially compete within their existing space, seek improved products and operational efficiencies, but are essentially happy to play the old game.  Vodafone, for example, is obsessed with being a telecoms business, focused on handsets and tariff plans, whilst the rest of the world is more interested in convergent platforms and the content on them. Or Ford, battling to survive in an auto sector, that is quickly been redefined by new forms of mobility.

Similarly for individuals, it is quickly apparent who has the greater “future potential”.

People who seek to be more than they currently are – not just ambitions to climb corporate hierarchies and attain greater positions, more power – but the ones who are constantly learning, curious and creative, they want to improve themselves, searching for new ideas, new initiatives, new ways to move forwards. As leaders, their own future potential has a huge influence on their organisation’s future potential. Without the right leaders, organisations are stuck in today.

“Future potential” is closely aligned with change, and with growth.

An organisation is unlikely to achieve significant change, unless people are prepared to change too. Most significantly, its leaders. Change in mindset, in activities, in capabilities. And as a result of that, organisations are unlikely to achieve significant growth, beyond just working harder-type of growth, unless they see personal growth as a prerequisite.

How much “future potential” do you have?

  • How farsighted are you, to dare to look beyond the horizons of today?
  • What proportion of time do you spend looking forwards, compared to looking back?
  • Is your business purpose a limiting or liberating definition of why you exist?
  • Does most of your innovation exploit the core, or seek to explore the edges of your current world?
  • Is your business largely defined by your current products, and your existing competitors?
  • Do you typically think more in terms of probabilities, or possibilities?
  • Are performance metrics driven by what you have done, rather than what you could do?
  • Is your market value a true reflection of what you could do, or just an extension of what you have done?
  • Do you have leaders with the potential to unlock your future potential?

Finding your future potential requires a shift in your business, a more forwards orientation, a growth mindset, a reframing of where you are going and what is possible. And it requires a stretch to make the mental and physical shift. It needs a catalyst to open minds, it needs energy to break out of today, and it needs courageous leadership to take it to a place you don’t yet know.

Without “future potential” you and your business are unlikely to find a better future.

© Peter Fisk 2020. Extract from my next book, Business Recoded, out in September.

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