This shift will encourage both personal and professional growth. All it takes is thinking in a new way.
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Highly successful executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders share a number of traits in common — from habits to mindsets to personality markers. We should add “thinking in the future tense” to that list. Many situations in both business and life will get one thinking or talking about the past, but being mindful of focusing on the current moment is also valuable. A proven method in business (and in life) is to maintain a strong commitment to thinking about the future. There’s a range of evidence to demonstrate this, from the anecdotal to the scientifically supported. Let’s take a look at some of it:
Jeff Bezos’ far-reaching goals
While Jeff may not win a popularity contest, he does embody future-oriented thinking. His approach to business strategy and planning is revealed in a seminar given at the Economic Club of Washington in 2018, where the Amazon founder revealed he was currently working on plans for a financial quarter as far out as 2023. Yes, five years in advance.
“When I have a good quarterly conference call with Wall Street,” Bezos said, “people will stop me and say, ‘Congratulations on your quarter,’ and I say, ‘Thank you,’ but what I’m really thinking is that quarter was baked three years ago.”
Elon Musk’s eye on the future
Musk recently shot up the ranks of the world’s richest at unprecedented speed. While anyone who has paid close attention to his career could have guessed that his success would continue, few would have predicted he’d become the world’s richest person.
How did he do it? Many ways, of course, but one of those ways involves thinking about the future. Musk’s obsession with the future and his success in building companies that capitalize on emerging technologies have earned him a reputation as one of the world’s leading futurists. Making predictions about the future and building an organization to get there is his passion.
Sure, but was Jeff Bezos “thinking about the future” when he was caught having an affair that eventually led to history’s most expensive divorce? What about Elon Musk’s Twitter antics, which led to an SEC investigation and his removal as Tesla’s chairperson? Maybe it’s fair to say they could both benefit from incorporating some of their business strategies into their personal lives. But, we all could probably benefit from doing that.
More importantly, growing a business isn’t based on the thoughts and actions of just one person. It’s about all the people that make it up. Bezos said this about his employees, “All of our senior executives operate the same way I do. They work in the future. They live in the future. None of the people who report to me should really be focused on the current quarter.”
Reaping the benefits of a future-facing outlook is as much about influencing (and carefully choosing) the people around you as it is about policing your own thoughts.
So — a pair of highly successful business people — that doesn’t offer much proof, right? What about the fact they are the MOST successful business people? What if this whole notion was backed up by science? Turns out, it is. Thinking about the future — which researchers call “prospection” — is something that sets humans apart from other species, at least in our ability to do it so uniquely and prolifically. It comes with loads of benefits, like improved decision-making, increased motivation and better overall mental wellbeing. Researchers stop short of offering an exact method for how to use prospection to increase your odds of success, but they do agree on the fact that doing so is absolutely vital to real success.
And why wouldn’t it be a major part of a successful business? Anticipation, strategic planning and administering operations — each of these require an eye for what’s happening now and what’s coming next. There are infinite possibilities for leveraging this truth into a strategy for long-term growth. In the simplest sense, thinking about the future is beneficial because it gives us something much better than worrying about things that have already happened — things we can’t change. Instead, it directs our focus toward opportunities to achieve our goals dreams.
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