A king (Louis XVI), a clerk and a blade (a guillotine): Nostradamus predicts the French revolution. Illustration in Vaticinia Nostradami,1629.
Ideas for Leaders #624

4 Nextsensing Skills to See What the Future Holds

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Key Concept

Asking, “What’s Next?” has always led humans throughout history to create a better future. But answering, “What’s Next?” is not an easy task in today’s ambiguous and complex world. Four ‘nextsensing’ leadership skills are required to lead in the 21st century. 

Idea Summary

Behind all human progress is the question: What’s Next? Asking “What’s Next?” led humankind from the invention of the wheel to the building of the pyramids, the establishment of common laws, the printing press, the founding of universities, coinage and commerce, steamboats, passenger trains, the light bulb, space travel and, most recently, the iPhone.

But today, with the world more interconnected than ever, entire industries revolutionized by upstarts, social media networks connecting billions of users shaping consumer trends, international online business booming… in short, with the world more complex and ambiguous than ever before, answering “What’s next?” is not easy. In the context of a world that offers more questions than clear-cut answers, leaders seeking to answer, “what’s next?” will be required to have four “nextsensing” skills.

The first nextsensing skill is to stretch sensibilities. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, for example, works to bring diversity to her team and to encourage, through her writing, women to reach for leadership positions. The world is too complex for one person or one small group to have all the answers. Bring more people into the leadership circle and stretch their sensibilities. Here’s how:

  • Ask them to talking about things happening in other fields that could affect the company’s success.
  • Establish a culture of curiosity. Leaders and their companies need to stay alert and never surprised by changes.
  • Embrace the interaction of social media. Social media employees and managers will expand their thinking about how the business operates.
  • Update or replace outdated methods, systems, products and services. Everything becomes obsolete one day or another. While elements of the company have reached their expiration dates?

The second nextsensing skill is to take a stand. As a factory manager, Zhang Ruimin (now CEO of China’s multi-billion dollar Haier Group) had workers use sledgehammers to smash up defective refrigerators. To take a stand and announce their aspirations to the world, leaders should take the following steps:

  • Begin by appealing to people’s aspirations. Zhang’s unorthodox gesture didn’t just reflect the poor quality of products, but also the aspiration of his workers to make better products (after all, it was them, not he, who were smashing the refrigerators).
  • Speak confidently but listen attentively. One-way communication is never as inspiring as an exchange of ideas. People are willing to listen to the important messages of their nextsensing leader because they know that leader will listen to them.
  • Embrace learning on the job. The important thing is to keep moving forward, especially in light of any initial failures.

The third nextsensing skill is to create a new order. The past is done; prepare for the future. In 1994, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates held a compact disk while suspended over a towering stack of paper, sending a visual message that digital was the future. To focus people on the future, nextsensing leaders take these actions:

  • Frame a new sense of purpose. Be clear that here’s what we have to do because the future looks like this.
  • Unlock new streams of value. The company’s traditional sources of value are becoming irrelevant. Where will value be generated in the future?
  • Monitor progress and make course corrections. The path to the future should never be a straight line. Course corrections are positive signs of vigilance and agility.

The final nextsensing skill is to act with foresense. In India, Preeti Sharma Menon created a taxi service for women, driven by women — creating a unique taxi future long before Uber upended the taxi industry. Nextsensing leaders don’t stand idly and wait for the future to hit; they are proactive and create their own futures. It isn’t easy but certain steps will help:

  • Make sure the profile of the business is understandable, shareable and buildable. Put in place a few, concise core principles to guide the company.
  • Clarify and emphasize future outcomes. Communicate a clear and important purpose.
  • Support others in their endeavours. Nextsensing leaders recognize that the best organizations are the ones with leaders at all levels.

Business Application

While nature lives, grows and evolves, humans imagine, invent and reinvent. They will never stop asking, “What’s Next”? And for that reason, they will never stop progressing.

Progress is the key to sustainability for any organization and the essence of good leadership is to promote progress. If nothing else leaders must ensure that barriers to progress are removed, and to actively encourage progress these four ‘nextsensing’ leadership skills - stretching sensibilities, taking a stand, creating a new order, and acting with foresense - are invaluable.

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Idea conceived

  • May 2016

Idea posted

  • September 2016

DOI number



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