Foreseeing the future is an ability that would come in handy no matter who you are. It allows you to avoid dangers, prepare for difficult circumstances or seek out opportunities for growth. It’s an elusive ability, of course. However, if you ask Associate Professor David A. Savage of the University of Newcastle, he’ll tell you that the trick to understanding the future is learning about the past.
According to Savage, a behavioural economist and social sciences expert, the underlying lessons from past events can help managers and leaders tackle the unknown. Savage currently instructs the University’s Executive MBA students in the course ‘Tools, Techniques and Transitions in a digitally Changing Environment’. This course shows managers and leaders how to stay abreast of emerging technologies and evaluate new technologies’ relevance to their organisation’s business activities.
For example, they might ponder
the business impacts of future technology that may seem like a distant concern
but could pose huge questions later. “Looking to the future means identifying
the things that will come up, especially if you’re a manager or leader, that
you’ll need to know how to solve.”, he explains.
“Particularly when it comes to human resource concerns, technology can open the doors to a few ethical concerns. If you think of AI, at some point, it will become so good it might become sentient. Then you’re left with the question, ‘Are they still a machine or are they a worker?’ If so, then the next logical question would be, ‘what are their rights?’ or ‘Do they have rights?’”, Savage adds.
Don’t fear the unknown
It is these challenging and complex to solve questions that can, at times, make managers and leaders wary of technological advancement and change. Savage, on the other hand, believes that there is nothing to fear since this is nothing new.
“If you think of blacksmiths, in their day, they were probably the wealthiest people in their community. They had the skill set that took years to master and was difficult to replicate. After we have mastered technology that can replicate the blacksmith’s skills, that profession has become very rare. In time though, other doors open for those who might’ve been blacksmiths. They could quite easily move into modern steel manufacturing because they understand the process involved. So even though one door closes, another always opens.”
Lifelong learning and reflection is key
While humans are naturally adept at adapting, an attitude of lifelong learning does help a lot. “It’s important for leaders to be aware of what’s coming down the pipeline and identify what are the advancements that they can and can’t ignore,” Savage says. The last thing you would want as a key decision-maker is to fall behind on matters that can affect your business. So, Savage suggests managers and leaders adopt a mindset where they constantly ask, “How do I transform what I know into whatever the next version of the job is?”
Another essential part of staying on top of a fast-changing environment is to stop for reflection. Savage considers this one of the best ways to allow learnings to sink in and for students to consider how to apply the knowledge they learn practically.
It’s true; no one can see the future – all we can do is learn from the past, reflect on our experiences and remain open to the fact that we must never stop learning. These are just three ways that managers and leaders can throw a far enough gaze into the unknown without being overwhelmed by it.