CEOs: Now You’re the Futurist
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Episode 38 Transcript:
Chris Curran: Growth Igniters Radio, Episode 38− CEOs: Now You’re the Futurist.
This episode is brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated − enabling successful leaders and companies to accelerate to their next level of growth, on the web at www.BusinessAdvance.com. And now, here’s Pam and Scott.
Pam Harper: Thanks, Chris. I’m Pam Harper, Founding Partner and CEO of Business Advancement, Incorporated, and right across from me is my business partner and husband, Scott Harper. Hi, Scott.
Scott Harper: Hi, Pam. I am so excited to be joining you again for another episode of Growth Igniters Radio. If this is your first time listening out there, our purpose is to spark new insights, inspiration, and immediately useful ideas for leaders to take themselves and their companies to their next level of success. So Pam, what’s our topic for today?
Pam Harper: The Role of the CEO as Futurist.
Scott Harper: … Should I get out my crystal ball?
Pam Harper: A little bit. In my book, Preventing Strategic Gridlock, I talk there about the importance of taking a more expansive view of strategic thinking and planning by what I was calling “understanding the full challenge” that our organizations are facing in both the short-term and the long-term. Our friend and returning guest, Jim Blasingame, complements this with his position that all CEO’s need to embrace the specific role of “Futurist” to stay relevant to their customers.
For those who haven’t yet heard one of Jim’s previous episodes on Growth Igniters Radio, he is one of the world’s foremost experts on small business and entrepreneurship. He’s the creator and host of the weekday radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, which is on the air 5 days a week since 1997. I am proud to be a member of Jim’s brain trust for a long time now. He’s also author of the award-winning book, The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance. Of course, you can see Jim’s complete bio by going to GrowthIgnitersRadio.com, Episode 38, and scrolling down to Jim’s bio. Jim, welcome back again to Growth Igniters Radio.
Jim Blasingame: Hey, Pam. Good to talk to you. Thanks for inviting me back. Hi, Scott.
Scott Harper: Hey, Jim.
Pam Harper: We can’t stay away from you.
Jim Blasingame: You know, we do have a lot of compatible ideas and I like the way you guys think, I guess you like the way I do. I just think we have a lot of good energy together.
Pam Harper & Scott Harper (in unison): Absolutely.
Pam Harper: It’s always a pleasure having you here. So let’s talk a little bit more about this idea of the CEO as a futurist. In your book, The Age of the Customer, I was particularly struck by the fact that you said, “CEO’s must now personally become futurists.” It’s interesting that you say that, because haven’t savvy CEO’s in every size company always looked to the future for growth? I mean, they have strategic planners and all of the rest of this…
Jim Blasingame: They have, you’re exactly right. However, way too many small business owners don’t do enough of that, and I think it’s because they don’t think of themselves as a CEO, the Chief Executive Officer of their company. That’s because, as you know, we wind up spending a lot of time as the manager of our business and the different disciplines. A CEO’s job is to spend time on the vision for the company. Vision meaning things that are out in front of us that are coming at us, to see things over the horizon, to go out and do some reconnaissance, be the point person. In the infantry, we had listening posts that we would put out; they would listen for what was coming at the unit from far in advance of where the main body was. To be one of those listening posts − to scan the horizon for what may be coming at you, for good or for ill.
Look, there are people out there who are professional futurists. When I talk about being a futurist, some of them might look askance at me and say I’m diluting what they are, what they do, but I don’t think so. To me, if I can get a small business owner to think about being a CEO and to think of themselves in that role as the futurist for their company, the person who has to go and anticipate what’s coming at the company − that’s what a futurist does in a lot of ways. They seek many points of light, many points of interest, many details that are from disparate originations, and they pull all those things together, and they come to a conclusion with all of that. Because they’ve taken their head out of the trenches of running their business, they’re able to do that a lot better. That’s the reason why I think, as a CEO, one of your jobs is to be the futurist for your company.
Scott Harper: That makes sense, Jim. You talk about small business owners; we’ve seen that even in mid-size companies and larger, the top leaders sometimes are so entrenched in being in the business − working in the business − that they don’t always work on the business.
Pam Harper: They’re relying on others.
Jim Blasingame: That’s right.
Scott Harper: They’re relying on others, or sometimes they don’t even…
Jim Blasingame: In my opinion, this isn’t a delegated job.
Scott Harper: I agree. Jim, what has changed in the environment − in our business environment − that makes this mindset of being a futurist more important than ever before?
Jim Blasingame: One word, Scott. The word − I’ve been using this word for a long time now − is “velocity.” Change is not different today from what it was 1,000 years ago, 2,000 year ago…
Scott Harper: Okay…
Jim Blasingame: … It’s all about going from one level of your strategy or your product is offering or whatever, from one generation to the next generation − that’s what change is. That hasn’t changed in 10,000 years. What has changed about all of that is the velocity of change. That’s what’s taking our breath away, Pam. When I was coming up as a young pup, you could develop a strategy, you could develop a comp plan for your sales people and a strategy to go to market and put it into place in January, and expect it to serve you all year long.
Today, 90 days is max, right? They call that “The Internet Year.” If you’re not continually scanning the horizon and putting pieces together − to other people it might not look like they fit the same puzzle. That’s what futurists do. They pull together pieces of puzzles. There’s a hidden piece in that puzzle to the right and a hidden piece to the one on the left, and nobody would ever know that they go together if somebody wasn’t scanning both of those puzzles.
Pam Harper: That’s true.
Jim Blasingame: That’s what futurists do, and that’s what a CEO has to do. The reason that it’s more important than ever before is because the velocity of change has increased so much. The compression of time from one generation to the next has just gotten so much smaller.
Pam Harper: It’s absolutely true. In some ways, one of the things that we’ve liked to talk about with CEO’s, is the idea that it’s almost like having radar: You have to be out there constantly scanning the environment.
Jim Blasingame: Right.
Pam Harper: We’re singing from the same songbook, so to speak. Here’s the thing: If leaders know that they need to look to the future, and I think more of them do − the people we’ve been talking to do know this − still, there are things that they’re missing. What do you see as the most common things that any CEO that you’ve spoken with right now has been overlooking or underestimating?
Jim Blasingame: We came up in the 20th century, many of us, where we always focused on what the competitor was doing, because the competitor was where the changes were coming from. Whatever our competitor was doing, we had to keep up with them. I think there’s still way too many companies out there, way too many executives who are still focused on that competitive focus. In my opinion, the things that I look for, I don’t worry about the competitor in my world. I worry about what my customers expect. What are they going to expect from me? When I look at the future, I’m imagining a customer, and I’m saying, “Okay, what are their expectations?” I’m not even asking, “What are they going to need?” I’m saying to myself, “What are those people going to expect from me?” Pam, Scott, I not only want to be prepared to give that to them in the future, I want to tell them before we get there that this is what I think you’re going to expect from me, and I want you to know you can count on me to be there.
Pam Harper: They could be expecting different things totally than anything that could be imagined today.
Jim Blasingame: That’s exactly right. Here’s the thing, Pam − they don’t know that they’re going to expect that. That’s your job as someone who helps them, if you’re helping CEO’s − as the CEO − it’s going to be your job to say to them, “Look, I believe that this is how you’re going to do business, how you’re going to go to market. You’re going to expect these kinds of things 2, 3, 4 years from now, and I don’t know exactly what that’s going to look like, but I want you to know I’ve been thinking about it, because we’re integrated partners with you.” I’m the CEO talking to my customers, I’m giving them my vision, my futurist vision − “I believe this is a direction that you’re going to be thinking about, you’re going to be expecting this from us, and I want you to know, whether I’m exactly right or only partially right, we’re thinking about it now, and we’re going to be here to deliver on what you expect from us.” Then I would say to the customer, “What do you think?” You’re helping your customer to be a CEO futurist.
Pam Harper: Exactly. The more that we can get away from thinking of traditional sources of competition, and really focus on what’s going to be happening out there next, then we can find ways to stay relevant to our customers and stay ahead of the game instead of lagging behind it.
We’re going to take a quick break. When we come back, we’ll talk more with Jim Blasingame, the Small Business Advocate, about the CEO’s role of leading into the future. Stay with us.
Scott Harper: You are listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper, brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated − on the web at www.BusinessAdvance.com. We enable successful companies to accelerate to their next level of innovation and growth. If you like what you’re hearing, spread the good word. Go to www.GrowthIgnitersRadio.com, select Episode 38, and use the share links for Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter on the top right of the page to tell your social media communities all about us. Use #growthigniters. This will help extend our reach to all the people who can benefit from this series.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper − that’s me − and Scott Harper. Scott and I are talking today with Jim Blasingame, the Small Business Advocate, about the CEO’s role as chief futurist. Jim, how can people find out more about you, and about the Small Business Advocate?
Jim Blasingame: Hey, Pam, thank you for having me back on your show. I really enjoy spending time with you and Scott. You’re doing really important work here, and I’m proud of you for what you’re doing.
People can find me at www.SmallBusinessAdvocate.com, or if they forget that and they remember my name, you can go to www.JimBlasingame.com. Also, they can find out more about my book, The Age of the Customer at www.AgeOfTheCustomer.com. Lots of stuff there, including quite a body of work, Pam, that you have helped me produce on my show.
Pam Harper: That’s true. We’ve been together − how many years did we say it was that I’ve been part of your brain trust?
Jim Blasingame: About 10 years or so. I’ve forgotten. Something like that.
Pam Harper: Yikes.
Jim Blasingame: That’s a long time.
Pam Harper: There’s quite a body of work there. You’re getting quite a body of work on Growth Igniters, too. This is something like the third episode that you have been with us for. A lot of the material that we’re talking about, some of these concepts, are coming out of The Age of the Customer, which was really a book that I found so striking, so thought provoking.
Jim Blasingame: We’ve now sold approximately 60,000 copies of that book.
Pam Harper: Wow.
Scott Harper: That’s great.
Pam Harper: It’s fabulous. In fact, the piece about the CEO, now you’re the futurist, came from the epilogue. It was the last chapter. Going back to our conversation, we were talking before the break about how we really have to stand out and work with customers and their expectations, not worrying so much about competitors. Can you tell us a story about a leader who has been successful in doing this?
Jim Blasingame: Let me tell you a story on myself. This is a very dramatic one that people might think that it was an odd thing for me to do. As you know, I have a radio show.
Scott Harper: Yeah…
Jim Blasingame: I have sponsors; “God bless them every one,” right? About 7 years ago, I went to one of my leading sponsors, and I gave them one of my big idea presentations, and I said, “In a few years, you won’t pay me to be on the radio any more, as you won’t think about advertising the same way then as you will now. You might still do business with me, but the way you do business with me as an advertiser will be significantly different in a few years than it is now.” In fact, I told the vice president of sales and marketing, I said, “That won’t be your title any more. You won’t be vice president of sales and marketing. You’ll be vice president of community.” The truth is, in that company, almost all of that’s come to pass. Using another military analogy like I did in the last segment, Scott, I called the artillery down on my own position.
Scott Harper: Right.
Jim Blasingame: By telling them that. They looked at me like, “Why are you telling me this? This is how you make a living.” I said, “Because it’s the most important thing I do.” As the futurist for your company, you also have an obligation to be the futurist for your customers. You might be out there on the horizon looking around saying, “Wait a minute. When I serve this customer, they may not want that in 3 years.” Not that I won’t sell this to somebody; other people may want this, but this particular customer might not want this. So I’ve got to do two things. I’ve got to #1: Find out what they’re going to want. #2: Go tell them about it right now.” If you’re the first person to tell your customers about something like that, talk about credibility, talk about a customer you can’t run off. I’ve actually done stuff like that before, and it turned out that they said, “You know, you were right. I don’t need what you sell me any more, but I do want you to help us find what we do need.” I didn’t lose the customer.
Pam Harper: It’s a bit of an art as well as a science, because you’re having to figure out when to tell them that they are going to be doing things differently. How long, in your story, was it from the time that you told that vice president of marketing that he was going to become a vice president of community?
Jim Blasingame: Yeah;it was about 5 years.
Pam Harper: You didn’t want to tell it to him too soon…
Jim Blasingame: I wanted to tell him as soon as I knew, as soon as I believed it was true, because as you know, this company was a lot bigger than mine. It’s a huge company. As you know, these companies, they’re freight trains; they’re not Volkswagons, right? They take a long time to turn around. This company took my ideas to heart, and today, they literally have made the shift so that they’re much more diverse in the way they go to market, and consequently, are having double-digit growth year over year.
Scott Harper: Jim, I think you were making the point that you didn’t lose them as a customer. You said, “You’re not going to buy this from me any more,” but you morphed, and they stayed with you for other value. You changed the value, and increased your value to the customer.
Jim Blasingame: If anybody has a problem thinking of themselves as a futurist, I can see that, because that’s a little bit presumptuous, I admit. Leave it to me, Pam, to do that. To be more comfortable with this, think of yourself as a thought leader. I want every one of my customers to not only buy my stuff, I want them to think of me as a thought leader. If they think of me as a thought leader who serves them in other capacities, then that’s a customer I can’t run off. There’s a guy named Robert Ringer who wrote a book 40 years ago called, “Winning Through Intimidation.” Do you know the book I’m talking about? “Winning Through Intimidation.”
Pam Harper: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Jim Blasingame: When he said “intimidation,” he didn’t mean, “Be loud and aggressive.” He meant do things so excellent that your customers are intimidated to not have you around. They’re afraid of not having you around. I took that to heart. I want my customers to not only think of me as a person who delivers goods and services to them. I want them to think of me as a futurist resource, and at least as a thought leader.
Pam Harper: The more that your customers think of you in this different way, there really is no competition, in a sense.
Jim Blasingame: How does a competitor take you away from them?
Pam Harper: That’s true.
Jim Blasingame: I’ve had customers call me up and say, “Hey, Jim, I’ve got a competitor’s proposal. It looks pretty good. Will you come help me decide if I need to change or not?” That’s some credibility, when you get to that point.
Pam Harper: Absolutely. We’re going to take another break. When we come back, we’ll be speaking more with Jim Blasingame, the Small Business Advocate, about some immediately useful ideas for sharpening your futurist skills. Stay with us.
Scott Harper: Pam, can you tell our listeners why clients engage us to speak at events, conferences, and company off-sites?
Pam Harper: They’re seeking new insights for dramatically accelerating company transformation and growth. They’re also seeking new leadership insights about themselves, their teams, and their organizations so they can make bold new decisions about strategy and implementation. It’s been especially rewarding to find that some of our company off-sites have resulted in breakthrough decisions that have generated as much as tenfold growth over 5 years.
Scott Harper: Contact us today at www.BusinessAdvance.com to arrange for a brief call to discuss your needs and options for helping you achieve your most important goals.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. Over the last 2 segments, Scott and I have been talking with Jim Blasingame, the Small Business Advocate, about the CEO’s role as chief futurist. Jim, how can people find out more about you, and especially read that book of yours?
Jim Blasingame: Thank you, Pam. Again, it’s great to be with you and Scott. Again, I just want to say how proud I am of you guys. I saw what you were doing in the beginning when you were launching this thing, and I knew you were onto something. Congratulations on the great work you’re doing, and thank you so much for allowing me to come and play in your back yard.
My websites are www.SmallBusinessAdvocate.com − That’s an 18-year-old website, that’s a URL I’ve had since ’97, which we continue to update it every day, new stuff every day. That’s where you can find my main body of work. Also, www.AgeOfTheCustomer.com is the website for my book. That’s my new book. By the way, Pam, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, that book’s won 2 awards − one international, and one national award. I’m kind of proud of it.
Pam Harper: And one of the things that we’ve been particularly pleased about is helping you to spread the word about this book.
So, we have been talking about being out there as the chief futurist, and the importance of taking a much more proactive role, as opposed to simply responding to all the changes that are coming at you. What are 3 pieces of immediately actionable advice that you can give to CEO’s about developing their predictive powers and enabling them to put that to practical use in their own companies?
Jim Blasingame: This is all about you being the CEO of your company, but there’s another role that you have to do that’s not always intuitive, because the world is … The alligators are biting at you… and one of them, as Pam said, is being a futurist for your company. Pam, my futurist friends − the ones who can actually make a living, the ladies and guys who make a living strictly as futurists − these are educated futurists, they’re the real deal − they use a practice they call scanning.
Scanning is where you’re reading, you’re listening, you’re noticing things across a wide range of topics; probably most of them are somewhat associated with your industry. You’re reading industry publications; you’re reading the blogs of people who are in your industry that you feel like are really smart, they really see future. You read what they’re saying. You’re reading the “Economist,” you’re reading the “Wall Street Journal,” and you’re scanning all these things. You’re listening to different programs, and you’re going to hear certain people speak. You’re attending industry trade groups to hear key speakers who are thought leaders in an industry. All that is scanning, where you’re picking up a piece of perspective here and a piece of information there, and then all that together might just be individual pieces, but after a period of time, you pick up another piece, and all of a sudden,− remember the movie, “A Beautiful Mind,” where all those numbers came together and made a conclusion?
Pam Harper: Yeah.
Jim Blasingame: Well, that’s what’ll happen. It’ll kind of coalesce. These different pieces of information will coalesce and you’ll say, “Hey, I now have clarity about what I think is going to happen down the road. It’ll coalesce for you.”
Pam Harper: Exactly.
Jim Blasingame: Scanning is a really good practice.
Pam Harper: One of the things, Jim, that I have been talking about, and I’d love your opinion on, is the idea that we have to go beyond even our own traditional industries and really become much more involved in not just our customers’ industries, but our customers’ customers’ industries.
Jim Blasingame: That’s right.
Pam Harper: Because it’s easy to get absorbed in our own immediate industry, and say, “Wait a moment. We were surprised that our customers are reacting this way to their customers.” It’s like a giant chain, you know, like dominoes. It’s a lot harder, but I think that that’s where we’re going.
Jim Blasingame: If you think of it like what you just described, it makes it easier to understand scanning, because if there is a major resource that one of your customers’ customers must have, and you found out that there is a war on the other side of the planet that just quadrupled the price of that commodity, well, that might have an impact on how you do business with your customer. Those are things to think about. Again, not so much for you to be defensive about. You can play offense by making sure that your customer knows that you are in tune to those things, and you can actually have a conversation with them, maybe even point it out to them before they knew about it.
Scott Harper: Absolutely; and I’ll tell stories on Pam here, because people have sometimes accuse her of having a crystal ball. One of the things, Pam, you talk about, is going beyond industry information and looking at things as diverse as pop culture, “Good Morning, America,” things like that, because if you look at the whole gestalt of what’s happening, you can sometimes get triggered into thinking about things that nobody else is thinking about if they’re just focusing on the business and the industry.
Pam Harper: It’s true. There’s no shortage of places to look. So Jim, tell us − how do we narrow it down? There’s no shortage of information; how do you suggest that people digest all of this so that they can make sense. You talked about coalescing, but anything specific?
Jim Blasingame: I really have decided that the more I know about business, the more I know about the marketplace, the more I know about human beings and the marketplace, and as fast as things have gotten, and as digital as things have gotten, my world has really gotten a lot simpler. The more I know about those things, the more I believe that my answers to my future as a business owner are going to be found in my customers’ expectations. If I think that’s my north star, or my future, and I think that’s my guidepost. I just go and I continue to find out what my customers need and want, and what their expectations are of me, and what is going to be giving them new expectations. What’s going to be empowering them even more? Whatever those things are, as long as I stay there, then I’m not going to wander very far away from success.
Pam Harper: We’ve talked about the first immediately useful thing to do is you have to read and get a broader view − scanning. What’s a second thing? As soon as somebody is done listening here, what’s the next thing they can do right away?
Jim Blasingame: I’m going to go real simple. It might surprise you to hear me say this. Get comfortable with projection. Start building 12-month cash flow projections. If you’re not already doing this, and I know in your medium-size companies, most CEO’s have folks who are doing this. I think you might be surprised — well, you might not be − a lot of people might be surprised at how many companies don’t do projection. I love to do projection. Especially for a smaller company, once you start thinking in the future, one of the things that helped me, is start building 12-month, 24-month projections for my business. It helps me to get my head outside of the here and now.
For example, remember that company I said might be impacted by that commodity? If I’m projecting all of 2016, just to have a certain amount of business in that company, and I see they may not be doing as much business because one of their customers is going to take a hit, I might take that 2016 projection, which I’m building right now for my own company − I might dial that back 10%. Then say, “Okay, what’s that going to do to my future?” Then I say, “Okay, how do I go and get that 10% back?” Well, I’m going to call on that customer and see if I can’t help them guard against their own problem with their customer. Maybe I don’t lose that 10%.
If I weren’t thinking about it like that, I’d just be wandering around. I’d show up on January 1 with that customer and say, “Okay, how does this year look?” They’re saying, “Oh, you haven’t heard? Our customer went away.” You don’t want that kind of conversation. You want to tell your customers about their potential customers going away, so to speak. That’s how you prove to your customers that you’re more than a vendor. You’re a partner. You’re an integrated partner.
Pam Harper: That’s what we want to be. What’s a third piece…
Jim Blasingame: I love that feeling.
Pam Harper: It’s a wonderful feeling.
Jim Blasingame: I love that feeling, yeah. The third piece − I really think this is important: Get up off of your backside and physically get outside of your four walls. Go to a local Chamber meeting. Go to a regional industry event. Go to a national industry event. Budget for it. Don’t tell me you can’t afford it. Budget for it, because Pam, every time I’ve gone somewhere, and many times I’ve thought, “Man, I don’t want to go.” Every time I’ve done that, and I’ve been … Especially the ones where I didn’t really want to go, I’ve come back saying, “Wow. I don’t even want to think about what would happen if I hadn’t gone this time.”
Pam Harper: Interesting that you would say that. Our previous guest, Jane Howze, has been talking about social media presence as another way to get outside of the four walls. Would you say that that would be an important thing also for CEO’s to do?
Jim Blasingame: I don’t disagree with that, but what I’m worried about … I’m the original social media heretic; I wrote a whole chapter on this. We use social media here like crazy. I’m telling you, social media is one of your tools, but it is not a substitute for face-to-face. Remember this − face-to-face is the original social media.
Scott Harper: That’s a great thought.
Pam Harper: Absolutely. These are really sound pieces of advice. Any last thoughts that you would have as far as this whole topic of a CEO as being the chief futurist?
Scott Harper: First, you can’t be the futurist as the CEO if you don’t think of yourself as a CEO. As a CEO, you’ve got to fire yourself from jobs you don’t have to do any more, promote yourself to jobs that only you can do, and one of those jobs that nobody else can do, not one other person in your organization can do this, and that’s being the futurist of your company.
Pam Harper: Exactly. That advice goes, incidentally, I think, for CEO’s of any size company. Thank you again, Jim. This has just been great. We really appreciate you being on Growth Igniters Radio.
Jim Blasingame: I love it. I love talking with you guys. I’m proud of you. Keep up the good work. Whatever Pam and Scott do is top shelf, so follow them.
Scott Harper: Jim, thanks so much for being on Growth Igniters Radio, and thanks to you out there for listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. To check out resources related to today’s conversation, share on social media, find out about upcoming episodes, or open a conversation with us, go to GrowthIgnitersRadio.com and select Episode 38.
Pam Harper: Until next time, this is Pam Harper…
Scott Harper: And Scott Harper…
Pam Harper: Wishing you continued success and leaving you with this question to consider:
Scott Harper: What are three ways that I personally am going to strengthen my futuristic mindset and skills, starting now, to stay relevant to my customers?