How to Invent Your Future in 2017

dbw, digital book world conferenceBack in 2001, I had the good fortune to work for a software startup where I gained a valuable insight into how different levels of working professionals view the future.

I was receiving some intensive sales training from the CEO, who had spent many years leading B2B sales for one of America’s largest software companies. The core of the insight—really quite obvious to me now—was that professionals at different levels in the organization have different priorities and time horizons when it comes to how they view their responsibilities.

Managers and those below them spend most of their efforts on short-term objectives—sometimes three or six months out, but more often tasks that must be completed by the end of the day, week or month. Directors and VPs devoted substantially more of their time to pursuing opportunities and addressing problems that may not bear fruit for six months or even a year or more. And at the most senior levels, the best CEOs and other C-suite executives looked for initiatives that will give them strategic options two, three or even five years out. To paraphrase Miles’s Law: “What you see depends on where you sit.”

Knowing this, we adjusted our sales pitch depending on whom we were trying to win over—making sure we stressed the time-saving features and benefits to those who would use the system daily, while emphasizing the strategic benefits for the decision makers who wanted to increase business efficiency or gain competitive advantage.

My key insight, however, was not really about how to become a more effective sales professional; it was that we all must assume responsibility for all three time horizons in both our professional and personal lives. It’s obvious that we must take care of the most pressing tasks because the consequences of, say, failing to put gas in the car or pick up your kids after school can be immediate and intense. But it gets substantially more difficult to move “up the ladder” in our thinking and find the time and mental clarity to consider where we might want to be in our careers and in our lives next year or several years down the road.

More recently, a friend introduced me to the principles of design thinking which, simply put, is the methodology used by designers to understand and creatively address problems in a way that’s solution-focused and action-oriented. But it’s not just for designers. In fact, it can be an extraordinary tool in all aspects of our business and personal lives.

One leading proponent of design thinking is Bill Burnett, executive director of the design program at Stanford University and author of the bestselling book Designing Your Life. In his book, Bill talks about how sometimes simply “reframing” a problem leads to a breakthrough that completely transforms our ability to solve it. My favorite example of reframing from fairly recent history is how, when the designers at Blackberry were wrestling with ways to squeeze more buttons below the screen on their devices, Steve Jobs found an approach with the iPhone that could add an infinite number of buttons on the screen.

Unfortunately, the events of September 11th brought my little startup’s business development efforts to a complete standstill. No one, at any level, could imagine life beyond the coming days or weeks as the enormity of how the world had changed slowly sank in. Sooner or later, however, we all found a way to reframe our understanding of the new world and plan for a better future within it. Many of us feel that we are at a similar point in history right now.

So, with that in mind, I’d like to invite all of you to come hear Bill Burnett give the second day keynote, How to Apply Design Thinking to Your Work & Life at DBW 2017. In addition to Bill’s presentation, you will also find dozens of invaluable sessions throughout both days that will help you see new ways to face your own professional challenges in the coming year and create new options for success in the years ahead.

It has been remarked that the best way to predict your future is to invent it. Come and start inventing your future at DBW 2017.


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