Daniel Burrus is a keynote speaker, business strategist and one of the leading global futurists on trends and innovations.
He was the first and only futurist who in 1983 accurately predicted twenty technologies that would become the driving forces of business and economic change for decades to come.
In this interview, we found an answer to some important questions: What it takes to be an entrepreneur? What should you think about in advance when starting a business? What is the role of technology in business?
Keep reading, it’s going to be interesting!
Tell a bit about yourself and how you came to be a business guru and technology futurist
I started out teaching biology and physics. Then I had an idea for an airplane design, I ended up being a test pilot and ended up with 37 national locations within the fist year. I was a national leader in that business. It turned out I had an aptitude for business. So, then I started another company and another, and another. So, for two years I had four companies that were going really well.
And after few years passed I realised that I missed teaching. I didn’t want to go back to teaching, but I wanted to go forward to teaching. I didn’t know what that meant. So, what I did is I spent a year researching all pieces of science and technology globally, and I came up with a list of 20 technologies that would drive economic value, creation, and change.
Back then, 30 years ago I started speaking and consulting, started my newsletter since then I’ve written six books, which have been best sellers. My last bestselling book was Flash Foresight I think you know that it’s been New York Times & Wall Street Journal bestseller.
So, it was kind of evolution, But as you can see at the beginning science and technology were important to me and were of interest to me. And I always was looking at future, what the impact of the new innovation. So, I’ve been doing that during all of my professional life.
As a business strategist, do you help your clients with practical advice only, or do you also prompt the skills that executives could develop to be better professionals?
The key that I am doing is helping them identify game-changing technologies that can be used to transform either their business processes or create new products and services. So, four years ago for example I worked with IBM’s top executives on using my methodology, that’s the methodology of separating soft trends and hard trends. I used that methodology to help them identify their game-changing strategies going forward for IBM.
So, I do that type of thing, I’m a strategic advisor for government and Pentagon, I do work with companies worldwide.
Does everybody has entrepreneurialism hidden inside? Or being a business owner is not for everybody?
I definitely think that it’s not for everybody. I believe that there are a lot of personality types that are not suited for business. I’ll give a personal example: my father was an engineer, who very quickly rose to being a general manager of very large manufacturing company that was global in size, that in its day was probably close to the size of GE. He was in the electrical division, so they made turbines and generators and those kinds of things. He liked to do his creative thinking as an intrapreneur, meaning internal entrepreneurialism (inside an organisation). He was not interested in starting his own business, that wouldn’t have suited him. But he could thrive within an organisation.
So, the point is that creating a company takes a certain amount of time and effort, and everyone is suited for it. It’s really about personality.
I’ll give you another example. I’ve had employees who needed to be in an office with other people. They can’t work alone, they’ve gotta be with other people. I’ve got other people that I hired over the years, that can work with others, but also like to stay by themselves and like to connect with people remotely.
So, not everybody is cut out to work by themselves, be a teacher or entrepreneur. It takes a combination of personal skills. So, not everyone can be an entrepreneur, but everyone can be an intrapreneur, i.e., thrive inside an organisation.
What are must-have skills for someone who wants to start a business or wants to become a successful leader nowadays?
I covered that fairly well in one of my last books “Flash Foresight”. We live in a world of uncertainty, so the best thing is to ask yourself “What are you certain about?”. Because strategy based on uncertainty has high risk, on the other hand a strategy based on certainty has low risk. So, as an entrepereneur you want to be able to jump ahead with something new, but you want to lower your risks, and most entrepreneurs don’t understand that. And remember that out of the 6 companies I started, 3 were national leaders within the first year and 5 were profitable within the first year, so I have the credibility to say that.
What are the things that one should think of in advance when starting a business?
I teach people to separate hard and soft trends. Hard trends are those that will happen for sure. Soft trends are something that is likely to happen.
So, to find certainty look at the trends that are happening, and separate them into ones that will happen vs. the ones that might happen.
Here are three examples of hard trends that can actually help:
1. Demographics. For example in U.S., there are 78 million baby boomers. And the hard trend is – they’re getting older. And they have different needs than they had when they were younger. So, that presents many opportunities. For example, as people get older, and they love to go boating it gets kind of hard to launch the boat. At some age, it might even be hard to get in the boat. So, what if you made a solution that would help senoirs to launch or get in the boat easier. And there would a growing market every year, because of the hard trend of the aging baby boomers and their parents. You would even know which country to export it to. For example in Istanbul the average age is 30, so you don’t want to go there, but there are many countries that have aging population which would be perfect for that.
2. Government Regulation. When there is a new law that goes in the place, you actually have amazing opportunities. But most people look at what they don’t like. And what you need to do instead is look at what you like at that regulation, and often there is money. There was a law that passed several years ago in U.S.: the government wanted to encourage hospitals to use electronic patient records. So the government set aside billions of dollars to the company that would help hospitals and doctor’s office convert the patients’ records. So, a lot of companies saw that not only as an opportunity to help doctors but also earn money. And a lot of other companies didn’t know this.
So, laws you don’t like in new legislation I say just get over it and look for opportunities.
3. Technology. We have a social, a mobile, a virtual and a digital revolution. And we’re no longer in a period of change, we’re in a period of transformation. We’re transforming every business process in a short amount of time. For an entrepreneur that represents great opportunity, so again look at the hard trends, certainties that are shaping the future and make sure that your product is at a low risk, potential is great and that the reward is high.
What is the role of technology and Internet in business?
Technology is an enabler. For example, some of the big enablers is big data, another great enabler is high speed data analytics, another enabler is mobility and smartphones.
Another words these tools enable innovative products and services. Let’s just take mobility. People would say: “Should I get an Apple or should I get a Samsung or should I get Microsoft product? What smartphone or tablet should I get?”.
And the reality is that’s not a good question. A better question would be: “How could I use mobility to transform every one of my business processes? What does that enable, that was impossible just a few years ago?”. Ask yourself this question and you will get some good answers.
How do you think technology will change business in the next couple of years?
I’m going to give a short range prediction, based on hard trends, meaning it will happen. Over the next five years every business process will be transformed, meaning we’re going to transform, not change, we’re going to transform how we sell, how we market, how we collaborate, how we innovate. All of those processes, the tools to transform them are right there, right now. Now that’s the hard trend.
What is the soft trend? Remember the soft trend is what might happen. So, the soft trend is: will your company do that? Will your company transform those processes? That’s the soft trend because you may not.
The reality is it’s there, it’s will happen, it can be done, it will be done, and if some will not do that, someone else will
What is your opinion on business productivity software?
I love business productivity software because I wanna be productive. And the more productive I can be, the better.
How can you do more with less? Every year we’re being asked to do more with less. By the way, let me predict the future: next year you’re gonna be asked to do even more with even less.
So, how do you do more with less and get to know your kids, have a life, have some friends and not just be working all the time. And the answer is you gotta increase your productivity. Productivity software will help you to do that.
So, my advice is: most of us underutilize the software, the tools we have. So, if you have or getting some new productivity software, don’t underutilize it – maximize it.
Let me give a quick example of Microsoft Tool that most of us have – Word. How many features does Word have – thousands, how many of them do we use – probably 10 or so. How many of them did you pay for? You paid for thousands.
So, in other words, we’re underutilizing what it can do. Same with productivity software. It has amazing features that allow you to do amazing things. Most of us nearly use it and wonder why we’re not more productive.
Have you ever had experience with time tracking systems? Do you think they are useful for businesses?
Yes, I do think they’re useful for business, and I have had experience with them. There are many ways that you could define time tracking systems, so why don’t you tell me what you mean by it. So, I could give you the best answer.
Interviewer: time tracking system – as the one that tracks employee time at the computer and then generates a report that helps the worker increase his/her productivity
Yeah, I think that that’s got a lot of use, but I also like to add a little extra to that. I like to also be tracking the results. So, it’s not just what you’re doing, it’s what you’re accomplishing. Cause doing doesn’t mean accomplish, it’s just a task.
So, I also want to be focusing on what’s your output. E.g., it might take a normal person three days to do something, it might take someone else three hours, and it might take someone else three minutes. So, what I want to do from tracking their time is learn from the person that can do it in 3 minutes and teach that to the people that take three days or three weeks.
So, time tracking can help you really not just monitor people, but better yet find out where new best practices exist and then share that knowledge.
What gadgets/apps do you use to stay productive?
Well, someone asked me recently what’s the most important piece of software I have. Obviously, I use a lot of sophisticated software. But for me the most valuable tool. And remember that last year I wrote and published 212 business articles, everything from Harvard Business Review to Wired and Fortune. I also gave 50 speeches around the world.
Not that I was doing a lot, I was just very productive.
How do I do that?
The answer is – my calendar. So, I use my calendar very strategically to make sure that I’m putting in what’s important, scheduling time for it. And by the way, if I want to exercise or if I want to go on vacation – it’s in my calendar.
Because if we don’t log these things in and then revisit them to make sure that we’re not just doing strictly technical things, but we’re also doing strategic things that help us move forward.
So, my calendar helps me stay organized and keep accomplishing what I wanna accomplish, and make sure that important things don’t get pushed aside