The gift of anticipation in startups

Picture Credit: Art by Vladmir Kush

here is a always a sense of prophesy in the beginning of any good story. Some foretelling. Sometimes couched as a riddle. You have to unwrap the layers and travel to new places, physical or digital to figure out the answers to the clues.

Futurists provide predictions and scenarios of blue worlds, green worlds, red worlds and yellow worlds. Many startups cannot afford futurists. They have to depend on their genesis story. That kernel that contains the potential to either change the world or change their financial status.

“This will make us rich!” or “No one has done this before!” and invariably both. One to inspire and the other to deliver.

Unless you have lived in the belly of a startup, you will not understand its difficult or transformational nature.

The best startups work well with anticipation especially if they are also trying to gauge TAM in an emerging tech market. These are the wild west startups where nothing is laid out. There are no paved roads, or highways. No category defined and hence there is no budget identified with potential clients. This is also seen as high risk for potential investors. This is both extremely exciting and challenging because the path is being co created everyday with an evolving and unpredictable market.

Here to be able to anticipate what is lying around the corner means articulating as well as manifesting your own vision. Your story must include elements of prediction and benefit. Your story also becomes part of a larger collective vision. Importantly, the startup narrative becomes a lightning rod that ignites the dormant potential and stirs the embers of possibilities.

Anticipation is the essential other half of leadership.

It is a key element of strategy. It announces when it is time to pivot or when to stay the course. Every unicorn was a result of inspired anticipation. The ability to see patterns, assess potential needs and solve for an unidentified problem. Good leaders are gifted with the ability to interpret team dynamics, market forces, changing customer trends, investor appetite, incoming opportunities, competitive concerns and forecast accordingly.

Unicorns like Uber, Airbnb, Facebook, LinkedIn, Amazon, Netflix, Stripe, Magic Leap, Slack, Ring, Tesla, Alibaba anticipated new possibilities and established leaders like Microsoft, IBM, Google, Apple, Samsung and Disney saw the future and reinvented themselves.

“An intense anticipation itself transforms possibility into reality; our desires being often but precursors of the things which we are capable of performing.”~ Samuel Smiles

Anticipation is instinctual experience and knowledge.

The saying that startups are an act of faith is based on the religion of discovery. This is why serial entrepreneurs become more adept at understanding how to read the clues, how to navigate the terrain and how to plot the course.

“The natural world is built upon common motifs and patterns. Recognizing patterns in nature creates a map for locating yourself in change, and anticipation what is yet to come.” ~ Sharon Weil

Anticipation lives in the realm of foresight and understands the lessons of hindsight.

This is the realm of all creators and innovators as it connects the past, present and future in one fluid state. Origin stories often start with a question or a “what if” and take into account what worked, what didn’t and why it didn’t.

“But anyone who is practically acquainted with scientific work is aware that those who refuse to go beyond fact, rarely get as far as fact; and anyone who has studied the history of science knows that almost every great step therein has been made by the ‘anticipation of Nature,’ that is, by the invention of hypotheses, which, though verifiable, often had very little foundation to start with.” ~Thomas Henry Huxley

Anticipation is the precursor to manifestation.

The story that we tell is not about what we did but about who we are planning to be. As a young company, owning the vision is more than planting it on the website. It becomes the repeated anthem that results in creating new realities.

“It is the difference between genius and non-genius. Genius manifests whilst non-genius dreams.” ~ Richard Rudd

Anticipation is about timing.

When it is too early, you do the hard work for someone else to reap the benefits. When it is too late, you have to run faster to catch up. Right timing is everything which is why so many startups stay in stealth mode till they are ready to unveil, till they are ready to capture first mover advantage, till they can leapfrog the competition.

Gary Klein, a senior scientist at MacroCognition says “Anticipatory thinking lets us recognize and prepare for difficult challenges. It’s different from making predictions because we don’t necessary expect events to play out the way we imagine — complex situations are too hard to predict. Instead, we are getting ourselves ready, bracing ourselves, preparing ourselves. We particularly need anticipatory thinking to flag low probability events that pose severe threats.

Anticipatory thinking (AT) is not trying to guess the future, it is trying to adapt to possible futures. It’s about readying ourselves. And it’s about guiding our attention — gambling with our attention based on what we are preparing ourselves to handle.”

Anticipation is developed through curiosity, listening, learning and interpreting.

Nothing grows in a closed mind or in a sealed off jar. Nothing kills anticipation faster than drinking and drowning in the company kool aid. Reading the signs, understanding the signals requires an internal and external feedback loop. The best leaders are constant learners. The most creative people are constantly curious. The true innovators are investigators of mysteries. Everything becomes fodder and is sifted subtly till insight arises from the crucible.

Encouraging a culture of anticipation

Harness the wisdom of the crowd. Also known as brainstorming, when integrated into the company culture, can take a startup into unprecedented highs. Encouraging a progressive culture of forward thinking can create efficiencies of scale, develop new products and formulate better ways to deliver the brand experience. This has to be an organic process where employees are invited to participate and rewarded when ideas or solutions are adopted.

Premonition is not just for psychics. Inspired teachers and successful business leaders have understood how to receive information and convert it into intelligence. Being prescient has often times been the reason one company has lived and another died.

Most recently, I ran marketing for an artificial intelligence software company. Startups or Fortune 100, I have lived in both worlds. Founder of Activateen

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