What if you could develop super early-detection powers for future breakthroughs and game-changing events? With that ambition in mind, I created: FuturePriming. Priming is a term from psychology that refers to “prompts that activate particular associations and influence behavior”. These prompts are generally the result of our upbringing, experiences and education, and explain why we react in a certain way, why we have certain thoughts when we hear the word “ice cream” or why we perceive things differently than other people do.

But you can also deliberately create these prompts, so that particular thoughts get activated once you notice the self-created prompts. And that’s where FuturePriming comes in.

Essentially, FuturePriming is about imagining, creating and recording your self-created prompts on changing realities. We call these prompt – or events - FutureFacts. In FuturePriming, you engage your imagination by entertaining unconventional, possibly disruptive, future events. This way, you are priming your mind to notice these first hints that initially only present themselves at the periphery of our attention.

In order to make this a practice, and ensure that you get the most from it—a rich yield of strategically relevant insights, while strengthening their ability to become a first-class noticer—FuturePriming is guided by four simple rules:

  • Rule 1: Scope for relevance and time. Step three to five years into the future: that’s far enough to be creative and near enough to already be relevant to monitor and explore today. And look for relevant changing realities in your business, industry, and geography. Your scope should be wide enough to capture any relevant signals, but not so wide that you have too much information to consider.
  • Rule 2: Don’t make your own company part of your imagined event. FuturePriming is an outside-in approach. The point of this practice is to be attuned to the outside world and what might be happening there. This seems strategically obvious, but I’ve noticed that many people gravitate – without this explicit rule – towards internal reflection about what the organization should do. To ensure, you tap into the external environment and first wonder how the world around you might be changing in the next few years, I introduced this second rule.
  • Rule 3: Explore the area between the conventional and the absurd. Ideas that simply confirm current trends, beliefs or conventional wisdom neither add to your learning about the future nor challenge your assumptions. So go for unconventional FutureFacts, not ones that merely confirm what you or everyone around you is already thinking. On the other hand, wildly far-fetched ideas, like 60 Percent of Toddlers Now Have Mobile Phones, are not going to help grow your visionary capacity either. The fertile ground is the area between the conventional and the absurd. You should stretch what you—and those around you—currently already believe. Without going overboard.
  • Rule 4: Describe an event, not a trend. This final rule is often the most difficult one. Write your envisioned change as an event you might read about in the newspaper. Create a memorable hook that highlights something significant about the change you explore. Vague descriptions of trends, such as “ever-growing need for clean water,” won’t cut it. To promote looking ahead with clarity, you must make a possible changing reality concrete. For example: “Solar Roadways Builds First Highway Strip” and “DNA Profile Taken into Account in Health Insurance Pricing”; these are concrete, telling headlines you will remember, and will start to serve you as prompts when you hear or read about something that’s mildly similar.

Obviously, you will need to capture, store and display your ideas, so they start serving you as prompts as you lead. That’s the practical side of this practice, but with this easy to integrate practice of FuturePriming, you can detect the early signals of change and become better at seeing change early. In the book, check out how Cisco applies this process to stay ahead of the pack.

Leadership behavior

To close, as said, priming is not only intended to activate certain thoughts when real change presents itself to your primed and forewarned self - priming also influences behavior. In short, as youcan imagine, a leader primed with many interesting, thought-provoking, future-oriented ideas about what the future might bring will radiate a very different energy and display different behaviors than one whose hasn’t developed such inspiring thoughts. The Irish philosopher Charles Handy once said that there are two kinds of people: drains and radiators, and that he decided to spend his life with the latter. FuturePrimed leaders are much more likely to be radiators than the ones who have their thoughts directed to the past, and often drain in cynicism.