Flash Foresight: See The Invisible To Do The Impossible by Daniel Burrus

Here are my notes on “Flash Foresight: See the Invisible to Do the Impossible” by Daniel Burrus.Flash-Foresight-Book

I learnt a lot from this book. The 2 biggest lessons for me were:

  1. I’ve heard about the aging population a million times, but this book made me think about it in 2 different ways:
    • It will create an enormous part-time, low-cost workforce with huge business experience
    • There is enormous business opportunity as that generation requires more health care, more medical technology (hearing aids for example)
  2. Technology-driven change doesn’t kill off the old ways of getting things done, it adds on
    • Eg e-news hasn’t killed newspapers, email and digital storage hasn’t killed paperwork

Here’s a collection of my other favourite bits from this book.


Going Opposite

  • When you look in the opposite direction from where everyone else is looking, you see things nobody else is seeing.
  • It opens up hidden opportunities, unnoticed resources, and overlooked possibilities, acting as a spark that ignites a flash foresight.
  • Practicing go opposite lets you see things that up until that moment were invisible—and therefore impossible—to almost everyone.

How To Apply Flash Foresight: The Seven Triggers

  1. Start with certainty (use hard trends to see what’s coming)
  2. Anticipate (base your strategies on what you know about the future)
  3. Transform (use technology-driven change to your advantage)
  4. Take your biggest problem and skip it (it’s not the real problem anyway)
  5. Go opposite (look where no one else is looking to see what no one else is seeing and do what no one else is doing)
  6. Redefine and reinvent (identify and leverage your uniqueness in new and powerful ways)
  7. Direct your future (or someone else will direct it for you)

Example: Pediatric Dental Practice

  • A young friend opened a brand-new pediatric dental practice.
  • She had a modest clientele, but her few patients were not generating the referrals she had hoped for.
  • “This is a children’s practice, right?” I said. “So let’s start by approaching it from a child’s point of view.” This time, we got down on our knees, shuffled into the waiting room, and looked around. “What do you see?” I asked my friend. She glanced at me with surprise. “Not much of anything!” It was true. Everything in the room was set at eye level—adult eye level. “For starters,” I suggested, “what if we lowered that reception desk so we can make eye contact with your nice receptionist?”
  • Then, what about our sense of hearing? When you first come into the room, what does it sound like?” We both listened. It sounded like someone evil was torturing mice in the next room. We put in one-beat-per-second music to mimic a soothing heart beat and installed sound-deadening material
  • Then I asked my friend, “What does it smell like?”. We replaced the antiseptic smell (which smells like panic to a child) with a pleasant fragrance
  • Her practice thrived

CHAPTER ONE: Start with Certainty

If you understand the 2 most common types of change, you can anticipate the future. They are: Cyclical change and linear change.

Examples of Cyclic Change

  • planting and harvest
  • birth and death
  • day and night
  • tides and phases of the moon
  • seasons
  • migrations
  • stock prices
  • economic recessions
  • building and real estate activity
  • seasonal sales
  • interest rates

As you observe one phase of a cycle, you can be certain that the second phase will follow and you can act accordingly.

Examples of Linear Change

  • aging (of individual)
  • growth in the earth’s population
  • increase in data, information, and knowledge
  • increase in worldwide literacy
  • increasing number of patents and inventions
  • acceleration of computer processing speed
  • convergence of features and functions
  • globalization

Linear change is where the real action is, precisely because it is not a repeating pattern and therefore creates entirely new and unique circumstances and opportunities.

Linear change is what makes the future fundamentally new, and grasping this type of change is what allows you to begin making the invisible future become visible.

Hard Trends and Soft Trends

  • The word trend means “a general direction in which something is developing or changing.”
  • A hard trend is a projection based on measurable, tangible, and fully predictable facts, events, or objects.
  • A soft trend is a projection based on statistics that have the appearance of being tangible, fully predictable facts.
  • A hard trend is something that will happen: a future fact.
  • A soft trend is something that might happen: a future maybe.

During consulting with a major insurance company I asked “Could you tell me, of the thousands of salespeople you have around the globe (who generate 80 percent or more of your global sales), how many are within three years of retirement?”

They had to check. They were shocked. Sixty percent. In the following three years, three out of five of their top salespeople would be gone, and all that know-how and experience would be gone with them.

  • In a nutshell, the power of flash foresight: knowing how to identify hard trends gives us the ability to see the future.
  • Knowing how to identify soft trends gives us the ability to shape the future.
  • The advances in technology are a certainty; who implements those advances is soft.

CHAPTER TWO: Anticipate

The Eight Pathways of Technological Advancement

  1. dematerialization
  2. virtualization
  3. mobility
  4. product intelligence
  5. networking
  6. interactivity
  7. globalization
  8. convergence

Pathway 1: Dematerialization

  • Laptops used to be several inches thick and weigh six or seven pounds; today they use a fraction of the material and accomplish far more than their ancestors—and cost far less.
  • We have the capacity to make our cars much, much smaller, but we may not necessarily want that for all models. However, we do want them to be lighter, because then they use less fuel. How do you make something lighter? Dematerialize it.

Pathway 2: Virtualization

  • Now we can test airplanes, spaceships, and nuclear bombs without actually building them

Pathway 3: Mobility

  • The degree of mobility has changed, and the degree of practicality and productivity in a mobile context has been transformed.

Pathway 4: Product Intelligence

  • We can now add intelligence to practically any product is about to transform our lives.
  • The microprocessor offers an almost infinite number of opportunities to imbue a product with intelligence.
  • For example: Smart tires could warn us of low pressure, smart asphalt, smart cement that will tell the highway department when the bridge needs to be repaired.

Pathway 5: Networking

  • Allowed us to start intercommunicating at great distances in real time.

Pathway 6: Interactivity

  • In the past, mass advertising was a passive experience: all you could do with TV commercials, magazine ads, and billboards was look at them. When you see an ad on the Web, you can click on it—and that makes it a whole new ball game.

Pathway 7: Globalization

  • No country that has a McDonald’s within its borders has ever gone to war with the United States, because by the time they have a McDonald’s, their economies have become so interlinked with ours, it would be costly and counterproductive to go to war.

Pathway 8: Convergence

  • Look at your cell phone: how many products have converged into that little thing sitting on your palm?
  • Take a close look at where the parts of your car were manufactured, and chances are you’ve got globalization there, too—which means you have all eight pathways converging in a single technology that you use every day. That is exactly what’s beginning to happen everywhere: all eight pathways are interacting with one another, the transforming whole becoming far bigger than the sum of its parts.

The Three Digital Accelerators

Accelerator 1: Processing Power

  • Moore’s Law refers to the fact that computer processing power doubles every eighteen months.

Accelerator 2: Bandwidth

  • Today bandwidth is lightning fast, and not only is it accelerating, but it’s accelerating even faster than the doubling of processing power.

Accelerator 3: Storage

  • Today data storage capacity is so huge it’s almost unlimited—and so cheap it’s practically free.
  • That’s the continuing impact of the third digital accelerator: The capacity to store digital data is doubling every twelve months—faster than the increase in both bandwidth and processing power.


Intelligent Health Care

Here is just a partial list of the advances in health-care tools and techniques we can see in the visible future:

  • remote diagnostics
  • remote monitoring
  • virtual hospitals
  • wireless telemedicine
  • regrowing body parts
  • in-depth genetic screening
  • evidence-based (intelligence- and communication-driven) medicine
  • results-based (that is, not treatment-based) funding
  • e-enabled patient choice
  • e-enabled assisted living
  • e-enabled disease management
  • e-enabled health records

Anticipatory Health Care

  • Of course, many have been talking about prevention for years, and there has already been a fundamental shift in public consciousness toward the concept of wellness.
  • However, up to this point wellness has developed as an alternative to the mainstream health-care model. That’s going to have to change.
  • Today wellness is something people opt for. Tomorrow it will no longer be a luxury—it will become a core strategy.
  • In the past we simply couldn’t do this, because we didn’t have enough accurate information about what health problems lay on the road ahead for each of us.
  • Now that we have mapped the human genome and are making constant and significant refinements to that knowledge, this is no longer the case.
  • The hard trends tell us we are about to have a vastly greater capacity to project and predict health and disease tendencies—and that this capacity will continue to grow at ever-increasing rates.
  • This will transform not only the health-care system but also the life insurance industry.
  • Right now, we’re using actuarial tables that are based on generalizations extracted from history.
  • In other words, your insurance rates are set by a rearview-mirror approach. Life insurance is an educated gamble.

Self Health

  • In the past you’d retire, live five more years, and die.
  • Now the chances are good you’ll be around for a good ten, twenty, thirty years after you “retire,” and be needing some supplemental income, too.
  • You just don’t necessarily want to do the same thing or work as hard.
  • We have hundreds of thousands of people, for example, who’ve worked their whole lives in advertising, marketing, or corporate sales, and who want to continue to use their skills but don’t want to reenter their old professions.
  • Let’s attract some of them to become part of the transforming health-care system.
  • Part-time? No problem.
  • Work from home? Consider it done.
  • You can be a retired or newly trained nurse and answer questions from your home on a computer on your own schedule, just as a JetBlue reservation agent does today.

Welcome to Web 3.0

  • The hallmark of Web 3.0 is that it is an immersive environment.
  • A 3D Web browser could let you “walk” down the isles at a trade show you missed
  • Second Life and World of Warcraft are immersive 3D worlds

Welcome to Web 4.0: Ultraintelligent Electronic Agents

  • The essence of Web 4.0 is this: instead of our having to go searching for what we want, it will come to us.
  • Learning our parameters and preferences to make our searches automatically more relevant and useful to each of us individually.

When It Comes to Technology-Driven Change, Think Both/And

  • Executives, managers, and the business and popular press all tend to make the same false assumption about the future of technological change.
  • Every time a new product category is introduced, they assume that the older category will soon vanish.
  • But that’s not the way it works. The hottest new breakthrough technologies do not necessarily replace older ones. Instead they often coexist with them, side by side.
  • Why? Because the old technology has its own unique profile of functional strengths, which the new technology never fully replaces.
  • In the case of paper, it’s inexpensive, portable, foldable, you can erase on it—and best of all, it doesn’t disappear if the computer goes down.
  • Digital obviously has its powerful strengths as well. Both are here to stay.
  • We tend to greet innovation with an either/or assumption, but this is not an either/or world but a both/and world—a world of paper and paperless, online and in-person, digital and analog, old media and new media.
  • But the both/and integration of new-tech and old-tech combinations has an amazing way of enlarging the pie itself.
  • The future is not automated help; it is automated help and live help.
  • The future is not digital, fiber optic, automated, self-serve, and youth-focused—it’s digital and analog, fiber optic and copper, automated and manual, self-serve and full-serve, youth and elders.
  • The faster things change, the more we will live in a both/and world, and one flash foresight key to surviving, succeeding, and thriving in that world is to continually seek ways to integrate the freshly old with the emerging new.

The New Golden Rule of Business

  • The old Golden Rule in business was to find out what your customers wanted, and give it to them.
  • Customers today don’t know what they want, because the things they most want are things they don’t yet know are possible.
  • Customers did not know they wanted an iPod until Apple gave it to them.
  • The elderly were not asking for an iShoe that would help prevent them from falling—they had no idea such a thing was possible.
  • The new Golden Rule in business is this: Give your customers the ability to do what they can’t currently do but would want to if they only knew it was possible.

CHAPTER FOUR: Take Your Biggest Problem—and Skip It

  • Close your eyes for a moment and ask yourself: In my work, what is the biggest problem I’m facing right now? Keep your eyes closed until you’ve come up with an answer.
  • We’re going to take that problem . . . and skip it.
  • The typical approach is to grab that problem and attempt to solve it.
  • The problem with trying to solve your problem is that in order to solve it, you engage it, and by engaging it you embrace it—which often leads to getting your wheels mired in the mud of the problem, stuck in crisis mode and unable to move forward.
  • Flash foresight takes a different path. Rather than engaging with your biggest roadblocks by confronting them, often you’ll find you can simply leap over them.
  • The key to unraveling our most intractable problems often lies in recognizing that the problem confronting us is not our real problem; the real problem lies hidden behind the distraction of what we think our problem is.
  • Skipping your biggest problem means stepping outside the flat plane of the existing situation and gaining a clearer perspective, and this often triggers flash foresights that lead to new opportunities far bigger and more productive than you could have imagined based on the original (incorrect) problem you were trying to solve.

Example of “skipping it”: Lilly

  • Lilly was one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world
  • Lilly had nearly 7,000 researchers on its payroll.
  • They needed at least another one thousand PhD employees—a thousand new employees they frankly did not have the money to hire. Lilly’s problem was, to put it bluntly, no money. So they skipped it
  • They created an online scientific forum called InnoCentive, Inc., where they posted difficult chemical and molecular problems and offered to pay anyone who could solve them.
  • It was a huge success and huge source of innovation

Example of How Solving the Wrong Problem Can Spell Bankruptcy: Webvan

  • Where did the creators of Webvan go wrong? They set out to solve the wrong problem.
  • As a consumer, where do you spend the bulk of your grocery-buying time? Chances are good that you spend it trudging through the store, trying to find everything you need.
  • Most of us don’t really mind driving to the store; it’s once we’re in the store that our time gets drained away.
  • Here’s an inexpensive (and therefore commercially feasible) way to solve that problem: have customers order everything they need online, then assemble their groceries for them so that all they have to do is drive up to the front door and pick them up.
  • Now, you don’t have to maintain expensive fleets of trucks and drivers crisscrossing town, wasting time ringing doorbells

Example of Skipping Ahead to the Finish Line: Kenya’s Amboseli Park

  • Whilst visiting Kenya’s Amboseli Park, a bunch of tourists felt as if they had stepped out of a time machine sent from many centuries in the past. Except for one little detail: two of the three Maasai were chatting on cell phones, courtesy of the Mobile Telephone Networks (MTN).
  • When they enter a new market, one of the first things MTN does is set up a branch of the MTN Foundation, which provides a huge array of community support services that can range from health and educational initiatives to building small power plants.
  • In the less developed areas, where there is no reliable electricity (or none at all), the MTN Foundation puts in small generating stations and an electrical network.
  • In the process, MTN’s customers acquire far more than a communications system. Because if you live in one of these emerging economies, you don’t just need a way to talk to others. You need radio and television, banks and credit cards, personal computers with Internet connectivity—and as it turns out, the humble MTN cell phone can fulfill every one of these functions.
  • With miniaturization, mobility, networking, and convergence, your cell phone becomes your radio, your high-def television, your computer, and much more.
  • As your region’s economy advances, your cell phone also becomes your bank, so you don’t need to build those big stone buildings (or charge those big fees, either, as ING Direct has shown); it becomes your house key and car key, your heart rate monitor and baby monitor.
  • It serves as a multimedia training and educational tool for everyone in your community, from the youngest schoolchildren to seniors.
  • The cell phone provides all the services you didn’t have last week—and it does all this without destroying your ecology or burdening your country’s economy with the weight of a colossal copper, steel, and concrete infrastructure.

Skipping Scarcity

  • We are shifting from an economy of scarcity to an economy of abundance.
  • Our economic model of operation has always been predicated on the idea of scarcity because, in a context of material goods, every transaction depletes. If I give you an acre of land, a truckload of lumber, or a barrel of oil, then my own stores are obviously now depleted by that same amount.
  • Economics is called the “dismal science” because it is the study of the ongoing process of depletion.
  • But unlike physical resources (interestingly, though, much like love), knowledge increases when you share it.
  • This is because of a curious property inherent in all networks. As the nodes in a network increase arithmetically, the network’s value increases exponentially.
  • The industrial age was based on leveraging a scarcity of resources, for example, mining the earth of its limited metals and turning those raw materials into high-margin products.
  • Information and knowledge having become the basis of wealth
  • In the new abundance-based economy, you increase value by developing immaterial assets and enlarging people’s access, creating as broad a free user base as possible and then charging for services that leverage that magnified user base, such as Google’s AdWords.
  • If Amazon gave away the Kindle e-book reader for free, instead of trying to make it an income base, then everyone would be buying books from Amazon, and they would make far more money.
  • Poverty and economic inequity are arguably the single greatest driving force behind the spread of fundamentalist terrorism and other forms of radicalized violence around the globe.
  • But that is exactly the point. Such poverty exists not because we lack the abundance to care adequately for all the world’s people, but because we still operate largely out of a scarcity mind-set that has already become obsolete.
  • “By mentoring, coaching, and sharing all our best ideas, we’re going to create a powerful tide that raises all our ships.”
  • If you approach the new landscape with a scarcity mind-set, you guarantee your obsolescence and demise.



  • Jeff Bezos looked at how Barnes & Noble had taken the traditional bookstore to a new level of size and substance, creating the modern superstore, and went the other way: he shrank the size to nothing and made it completely insubstantial.


  • Lots of shoe manufacturers tried to emulate the svelte, chic little footwear. Not George Beodecker. He went in the other direction—and created an absolute sensation with his undeniably ugly line of plastic clogwear.


  • Dell looked at the PC industry’s reliance on retailers and did something else: direct marketing.

JetBlue and Southwest Airlines

  • JetBlue looked at the hub-and-spoke system used by legacy carriers, and decided to do the opposite. Launching its low-cost airline based on a point-to-point system,


  • “the world’s first peer-to-peer microlending operation.”


  • instead of charging for each video rented, Netflix let its customers take as many videos as they wanted at no extra cost above a monthly subscription rate.


  • Used to be, coffee was an inexpensive and generic accessory to the meals
  • It put coffee at the center of the experience


  • while American cars were getting bigger, sleeker, and cooler, this German company gobbled up a huge chunk of the American market
  • with its squat, ugly little WWII-era “beetle.”


  • company’s ten core values,
  • quit-now bonus.

A Pint-Sized Think Tank

  • A municipality that was struggling with a major waste disposal problem
  • Kids are loaded with creativity, so they gave the problem to all the students in a local school—and sure enough, they came up with an idea that worked and solved the problem.

Creating a Million-Dollar Ad

  • Super Bowl ads are expensive
  • Instead of creating yet another one, Doritos went opposite, and launched a contest called Crash the Super Bowl for consumers to create their own Doritos commercials.
  • The process itself was newsworthy, so they also got valuable free media exposure.

CHAPTER SIX: Redefine and Reinvent

Reinvent Everything – Example: Marriott Hotels

  • If I want coffee and breakfast at six A.M. and call for it the night before, the knock on the door might come at six o’clock, or it might come at five to six, or at ten after. At least, that’s normal at a Hilton, a Hyatt, an Anatole, a Renaissance—but not at certain Marriotts.
  • Marriotts have implemented a new system, that knock on the door comes precisely at the time you requested it. Not a minute early, not a minute late, but right on the dot.
  • How do they do that?
  • By using the technology known as artificial intelligence (AI).
  • They have a computer in the kitchen equipped with what’s called an expert system.
  • The expert system knows all the precise parameters that will have an impact on time lapse: how long the service elevator will take to get from any floor to any other floor, exactly how long it will take the waitstaff to walk from the kitchen to the elevator, exactly how long it takes each dish to cook, and so forth.
  • It has a complete map of the hotel and keeps track of every order, so if there are multiple breakfasts to deliver, it knows in which order they should be dropped off.
  • The system tells the kitchen staff exactly when to start cooking your breakfast in order to have the hotel employee knocking on your door, tray in hand, at exactly the minute you asked for it.
  • You might at first think, what’s the big deal? Five minutes give or take, does the customer really care? But here’s what happens. The first time your meal shows up on the dot, you might not even notice; after all, anyone can get it right every now and then. The second time, third time, fourth time, you start noticing. Hey, this is getting weird! By the fifth and sixth time, you expect it—and now, when you stay at any other hotel and your meal comes minutes early or minutes late, Marriott has trained you to be disappointed.
  • They have used technology to redefine customer service.

Forget the Competition

  • How will you survive in an increasingly competitive world? By not competing.
  • The old rule was to do what the other guy is doing, only do it either cheaper or better.
  • Trying to compete is a scarcity-thinking game; the organizations that are winning in the new century don’t bother competing.
  • Instead, they leapfrog the competition by redefining anything and everything about their business.
  • Here is a partial list of all the things you can compete on:
    • price
    • reputation
    • image
    • service
    • quality
    • design
    • time/speed
    • values
    • customer experience
    • innovation
    • knowledge
    • loyalty
  • Instead of broadcasting, try “narrowcasting”

Your Thoughts?

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