Today more than ever we’d all like to have a glimpse into the future. As the country struggles with public health and economic troubles not seen in decades, what the coming weeks, months and years hold are hard to fathom.
There’s no crystal ball to look ahead — but there is a futurist.
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh alumnus Daniel Burrus ’71, is a business strategist and futurist speaker who works as an advisor to Fortune 500 company executives and has given thousands of keynote speeches to corporations, associations and other professional organizations worldwide. The recipient of the 2001 UW Oshkosh Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumni Award and an honorary doctorate degree in 2017, Burrus is the author of seven books, including the New York Times best-seller seller Flash Foresight.
Looking ahead is kind of his thing.
With the coronavirus crisis in mind, we reached out to the Hartland native to ask about his in-demand services, any silver linings he’s seeing during the pandemic and what advice he has for the class of 2020.
How has your daily life changed due to the pandemic? You must be spending a lot of time talking to your computer screen.
Yes, I have been talking to my computer quite a bit. I have been very busy doing press interviews, giving executive webinars, giving virtual speeches and helping executives solve seemingly impossible problems and plan for post-pandemic success.
There’s so much unknown about our present and future. What are the most common questions you’re getting asked right now? And do you have answers for them yet?
The most common question is what will our post-pandemic world be like and how long will it take to get back to a new normal (and how new is that new normal)?
I have developed a methodology for finding certainty in an uncertain world. Based on my anticipatory methodology for separating hard trends based on future facts from soft trends based on assumptions that might happen, and my predictions have been very accurate, many have been seeking my advice on how best to position their organization for post-pandemic success. Because hard trends will happen, they provide certainty and therefore the confidence to make bold moves.
Our hard trend, soft trend methodology has a long track record of success. Because it’s being used by the Department of Defense, as well as many of the most innovative companies most of us read about, I have been very busy helping people plan during this pandemic time.
What are the events from our past you’re relying on to help you figure out what the future might look like?
There are basically two types of change that provides a great window on the future. One is the science of cycles. I track over 500, and because they have a long history of repeating, you can use them as a lens to see farther down the road. The other type of change is linear/exponential change, which is driven by technology advancements. They also provide a great window to the future.
Have there been situations that have come up during the crisis—things that could have been avoided with more forward thinking—that have made you want to pull your hair out?
Sadly, there is a very long list. In January, I remember reading about China locking down millions of people to try to stop the spread of this highly contagious virus, and South Korea and Singapore were doing the same. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to clearly see there was a big problem heading our way. U.S. scientists and pandemic experts did sound the alarm, but for reasons that will be debated for decades, the U.S., who should have been the best prepared county on the planet, waited far too long to take action, and we have suffered both a health and economic pandemic ever since.
At the time of this interview, many states are reopening even as their numbers of people infected and deaths rise. Unfortunately, the virus is still with us, and without a vaccine, this will most likely create another problem we could have avoided.
The good news is that pandemic will end, that is a hard trend future fact! And we will all learn from it and be better prepared for any future pandemics.
What are the innovations you’re seeing right now during the pandemic that have stood out to you?
Digital disruption is being greatly accelerated now because of the pandemic. The use of tools, such as telemedicine, remote learning, cloud services and many others, were advancing before the pandemic, but now their use and application are greatly accelerated. This represents new levels of opportunity to innovate and improve everything we focus on in a positive way.
There are many specific innovations that are advancing now, including new methods for testing to see if a person has antibodies for the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 that is causing the COVID-19 pandemic and getting the results quickly, as well as a vaccine to keep people from getting it. But there are many more including new small, inexpensive heat sensing cameras to see in a crowd of people who has a fever, mobile apps to track whether you have been close to someone who is infected, new ways to quickly disinfect a room, and more new AI applications for getting real-time actionable insights regarding safety and the movement of people.
Since UWO’s virtual commencement ceremony is coming up, what advice would you give for the students about to graduate and head off into the world full of such uncertainty?
There has never been more opportunity to make a difference that there is right now. We are all at a unique moment in human history, a defining moment—don’t squander it!
With so many things closed or shut down, many think the world has hit a pause button, others think it’s more like a reset button so that we can get back to the way it was. What we really need is to hit a transformation button. It’s the perfect time to make all of our processes, all of our systems, all of our products and services far better. Instead of going back to the way things were, we need to go forward to a better tomorrow and we need you to do it.
The transformational tools are already there to re-invent and re-define just about everything. What we need is new thinking and new mindsets to make that happen. The world needs you more than ever.
If you think and act beyond success, which is all about you and your accomplishments, and you think instead about significance, which is what you do for others, you will find yourself far more successful. If you like a significant life you will tap into your true gifts and find yourself far happier and fulfilled.
- UW Oshkosh alumnus Daniel Burrus predicts the future of innovation
- UWO alumnus leads the way in business, entrepreneurial world