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Overcoming Legacy Thinking a Key Strategy for Actively Shaping The Future

Daniel Burrus, Technology Futurist and Author of “The Anticipatory Organization”
| Posted at 7:20 AM by ISACA News | Category: Risk Management | Permalink | Email this Post | Comments (0)

Daniel BurrusThe rapidly increasing pace of technology change and digital disruption leads to an unprecedented pace at which organizations must address opportunities and risks that could make or break their success. In the new decade of the 2020s, technology-driven exponential change will accelerate even more sharply. Unfortunately, most organizations are ill-prepared for what is to come, and will remain so unless they replace their reactionary approach to the technology landscape with an anticipatory one.

Reactionary strategies are reliant on attempting to become more agile and react quickly after a disruption or problem occurs – perhaps an unforeseen risk related to deploying a new technology or a competitor’s new product that is suddenly commanding market share. While the ability to muster an agile response is an important competency for organizations to possess, the organizations that will succeed in the 2020s and beyond will be the ones that become anticipatory, using hard trends (based on future facts) to identify disruptions before they disrupt and to pre-solve predictable problems.

In ISACA’s Next Decade of Tech: Envisioning the 2020s research, many of the sweeping advancements that will reshape the technology landscape become evident:

  • Ninety-three percent of respondents say the augmented workforce (people, AI and robots working closely together) will reshape how most or some jobs are performed
  • Respondents say AI/machine learning will be the most important enterprise technology of the next decade, yet only half of respondents think enterprises will give AI’s ethical considerations sufficient attention
  • Relatively few respondents think enterprises are investing enough in the technology (30%) or people skills (19%) to successfully navigate the changing technology landscape of the 2020s.

Given these and other changing dynamics, organizations need to take an honest look at their approach to managing technology change and commit to becoming far more anticipatory – or face the likelihood that they will be disrupted, losing ground to competitors. One of the best starting points is to learn to separate the hard trends that are based on future facts from soft trends (assumptions about the future that may or may not happen). If you spot an emerging trend and it’s a hard trend, the you know it will happen and that allows you to turn disruptive change into an advantage. But a trend by itself is not actionable. It is imperative that you identify a related opportunity to each trend. For example, we all know that 5G wireless will be rolled out at an increasing rate globally in 2020 – that’s a future fact. But to give this hard trend life, you need to identify the 5G opportunity for your organization. Remember, billion-dollar companies such as Uber were started when 4G rolled out thanks to new wireless bandwidth opportunities. If you determine that the trend you observe is a soft trend, there are opportunities in how you might want to influence that trend since it is not a future certainty. For example, healthcare costs in the US are going up, but this is not a future fact, making it a soft trend. An example of an opportunity to influence this trend would be to use blockchain to bring greater pricing transparency, trust, security and competition to the current healthcare ecosystem.

So, what is holding organizations back from progressing to a more anticipatory state? While dealing with inertia related to underlying legacy technology might be part of the issue, the larger challenge is changing our legacy thinking. It’s our legacy thinking that keeps us trapped in a break/fix cycle instead of predict and prevent. Even though most of us intellectually understand that technologies such as AI, blockchain, the Internet of Things, 5G and much more call for new business models and approaches, we’re too busy dealing with day-to-day challenges to recalibrate in meaningful ways. Yet the more we hunker down, just trying to keep up, the less likely we are to be anticipatory, and the less prepared we will be to capitalize on the inevitable disruptions to come.

Another needed mindset shift in the new decade will be resisting the temptation to view new technology capabilities through an all-or-nothing prism. There needs to be room for nuance – a blending of the old and new ways of operating. Take driverless vehicles, which 48% of ISACA survey respondents think will be mainstream in their countries by the end of the decade. While many passengers might not be comfortable giving full control to a driverless vehicle at a high rate of speed on an expressway, there will be other circumstances in which passengers are receptive to grabbing an autonomous ride. Many drivers like to drive, but no drivers like accidents. Semi-autonomous vehicles that let you drive when you want and keep you from having an accident will be a winning combination in this new decade. And in many areas, such as a large campus or large industrial park, full autonomous vehicles will be the best option. 

Similarly, the advancements of AI in the medical arena will not – and should not – eliminate the need for doctors, as diagnostic and treatment options can be optimized with a human doctor analyzing AI-generated data and insights. And while using cash is decreasing at a rapid rate in an era of mobile payments, there might be certain circumstances and geographies in which cash remains useful. Rather than debating whether the new or old way of doing things is superior, a far better strategy is to integrate the old with the new technology so that the integration provides more value than the old or the new by itself. This provides a strong pathway forward.

The technological forces likely to shape the next decade call for practitioners and their organizations to become anticipatory rather than reactionary. Almost regardless of the area – cybersecurity, behavior analytics, quantum computing – we are moving beyond the stage in which reacting quickly to changes as they occur will be sufficient. It is time for organizations to identify the hard trends in technology that are shaping the future, attach relevant opportunities to those trends, and take action in order to thrive in the next decade and beyond.

Author’s note: To receive a complimentary hard copy (if in the US) or electronic copy (if elsewhere) of The Anticipatory Organization, visit Only shipping costs will apply. For further insights from Daniel Burrus on becoming anticipatory, follow Daniel on LinkedIn.


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