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Predict or invent the future?

Most people think of business planning as an exercise in predicting what will happen in the future. What if you could also influence that future - helping to make it happen?

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There are many different types of industry that make their money from attempting to predict the future. From the financial futures markets to the art (or science) of weather forecasting, we all recognise the benefit of knowing what might happen in the future.


As a business person, especially when it comes to new customers and sales revenue, it is part of your role to do your best to predict what might happen in the next quarter, next year, and sometimes even further into the future. So here’s something to think about.


Many studies have demonstrated that the human mind is teleological in nature. That is, we all tend to move towards those things that we spend time thinking about. This applies whether those things are good or not so good. We have all met someone in life who spends much of their time predicting disaster – and it is generally no surprise when disaster does seem to befall them more than most.


So, that being the case, it is interesting to speculate what that might mean for a business person or entrepreneur thinking about new business sales. If this person is firstly clear on what he or she wants in the future, and secondly spends time thinking about that future – then the teleological nature of the mind will kick in and help.


You might wonder how this can possibly work – but consider this. Our brain can actively pay attention to only about 6 or 7 pieces of information at any one time.  Contrast this with the thousands or even millions of pieces of information assaulting our senses every minute, and you will begin to understand.


The brain contains a group of cells called as the Reticular Activating System – and the job of this system is to assess every piece of information we perceive, and assign a level of importance to it to determine whether or not it ‘gets through’ to us. The way in which it assesses importance is very interesting. It does it by looking at the objectives and thoughts we are dwelling upon and deciding if each particular piece of information is relevant to those thoughts and objectives.


The result? We ‘notice’ things that are relevant to those thoughts and objectives that we dwell upon. Have you ever bought a car and then noticed that everyone on the road seems to be driving one? So in the case of acquiring new customers, if we have a clear plan, our brains will ‘notice’ things that will help us achieve the plan.


This has a big implication for business (and indeed for life in general) – that if we set positive objectives and spend time dwelling upon them, our brains will ‘notice’ those things in the outside world that will help us to get there.


In a practical sense this means having a clear idea of what you want to achieve for your business, for example a particular number of new customers, and also spending time imaging what it will be like when you get there.


So in a very real way, our decision to focus on a vision for the future really does help to invent that future.

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Barry Anderson has a unique combination of experience covering both marketing training and the marketing of products and services. Working with The Marketers’ Forum, he delivers training and support to students taking the professional qualifications offered by the UK Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM).

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