Stuck in the Present: Why Most Leaders Are Unprepared for the Next Wave of Growth

Stuck in the Present: Why Most Leaders Are Unprepared for the Next Wave of Growth

As inflation retreats, most leaders know they need to think about what’s next. The bad news is that most won’t be able to. The problem is in our heads. In this article, Dev Patnaik emphasizes the urgent need to become more future-focused and outlines how we can do so, starting with rewiring our brains.

And … breathe. It looks like we’ve avoided a recession.

Yes, some economists still think it’s a coin toss, but that’s a major improvement from the middle of last year when they put the chances at two-thirds or higher. Things are moving in the right direction as inflation retreats and consumers and employers prove surprisingly resilient to high-interest rates.

This is great news for corporate America after a year in which it’s largely been in survival mode, tightening budgets and focusing on day-to-day operations in preparation for a storm that never came. It’s the start of a new period of growth. To take advantage of the opportunities, leaders can move beyond the present. They can start to focus on their companies’ future.

The bad news is that most leaders won’t do that.

Regardless of the reality, the vast majority of leaders will continue to manage for today. And that’s too bad because this failure to focus on the future is the single biggest reason most companies fall into mediocrity or fail over the long term. When you look at classic stories like Kodak and Blockbuster, it’s not that they didn’t run tight ships. It’s that they failed to pay sufficient attention to longer-term shifts in the market. As Google’s Larry Page once put it, “What did they do wrong? They usually missed the future.”

Most leaders get that the world is changing. They know they need to focus on the future. So what’s getting in the way? The problem, it turns out, is all in our heads. It’s neurological. And to be more future-focused, we have to rewire our brains.

The Pull of the Present

Most leaders recognize the need to focus on future growth, but they nearly always get dragged back to the present. There’s another fire to put out, another quarterly earnings target to meet, and another operations meeting to attend. Dealing with the present tends to feel easier than figuring out the future, and it gets rewarded—at least in the short term—by the market.

This behavior is normal. Psychology researchers have found that only 16% of people are truly future-focused—meaning they see how things are changing and act on it. Those are the leaders who’ve stopped wondering about whether AI will matter and started putting it to work in their businesses.

Another 14% of people are past-focused. These are the people who are actively resistant to change and skeptical that new trends will succeed. It’s those folks who thought Uber would never replace regular taxis or scoffed at the idea that staying in strangers’ homes instead of a hotel would ever take off.

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And then there’s most of us in the middle: the 70% who are present-focused. When you point out that the world is changing, their reaction is inevitably, “You’re right. But we need to focus on this quarter.” And that’s the worst of the three options. At least with the past-focused people, you can disprove their beliefs. The present-focused people end up talking like the future-focused people and acting like the past-focused people. It’s like they’ve accepted your premise and they’ve decided to drive over the cliff anyway…

Read full article on Forbes.

Dev Patnaik


Dev Patnaik is the CEO of Jump Associates, the leading independent strategy and innovation firm. He’s a board member of Conscious Capitalism. Dev has been a trusted advisor to CEOs at some of the world’s most admired companies, including Starbucks, Target, Nike, Universal and Virgin.