Peripheral Foresight: Recognizing Opportunity Beyond Your Direct Line of Sight

I recently had the privilege of working with the Carolina’s Chapter CMAA at their annual conference at Litchfield Beach Golf and Resort. In our time together we focused on the role our peripheral vision plays in constructing multiple future frameworks in order to anticipate market disruption and capitalize on new opportunities.

On our drive down to the conference my family and I had the opportunity to see this concept play out as we ran into traffic in a small South Carolina town. We had kind of expected traffic, as it was Friday, and we just assumed that everyone was heading to the beach for the weekend like us. My first thought was to see if there was an accident up ahead or construction; however, as we got closer there were no visible causes for the traffic jam. After several minutes traffic began to move until we reached a stoplight, which was red.

As we sat there, traffic was flowing in the opposite direction. Clearly, they had a green light. On a side note, since living in the more laid back culture of Boone, my tolerance for traffic and delay has grown substantially compared to when I lived in Raleigh. As a result, this abnormally long light and the oncoming traffic did not concern me, and I continued to chat with my wife on other matters.

Then, things got interesting. The person to our right decided to go through the red light. My first thought was, “Really? You have to get somewhere so bad that you can’t wait for the light?” Then, another car followed.

Once the first cars went through, other cars gradually began to follow, after assessing that the risk was minimal, i.e., the first car didn’t get hit and hadn’t been pulled over. Soon after, the flood gates were opened and everyone was going through the red light.

In retrospect, it was clear that this traffic light was broken, thus causing the traffic jam. However, all the normal signs that the light was not working properly were not present. As a result, the majority of us decided to sit back and wait for the light to turn green. This is a perfect analogy for leading the 21st century. The future for most is scary, because we know that we are in the midst of great change at virtually every level of our society, yet we continue to rely on yesterday’s systems, beliefs, and logic to plan for the future. All too often we make the mistake of assuming that if something is broken, then the obvious indicators will alert us.

What this first car did was assess the situation by identifying signs that were present, yet not in her direct line of sight. The light was not flashing. There was no police officer there directing traffic, and as far as we could see, that which was directly in front of us, the light was working fine. Due to her awareness beyond the obvious, the driver of the first car considered the outside possibility that the light was broken, weighed the risk, and acted.

In order to succeed in the 21st century, individuals and organizations must recognize indicators that signal a shift from the norm, enabling them to take action before the masses. These indicators may sometimes appear distant or unrelated, but recognizing their potential relevance and significance may be what saves your organization from obsolescence. You see, by the time everyone else recognizes these shifts and takes action, you’re left with only one option: to react.

What actions are you taking to identify changes that may have significant impact on your personal or professional life?

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