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NASA's Comeback, George Costanza and Other Thoughts on Leading in 2020

CEO Tony DiBenedetto co-founded Tribridge and leads our strategic direction, growth and development. Read More

Article originally published on Inc.com March 23, 2015

It may sound cliché, but it does seem like time flies faster now more than ever. While calendar shock is a sure sign of a busy life, there is something to be said for a society in which information is available 24/7 and the lights never really go out. We blink and there is something new to absorb or an action we feel compelled to take. Our collective pace is so hectic we barely have time to stop and plan for what's next. But we have to, or else we will be left behind.

So what will 2020 look like? The idea sounds like a Sci-Fi book from my middle school days, but it will be here before we know it. It's likely that the innovation realized five years from now will be the equivalent to that of the last 20. Imagine what our entrepreneurial moxie can produce now that we have tools like the internet as a backdrop for ingenuity. The key is to be open to new ideas and flexible to the impending change.

Make Friends with Today's Technology (even if you still don't get it)

Trends now will no longer be trends in five years but rather the staples of our existence. Social media is a good example. Love it or hate it, it is here to stay. We know the information we share about ourselves--and that exposed by others--is out there for the taking. And now that blogging, twitter and the rest of the social platforms have found their way into business, there is no hiding from it. Why not use social media for the good of your company? Become an active participant and use it as a way to better collaborate and communicate with your partners and customers.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is still somewhat of a buzzword, but the concept of embedded technology driving consumer capabilities is quickly gaining traction. Think about your Fitbit and the other personal gadgets you can't live without. The user empowerment we enjoy at home and on the go will spill into the workplace, and our demand for business and personal conveniences will be interwoven. If we want to drive greater innovation on the job, we should pay attention to what and how people consume technology in their homes. And even better, observe what appeals to Generations Y and Z, as they will ultimately control the market.

The subject of cloud computing is near and dear to me, but even as a cloud services provider, I see the infinite potential beyond anything we--or other companies--are doing today. In five years, the cloud will no longer be disruptive to the market. It will be the mainstay from which other technologies are born. But don't feel like it's too late to get in on the game. Even if you're in an industry or business that hasn't yet leveraged the cloud, there is room for everyone. Why not be the first in your competitive space to market a niche, cloud-based solution? Chances are it will be a welcome innovation.

Today is Messy. The Future will be too.

It's a mistake to think life will become less complicated by 2020. Technology may make business more convenient, but it's how we manage continuous change that makes it a complex thing to embrace. That is why we have to promote work cultures that accept change as the norm. If we keep doing things the same way, year in and year out, we will miss every opportunity to be greater in the next five.

One of the best things I believe any company can do is develop a management team that is comfortable with messy. No service or product is ever perfectly gift wrapped and executed without needing an adjustment at some point. Let's empower our people to modify the strategy more often to meet market demands quicker. And if the strategy fails, maybe it's time for a fresh outlook. How Stella Saved the Farm, by Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble, is a great business book that helped our management team get out of our collective way, embrace a new identity and accelerate our future focus.

Take a Cue from NASA

The Space Program was a big deal when I was a kid. In 1969, the U.S. came from behind in the space race and put a man on the moon before the Soviets. It rallied the country and we believed anything was possible. It was bold innovation. But that early excitement from the days of JFK waned. After a lot of big losses over the next 30 years, it seemed like NASA lost its purpose and the American people largely stopped paying attention.

NASA is essentially getting its groove back with a new program designed to send people to Mars by 2030. The concept of space travel is exciting again, and the successful launch last December of the Orion, with unprecedented speeds of 25K MPH, showed the first step in making travel to deep space a reality in our lifetime. Besides the mission of visiting another planet, NASA is proving its innovation by involving the business community and entrepreneurs like Elon Musk in new partnerships to make it happen.

This is a lesson in risk-taking and collaboration. If NASA can reinvent itself for the future certainly we as business leaders can do the same. Our goals for innovation in 2020 should be bolder, and if we can't get there alone we need to seek partnerships across industries--and even competitors--to help us accelerate our respective visions.

Pull a Costanza

Remember that episode of Seinfeld when George realized every decision he's ever made went wrong and his life is the opposite of what it should be? Jerry convinces him to go against his instincts and do the exact opposite of what he would normally do. He orders a different lunch, introduces himself to a beautiful woman, and tells her he's unemployed and lives with his parents. She is really impressed, says yes to a date with him and gets him a job offer with the Yankees.

In order to equip ourselves to lead in 2020 and beyond, we have to get out of the comfort zone. And that can mean surrounding yourself with people who will challenge you to think differently. If your instinct is to do things the way you've always done them, maybe it's time to take the opposite approach, and pull a Costanza. You'll never know unless you try.

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