An army of ants is an awe-inspiring and efficient force of nature. While each ant is individually small, collectively they accomplish amazing things—provided they have a sufficient source of food. The same is true of today’s modern corporation—if it has a profitable source of revenue. Alas, when the food or the money dries up, both the army and the corporation are endangered.
To protect themselves, ants rely on a unique sub-group of “pioneer ants.” Their sole job is to move out away from the main army in search of the next source of food. In this way, the pioneers act as a hedge against the possibility of being caught without a future source of food.
Every organization should also have at least a few “pioneers ants” whose single job is to identify future opportunities. To ensure these individuals have the best chance of success, I have outlined a series of unusual characteristics that I believe will bolster their odds of success–and, thus, your success:
- They do not work well with others. Or, to put a more positive spin on it, they dissent well with others. These individuals are contrarians and freethinkers by nature. They are comfortable challenging the status quo.
- They understand there is an “I” in “Team.” Not everyone on a team has to be a “team player.” Often, these individuals are introverts who don’t thrive on “collaboration.”
- They break rules well. Following the rules will simply get you the same old results. These individuals understand that the future may play by a set of different rules.
- They appreciate that failure is an option. The majority of paths they seek out will be less than successful, if not outright failures. Still, they understand that by scratching off failed paths they may be one step closer to success.
- They prefer strategic experiments to rigid strategic plans. They are not mislead into believing that the future is more planable than it actually is. As a result, they don’t “plan” their way into the future, they act their into the future by constantly trying new things.
- Inexperience is a plus. They don’t know what they don’t know. As a result, they are willing to explore previously unconsidered options as well as occasionally revisit old paths in the hopes to making new discoveries.
- They openly embrace their ignorance because it fuels their curiosity and encourages them to keep an open mind about future possibilities.
- They are a lifelong unlearners. While good at acquiring new knowledge, they are even better and more efficient at discarding old knowledge that has outlived its usefulness or become obsolete.
- They are excellent at unitasking. They understand they have one job–find the future–and they focus on it to the exclusion of all else.
- They are extraordinary “listenaries.” More important than being a “visionary” who can see the future, these individuals discern the future by listening to people with diverse viewpoints.
- They belong to the fringe. To the extent they are “visionary”, they are “peripheral visionaries.” They appreciate that, often, the future is already here, but it is hiding on the edges—or the periphery—of today. In short, the future is on the fringe, and they are comfortable hanging out on the fringe.
- They handle “Eustress” well. Stress, in and of itself, can be either good or bad. Distress is bad stress, whereas eustress (a real word) means good stress. These individuals thrive on ambiguity and uncertainty. It doesn’t weaken them; it makes them stronger.
- They never complete their “not to do” list. In other words, they only focus on priorities.
- They demand questions. Put another way; they are more focused on asking a better question than they are finding answers to the wrong questions.
- They are uncomfortable in their own skin. As a result, they continually seek out the perspectives of others who are different than them because they might have a new insight.
- They have a closed-door policy. They understand that their primary job is to think about the future in a different way.
- Change is their core competency.
Hiring such unusual individuals won’t guarantee success but it will substantially increase your odds of surviving in a world where change, complexity and chaos are becoming the norm. In other words, when the abnormal becomes normal, it helps to have people on your team that are equally abnormal–and unusal.
Jack Uldrich is a leading global futurist, the author of 11 books and is the founder and chief unlearning officer of the School of Unlearning.