“Anticipate: The Art of Looking Ahead” by Rob-Jan De Jong

Lucia Worthington

The “Vision Thing” is the core of leadership, yet few know what it is, or how to do it, and many get it wrong. Rob-Jan De Jong’s useful and timely how-to book is an engaging guide to this essential yet complex leadership skill.

A Wharton faculty member and international consultant, De Jong takes the mystery out of visioning and tells us why it is critical for organizations to have leaders who know, and can, effectively practice the powerful method of visioning.

Visioning is futuristic and strategic. It anticipates and prepares for what can and will be. It goes beyond conventions. Instead, it innovates and creates necessary and often powerful change. Visioning goes beyond managing and administrating – it is a leadership task.

De Jong cites research that shows managers and administrators may not be inclined to, nor capable of strategic visioning. Managers and administrators are responsible for operational and tactical decisions, not futuristic strategic decisions. Their key responsibilities are to maintain the status quo, improve on operational processes as needed and manage resources efficiently for effective outcomes.

De Jong tells us that in his training of senior world-class executives, visioning is a tough call. Many executives are not suited to engage in unconventional and futuristic problem solving. Many engage in linear, short-term thinking within their specialized fields without understanding factors that challenge and erode their business model. For example, Kodak failed to consider the challenges of digital photography starting in the 1980s and instead continued with what was then a lucrative print business, ignoring the changes in photography. Kodak did not catch up with the future until they reorganized after filing for bankruptcy in 2012 to re-emerge in 2013.

Surprisingly, anticipating the future requires neurological functions that engage the brain conceptually, rather than in a linear fashion. These need to be developed. De Jong provides us with neurological and psychological evidence that imagination and futuristic predictions are not common traits. The first part of the book gives examples of people and organizations that either met the challenges of the future or failed. He provides us with a long list of reasons and examples of good, hardworking managers who simply did not see the “fork in the road” and drove their organizations straight into the abyss of redundancy and failure.

The nitty-gritty of learning to anticipate and lead with a vision that inspires and leads to success is framed in the last third of the book. Vision requires a short and crisp positive and helpful message, and a future-oriented metaphor. Good examples are the powerful messages of Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” and Martin Luther King Junior’s “I Have a Dream” speech. De Jong leaves us with a wealth of language prompts to help us reframe our presentations to touch both the heart and the mind of those we wish to inspire.

“Anticipate” can be a shock for those who take the “Vision Thing” for granted. Visioning is a highly skillful leadership competency and Rob-Jan De Jong’s book shows us how it can work for those who understand the power of the process.

Lucia Worthington teaches a series of business and management courses for Clark College in Vancouver. To recommend a book for review, email bookreviews@vbjusa.com bookreviews@vbjusa.com.

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