Be Careful with that Crystal Ball!

By Andrew J. Birol, President, Birol Growth Consulting, Inc.

There's an old story about a gypsy fortune teller who escapes from a guillotine just before his executioner is set to drop the blade. “Wait,” the gypsy cries, pointing across the room to his crystal ball, “Don't you want to see what happens?” When the executioner turns to look, the “future” he sees is the old fortune teller leaping out an open window.

As business owners, how many of us would peek into that crystal ball—and with what results? Recently I moderated a session on entrepreneurs as futurists, a topic that got me thinking about how small business owners can enhance and innovate without—pardon the pun—dropping the ball. One of the iconic images of American business is that of a dozen double-breasted suit types sitting around the conference table plotting how their company can take over the marketplace, if not the world. But how much time can you, the small business owner, spend just sitting at a conference table?

Business owners who spend a lot of time shaking a crystal ball, looking for answers in groupthink or Power Point presentations, aren't spending that time meeting the needs of their customers. Too often they fool themselves into thinking something's happening—all that MBA-speak must mean something, right?—when in reality they are lapsing into a form of procrastination perfected by politicians. The most recent example of this do-nothing approach is the decision by Congress to hold hearings on the September 11th Commission's recommendations, which were based on information gleaned from months of public and private hearings. If it were not a re-election year would its conclusions have been implemented so seriously so fast?

Even if your predictions are accurate, obsessing means nothing unless you translate them into tangible ways to serve your customers and boost your profits.

So, how can you know you're giving your customers what they want both now and in the future?

  1. Embrace your customer base to predict how their needs and tastes are changing. You can't do this without maintaining contact with your customers, so if done skillfully, this can enhance the relationships between your company and your buyers. Surveys, Internet newsletters that invite reader response, follow-up calls and on-going service agreements, and customer seminars, roundtables, or training sessions are some of the good ways to do this. Some of your company's best ideas just may come from your customers.
  2. Express the information you gain in clear, accessible language. This will help you keep the focus on tangible ways to capitalize on market changes. Don't get bogged down in academese or endless rehashing of the same points. Quickly turn what you learn into real-world applications that promote profitable growth.
  3. Reconcile your predictions with your company's Best and Highest Use®. Never abandon what makes you special simply to make some quick cash. On the other hand, permanent changes in the marketplace may require you to stretch your comfort zone.

Only when you have successfully worked through these steps should you modify or enhance your Best and Highest Use to deliver more value. Predicting the future is the first step to smart innovation, but futurism is simply a means to an end. And the end is profitable growth.


Articles by Birol Growth Consulting are © copyrighted and all rights are reserved. However, articles may be reprinted with prior written consent if attribution is included as follows:

© Copyrighted by Andrew J. Birol, President of Birol Growth Consulting, who helps owners grow their businesses by growing their Best and Highest Use ®. Andy can be reached at (412) 973-2080, by email at, or on the web at

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