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The anticipatory leader

The anticipatory leader

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Published by What I Discover
The anticipatory leader
Medard Gabel and Jim Walker
Futurist Sep 2006
The anticipatory leader
Medard Gabel and Jim Walker
Futurist Sep 2006

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Published by: What I Discover on Jun 06, 2010
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved


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didn’t head up an army orcorporation, wasn’t electedto any public office, wasnot the leader of a foundation, andwasn’t wealthy. In fact, he had noneof the trappings most people usuallyassociate with leadership. Yet, Buck-minster Fuller’s leadership surely
By Medard Gabel and Jim Walker
For leaders striving to “make the world workfor 100% of humanity,” there is no bettermodel of leadership than that of “comprehen-sive thinker” R. Buckminster Fuller.
September-October 2006
The Anticipatory Leader: Buckminster Fuller’sPrinciples for Making the World Work
©2006 World Future Society • 7910 Woodmont Avenue, Suite 450,Bethesda, MD 20814, U.S.A. • All rights reserved.
changed the world during the twen-tieth century, and his impact contin-ues into this century as well.How did he accomplish this?What were the tools of leadershipthat he employed? Fuller himself often used the phrase “comprehen-sive anticipatory design science” todescribe the far-reaching scope of hiswork and research efforts. Through acareful study of Fuller’s writings, in-ventions, and methodologies whatemerges is a powerful blueprint forproblem-solving leadership in anage of rapid change—a leadershipapproach that has implications far beyond the field of technological in-novation.We call this framework “compre-hensive anticipatory design leader-ship.” This problem-solving leader-ship framework could be useful notonly for changing the world, but alsofor changing your own local organi-zation or business—an equally chal-lenging task.
10 Principles for ComprehensiveAnticipatory Design Leadership
Fuller’s approach to life, change,technology, and design can teach usmuch about leadership. Before ex-ploring the specific principles thatwe uncovered, it is important to ap-preciate the rigorous, tenacious, andinspired patterns of thought that ledto some of Fuller’s most impressive breakthroughs. As Fuller expressedit, “I always say to myself: What isthe most important thing we canthink about at this extraordinarymoment?”This was no mere platitude. Inmany ways, it summarizes Fuller’sentire leadership philosophy. Notonly was Fuller always consideringimportant things, but he also perpet-ually attempted to discern the
things and place them inthe context of 
1. Think Comprehensively
Throughout his career, Fullerdemonstrated an un-wavering dedication toframing problems intheir widest possiblecontext. When you firstencounter Fuller’s writ-ings, it is difficult to ap-preciate his wide-angleview on the world andthe universe. Armedwith a poet’s imagina-tion and a scientist’s ex-haustive inventory of the entire uni-verse, he could “zoom out”from a given problem incountless directions until hespied the remote funda-mental cause that neededto be changed or evenrevolutionized. If theseupstream interconnectionsand causative factors could be addressed in a carefullycomprehensive and decisivefashion, then Fuller hadconfidence that down-stream matters would in-evitably right themselveswith a minimum of stress.In terms of leadership,this means taking the time,and having the courage, toframe challenges clearly bydigging into their rootcauses or the formativeforces that brought theminto being, then seeing theopportunities that are al-ways present. Instead of trying to convince people to changetheir behavior, Fuller sought tochange the environment to whichthose behaviors were a logical re-sponse. For example, if your organi-zation has high employee turnoveror your city is experiencing an out-flow of residents, you must seek theroot causes of their departure andaddress those larger issues.By providing a new or altered en-vironment, Fuller’s leadership pro-vided a new logic that led to new be-haviors and outcomes. At the core of this approach was a respect for indi-viduals and their decisions.
2. Anticipate the Future
Buckminster Fuller was ahead of his times—so much so that many of his insights, pro-posals, and inven-tions were literallydecades ahead of their era. His 1930sDymaxion car wouldfit right in at the lat-est car shows. His“World Design Sci-ence Decade” pro-posal has morphedinto today’s UN Mil-lennium Develop-ment Goals. Hisgeodesic geometry was discoveredas a core design principle at themolecular level—the aptly named
carbon-60 mole-cule, or “Buckyball.” Clearly, Fullerhad a well-honed ability toanticipate the future.Fuller was exquisitely in touchwith trends, especially technological,world resource, and human-needtrends. This enabled him not only toforecast the future, but also toanticipate both upcoming problemsand their optimal solutions. Just as agreat waiter is able to service tablesand anticipate guests’ needs without being asked, Fuller was able toanticipate what the world wouldneed at critical junctures, then offer both the philosophical frameworkand the practical tools for solvingthose issues.For leaders, trend spotting notonly requires a feel for timing, butalso the ability to tune in to the rele-vant topics, tune out the noise, and
September-October 2006
“I always start with the Universe.”
act at the right time. Picking up onso-called “weak signals” long beforeanyone else is paying attention is akey habit leaders must develop if they are to accurately anticipate andrespond to future needs.
3. Respect Gestation Rates
Fuller’s trend spotting made himaware of what types of progresswere likely to occur, and also kepthim very much in tune with the tim-ing of these changes. He oftenpointed out that everything has itsown gestation rate. A baby takesnine months; a new computer chip,18 months; an elephant, 22 months;and an automobile, three to fiveyears.
Critical Path,
one of Fuller’s better-known books, details hun-dreds of years of human technologi-cal “gestation.” In the second half of the twentieth century, these gesta-tion rates began to pick up in speedand frequency as one set of techno-logical breakthroughs would impacton another. Inventor Ray Kurzweil’srecent book
The Singularity Is Near
carefully documents the accelerationof the rate of change itself. In the1960s, Fuller had already named thisphenomenon
accelerating acceleration.
The implications of acceleratedgestation rates on leadership are pro-found. Carefully identifying andthen synchronizing with the gesta-tion rates of various changes you arefacing helps ensure that your solu-tion, invention, plan, or reorganiza-tion arrives at just the right moment.If you arrive too early in the market-place (or in the marketplace of ideas), your idea or solution runs therisk of being stillborn. If you are lateto market, you’ll only be playingcatch-up with an already-establishedidea.
4. Envision the Best PossibleFuture
Rather than predicting or forecast-ing where different technological orresource trends were heading, Fullerfocused on envisioning what theworld
 be like.Over the course of his life, he de-veloped a comprehensive moralvision that told him what the worldshould look like, given our techno-logical capabilities: a worldwhere everyone’s basichuman needs were met, theenvironment was sustainedor regenerated, and peopleeverywhere were safe andsecure from the threats of war and social injustice.These were three of thelinchpins of his vision forhow the world should be.Many people found this“big picture” moral visionto be just as attractive andinspiring as his technologi-cal artifacts.The takeaway for leadersis that vision statements arepowerful tools for bringingabout change, and peopleoften respond more enthu-siastically to big and inspir-ing challenges than to safe,incremental change.
5. Be a “Trim Tab”—Mover of Big Ships
Fuller’s analogy is ratherunique. A trim tab acts as asmall rudder used to turn the largerrudder of giant ships, offeringtremendous leverage in terms of steering and changing the directionof the ship. Fuller, drawing upon hisnaval experience, saw the trim tab asa powerful metaphor for effective in-dividual leadership: Small andstrategically placed interventions cancause large-scale and profoundchange.What makes this metaphor inter-esting is that the ship Fuller was re-ferring to could be the entire planetor any local system you wish tosteer. To be a “trim tab,” you need aclear understanding of the currentdirection of the “ship,” the flow of the currents it is moving through, theknowledge of where it is going, anda vision of where the ship ought to be heading. In addition, you need tounderstand where and how to applypressure on the rudder to bringabout change.As we have seen, Fuller had astrong vision for all these trim-tab at-tributes. What is also interestingabout a trim tab is that it efficiently brings about change with minimumeffort—in other words, doing morewith less, another of Fuller’s keyprinciples.The guidelines for everyday lead-ership that emerge from a trim-tabapproach are easy to list, but muchmore difficult to execute:
Know what ship you are steer-ing.
Are you trying to change the en-tire world, or just your own depart-ment? You must determine whichsystem you are seeking to steer orchange direction.
Know in what direction yourship is currently heading.
This oftenrequires careful discernment and re-flection on the “big picture” to seehow your direction and destinationfit in the larger scheme.
Know what outside currents,winds, tides, or events are affectingyour ship.
Sometimes these forcesare obvious and close at hand, butthey are often far off in time orspace, requiring special instrumentsto gauge.
Decide where your ship
to be going.
This is often the mostcritical issue of leadership. What isthe goal, the prize, that you need tokeep in sight so that you can re-spond to the changing currents of 
September-October 2006
“Something hit me very hardonce, thinking about what onelittle man could do. Think of the
Queen Mary 
—the whole shipgoes by and then comes the rud-der. And there’s a tiny thing atthe edge of the rudder called atrim tab. It’s a miniature rudder.Just moving the little trim tabbuilds a low pressure that pullsthe rudder around. Takes almostno effort at all. So I said that thelittle individual can be a trim tab.Society thinks it’s going right byyou, that it’s left you altogether.But if you’re doing dynamicthings mentally, the fact is thatyou can just put your foot outlike that and the whole big shipof state is going to go. So I said,call me Trim Tab.”

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