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.
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
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
“Something hit me very hardonce, thinking about what onelittle man could do. Think of the
—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.”