Seeing around Corners in Thought Leadership

Org TL Minute: Episode 46


How do we get better at seeing around corners? It’s a question that many of us ask at one point or another during our career.

In the late 1940s, scientist John von Neumann was exploring what questions computers could help answer. And he turned his attention to predicting the weather. Von Neuman had an early computer, ENIAC.

And one of the ways that I define thought leadership is “peering around the corner into the future to spot risks or opportunities, and then bringing these insights back to people today so that they can put them to use.”

But the skills needed to see around the corner don’t come easy.

In 1949, von Neumann and meteorologist Jule Charney had created the first numerical prediction of the weather. But they also had a problem. The program could only look twenty-four hours into the future. And the program took forty-eight hours to run.

Start the program on Monday morning to predict Tuesday’s weather. And you receive your results on Wednesday—literally a day late. They had created a postdiction instead of a prediction.

And this first weather prediction with a computer really teaches us an important insight of seeing around corners. There’s a subtle difference between two related questions:

Can we answer a question? Von Neumann wanted to know if we could use computers to predict the weather.

And the second question: “How quickly can we find an answer?”

It takes a lot of work to develop the skills and tools that you need to see around corners. And the best way to be able to see around corners quickly is to start asking questions today. Speed comes through practice.