Stop putting out fires, at least for an hour


By Kim Nilsen

Futurist, author, and business adviser Daniel Burrus has revealed his biggest concern for the accounting profession: intense and chronic busyness.

It’s a problem that appears simple but is stubbornly challenging to solve.

Accountants are so busy, he said, that there’s little time left for examining trends surrounding business models or contemplating opportunities. “We can busy ourselves right out of business if … not careful because of the dramatic, transformational changes that are taking place around us,” said Burrus, the CEO of Burrus Research, who addressed the American Institute of CPAs’ fall Council meeting on Monday.

In an interview before his speech, he spoke about the need to move from crisis management to opportunity management.

His prescription for getting started is surprisingly low-tech for a futurist who peppers his speeches with references to disruptive companies such as Netflix and Uber. His call to action for accountants? Give the future one hour a week. Block out your calendar for a weekly retreat of at least an hour from putting out fires and getting the day-to-day work done. Be religious about protecting that time.

Use it, Burrus exhorted, for looking at what lies ahead. Instead of asking “What don’t I know?” ponder “What do I know?”

Consider hard trends—things that will happen without a doubt, he said. An example of a hard trend is the fact that Baby Boomers will continue to age and ultimately leave the workforce.

Accountants can find certainty in an uncertain world by separating hard trends from soft trends—the things that might happen and can still be influenced. “When you know what will happen, when you have that level of certainty, you have the confidence to make bold moves,” Burrus said. “Strategy based on certainty has low risk and high reward.”

A successful beginning to this anticipatory approach is identifying low-hanging fruit—not the could do’s and should do’s but the must do’s, he said. “Right now on planet Earth there is more opportunity than ever before.”

Technology and globalisation are inextricably woven into that opportunity. “I don’t want you to be a technologist. That’s not your job,” Burrus said. “I want you to be aware of what cloud and virtualisation and mobility and taking data and [putting] it into a visual, personalised dashboard—what things like that can do for you and for your clients. Because these are hard trends that are shaping the future. And if it can be done, it will be done. If you don’t do it, someone else will.”

Kim Nilsen (knilsen@aicpa.org) is a CGMA Magazine publisher.