The Ability to Anticipate: A Secret Weapon for Strategic Thinking and Influence

Over the years I’ve had the privilege of working with a number of high capacity leaders, authors and change agents. We’ll just call them “influencers,” since that’s ultimately what they do. Each being very unique in their respective gifts and skills but all sharing common qualities that help them rise to the top.

Qualities that you can learn and apply to expand your impact as well.

One that I reflect on often isn’t really talked about a lot but I believe it’s a secret weapon for strategic thinking and maximizing influence.

It’s the ability to Anticipate, to predict or expect.

Each of these “influencers” is able to foresee what’s ahead and to predict an outcome. They understand the relationship between cause and effect and know how to leverage their understanding and experience to think things through. They anticipate outcomes based on each situation so that they can respond strategically to get the results they wish to achieve.

Take the game of Chess as an example. If you want to win the game you must be able to anticipate your opponent’s next move. Thinking through the options and working through scenarios in your mind will give you the competitive edge and potential winning move to make. Note: The more you know the game of Chess, the better you’ll be at anticipating the moves.

Or let’s take how we lead, interact with, and influence others as another example. If we want to lead someone somewhere then we must learn how to anticipate what they will respond to (in order to get them to take action). It’s understanding who an individual or group is and predicting how they might react that gives us the ability to communicate in a way that best aligns with what moves them. Note: The more you know your people, the better you will be at anticipating how they might respond.

Anticipation is like a muscle. The more we exercise it, the stronger it becomes. At first it requires being practiced more intentionally, since it involves looking at things through a different lens. Over time though, it becomes more natural and common place as you train your mind to quickly size up the options and possible responses that might lead you to your desired outcome.

How can you increase your ability to Anticipate? Here are 4 simple ways:

  • Start with the KNOW. Know the game, Know the people. The more you Know, the better you can predict and respond. Spend the time educating yourself and getting to know more about who and what is around you. The ability to anticipate is birthed out of knowledge and the skill of leveraging that knowledge towards a desired result.
  • Think in “What If’s.” Train yourself and others to consider the relationship of cause and effect in every decision you make. Think through scenarios with a “What if we did ___” or “What if we responded like ____” and then consider the effect each might bring. Think of how each choice impacts the next choice. Doing so gives a great perspective that enables future anticipation to become more automatic as similar scenarios unfold.
  • Think it Through. Far too often we get caught in a hurry. We’re busy and trying to move fast. In doing so we often miss the ability to capitalize on a strategic choice. If you’re too busy to think it through then you won’t anticipate the next best move to make. Slow down. Consider all options. Think it through.
  • Be Aware. One of the best ways to anticipate is simply to observe, be aware of what’s around you, evaluate your choices and act. If you were sitting at a 4-way intersection and saw someone else approaching at a rapid speed, you would likely anticipate that the other driver isn’t about to stop. You could only see that if you were aware and paying attention. If you’re eyes were closed or if you were distracted, you might just roll through the intersection and get t-boned.

What about you? How well do you practice the ability to anticipate? Have you ever thought about it in the sense of strategic thinking and influence?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • This ability to anticipate possible outcomes would be a big boost to a lot of people. Over the years, I have learned to look at as many outcomes of my actions as I can. I make sure I consider the worst-case scenario, too, before I make decisions. Doing this has kept me from making some foolish choices. Christians, in particular, probably should be careful in this area because we tend to be overly positive and expect God to quickly make everything better. When we are unwise, sometimes we get ourselves into circumstances that will take time for God to work out with us. Being wise can mean counting the real costs of our actions.

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  • I think being able to guess the next biggest trend, or anticipate the next trend, is the best way to market your website and become popular.

    People don't want to see the same boring crap on every website. Being able to think of what others will want to see in the future before your competition – your opponents – is what allows you to drive in others.

    Great post, Daniel.

    • Thanks Joe. Glad you joined the conversation. No doubt that the ability to anticipate is also a great trait for developing new business.

  • Lonnie

    On Twitter you suggested to post and "interact". Well, here's my interaction… I've had a boss that has done many of the things you suggest ("what if", think it through, etc), however, to a fault they suddenly become reasons we can't do "_____" (insert item). It has ranged from can't burn candles because they could catch someone on fire… can't do a women's small group because they will end up in a gossip / tear your man apart session… Can't place white (flame-less) candles on the communion table because they look too "catholic" and we might offend former catholics. You get the picture?! So I can agree that these are all things that are necessary (and I need to do a better job we a few of them), but I also see the damage that takes place as they are taken to the extreme. Come to think of it… my boss hasn't done the "know" very well. Maybe that is the key to balancing these out.

    • Hey Lonnie. Thanks for "interacting." : ) You are right in that the "What If" scenario can have the opposite effect for the person who is looking at it more from a control perspective. "What If" can help safeguard us from damage by seeing a potential problem but it can also let fear take us over and imprison us. The key, in my opinion, is to learn to use "What If" to seek possible outcomes but not to let fear and the need to control warp the decisions. In learning to let go of those often negative traits we can be liberated and find solutions and alternatives rather than problems. As you said though, balance is indeed key as well.

  • athena

    Thanks for this article Daniel. I never knew what it meant to anticipate….as I read your article, I've come to the realization that I do anticipate my plans and stragtegies on a regular basis and never truly knew that this is what I was doing. Now being aware of this, I'll be able to create more avenues to potential successes with my team…because as we know it, there is no I in team. Thank you again.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts Athena. Anticipation is powerful when we use it. Glad you are doing so with yourself and your team.

  • That’s terrific and extremely fantastically planned. Normally I can’t ever post on blogs, but I can say until this article made me want to. Really first class little bit of advice.