Why Future Orientation Is the Most Important Part of Entrepreneurial Thinking

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Among the most important ingredients in entrepreneurship -- maybe even the most important -- is the entrepreneurial mindset. That’s the unique and empowering way entrepreneurs and innovators think about things.

Over several years now, I’ve written and lectured about the mindset and highlighted how important it is to success in business and in life. I’ve written about several pieces of the mindset including the importance of risk assessment, opportunity recognition, collaboration and persistence. But by far, one of the most important parts of the all-important entrepreneurial mindset is future orientation.

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If you’re not familiar with it, future orientation is the practice of looking ahead and the realization that the future -- your future -- isn’t written. More importantly, those who have a future orientation deeply understand that not only is the future unwritten, they can write it -- especially for themselves. It’s an awakening to the idea that your future is up to you.

To some people, that may seem clear and obvious. And those of us who write about or work in entrepreneurship assume that future orientation is basic, common knowledge. We make that assumption, even though it’s the key that unlocks nearly every other step in a successful entrepreneurial mindset.

Entrepreneurs talk a great deal about goal setting, for example, because having goals is important. We liken goals to road maps.  But while it’s possible to set goals without realizing you control your own future, it’s very unlikely you’ll achieve them.

Simply having a map doesn’t mean you’ll even start a journey. Those lacking a clear future orientation may say, “I have a goal of being an astronaut -- but that’s not up to me.” Those with it may instead say, “What do I have to do be an astronaut?” Connecting personal action to outcome is future orientation.

Entrepreneurs also focus on opportunity recognition skills, to cite another example. But if you don’t realize you can do something about that recognized opportunity, a recognized opportunity is a curiosity -- and not an opportunity at all. And grit and persistence, which entrepreneurs also talk about often, are likely to be absent entirely without a future orientated mindset. 

So what’s the point in sticking with something if you don’t believe you can change it?

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Given the central role that future orientation plays in the entrepreneurial mindset, it’s surprising that it doesn’t get more attention. We more or less skip over the idea that you can mold your future and focus on the tools you can use.

That can be a costly mistake.

While many current entrepreneurs know they create the future, many young people -- our entrepreneurs in waiting -- don’t. They have to learn it. And see it. And believe it. That’s especially true for young people in difficult or challenging circumstances and environments.

Certain demographic and economic factors influence everyone’s opportunities and choices. That’s why it is so essential to get young people to think like entrepreneurs -- to orient their thinking and actions on the future. Once someone sees that good decision-making and judicial acquisition and deployment of resources such as education can change things -- the results can be profound.

The best part about developing a future-oriented mindset is that it can transcend traditional entrepreneurship and business creation. People who believe they control the future and learn to think like entrepreneurs make better employees. They change lifestyles, technology, communities, businesses and policy. The future-oriented become innovators and achievers wherever they are and at whatever they attempt.

Those are pretty significant outcomes for something so many of us assume everyone already knows. That’s why entrepreneurs, educators, pundits and leaders everywhere should do more to draw a circle around the concept of future orientation -- and not just as it applies to business. It’s precisely because entrepreneurs are the builders of the future that we have an obligation to make sure everyone knows that the future is always a work in progress -- and they can help build it too.

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