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To Stay Afloat, Focus on the Next Wave

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It's easy to get caught on the treadmill at work, but your success depends on your ability to understand future trends and the big picture. What will your industry look like in five years? What new technologies will emerge? What are the competitive threats that might disrupt you -- and how can you get out in front of them? You can't gain a visionary perspective from sitting behind your desk.

Here are four strategies to help you see around corners and develop an uncanny ability to sense what's coming next.

Join -- or start -- a mastermind group. As author Frans Johansson memorably showed in his book The Medici Effect, creativity and innovation arise at the intersection of disciplines. You may get helpful tips from a community of fellow practitioners in your field. (What's the going market rate for services? What sort of insurance policy is best suited to your industry?) But since they're rooted in the same day-to-day reality, you're less likely to get groundbreaking insights from them.

Join or assemble a consortium of top-flight thinkers across industries, and you can learn from each other.

Make your vacations educational. For hardworking entrepreneurs, vacations are a rarity. So when you get an opportuity for time off, it's tempting to book a flight to the Caribbean and decompress under the sun. But think twice about your recreational choices. As research has shown, visits to a new culture can broaden your perspective and enhance your creativity, which can in turn get your wheels turning about new ideas. Instead of Bermuda, think about Beijing.

Related: 5 Reasons Why a Retreat Is Good for Your Business

Make friends on the cutting edge. Who's pushing the envelope in your field? Technology thought leader Robert Scoble makes a point of cultivating relationships with research scientists, so he can stay on top of emerging developments. If you're in fashion design, it's worth making friends with East Village hipsters and Asian supply chain mavens. And if you're in the restaurant industry, you'll want to stay on top of what the molecular gastronomists and the food truck purveyors are doing. Develop your social networks and learn from the people innovating on the periphery.

Related: 4 Tips for Preparing Your Business to Grow

Schedule a strategy day. Amidst the clamor of your Twitter feed and the suffocating demands of your inbox, the resource that's most lacking in contemporary life is quiet contemplation. So make that your competitive advantage. Schedule one "strategy day" per quarter. Either solo, with your business partners or with trusted advisors, depending on how you work best. Take the time to step back and consider ideas that can catapult you forward -- not incrementally, but exponentially. What's the 20 percent of your business that gives you 80 percent of your results? What area of your business would yield the greatest results? What should you stop doing altogether? Answering those questions can pay major dividends for your business.

Most of us are too focused on the here-and-now to see the future clearly. But with inspiration from the right colleagues and time and space to let your ideas flow, we can all sharpen our sense of where the world is heading.

Related: Richard Branson on Developing a Vision for Your Company

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