Liz Fraley, Single-Sourcing Solutions

Every day we make decisions and take actions. Hundreds of them. Each and every one has an impact on the future. When you make small changes and take small steps you can ease into the future gracefully. You can learn that new tool. You can adopt that new architecture. You can deliver the standard and quality you do now even if you have to go through change.

There’s pain in learning, but there’s also pain in adopting new ways and new methodologies. Success isn’t jumping off a cliff, it’s making a transition.

Consider the phone. It’s become so common that we all take it for granted. First patented in 1876, almost 49,000 telephones were in use within 3 years. Within 60 years (1931), the phone was an everyday appliance in most homes and live operators were required to connect callers. In 1946 Charles Gould gave his comic strip hero, Dick Tracy, a 2-way radio that fit on his wrist. What an innovative vision of technology and communication in a world where you couldn’t make a call without the help of an exchange operator!

Today, roughly 70 years later (the same amount of time between the phone’s invention and Dick Tracy’s watch), you can get a watch that does far more than just tell time. Charles Gould certainly he couldn’t have known this little company named after fruit would come along selling a similar product that you can get at the local Costco for a few hundred dollars. Did he dictate the future? Set a spark that ignited a fire? Or did he have a vision of a possible future?

What do you do when you don’t have a Chester Gould to paint a picture of the future for you? You don’t need crystals, Magic 8 Balls, or 1-800-Future on speed dial. You don’t need to hire high-paid, expensive, experts to tell you what you should do. You can be your own Future Teller and it only takes three steps to do it. You might hit a snag or two along the way and you might stumble a little. But when you follow these steps, no one will ever notice when you do.

Step 1: Adapt with the change as it happens, rather than waiting until change is forced on you.

You want to adapt with change and integrate at your pace. You want everyone else to think you’re ahead of the game. Survival of the fittest isn’t about being fit, it’s about being adaptable to change. When you wait to change, you’re being reactionary.

To be adaptable you have to be vigilant for signs of change and flexible to new ideas. And that means being proactive and integrating new methods and practices (when appropriate) at the right pace for you or your team or your company.

Change has to make sense, of course. Changing simply for the sake of changing is a fools game. No good can come from it. If you want to do it at the right pace for your team, your company, and your situation, then you have to be proactive. If you’re proactive, you won’t be waiting until last minute when change is forced upon you.

You can tell when change is coming by being connected and involved in the world around you and by using your powers of observation. You can’t adapt if you’re sitting alone in your cubicle. Only when you’re out there in the world can you learn to observe even the most subtle of changes.

For example, going to conferences is one of the ways I observe what people are doing, have done, and who’s chasing what. But conferences are only one of the ways I do that. It’s why I started TC Camp and why we have the TC Dojo Masterminds. They let me stay connected, but they also provide a platform for others to stay connected in ways they wouldn’t necessarily otherwise have access to.

To stay in our own bubble means that we either become obsolete or irrelevant. You have to get involved. Go to conferences. Go to STC meetings. Go to meetups. You don’t have to do all the same things other people do, but observe how others are solving problems. When you exercise your powers of observation, you will see the subtle signs of change.

The key to becoming a keen observer is to use one of my secret weapons, the smart equation:

At the CMS/DITA NA conference (2018), Angela Browne talked about how her users weren’t generating reports: They were generating metrics to report status to management. The reports were the method not their purpose. She found this out by asking questions, observing users, and listening to them.

She was using the smart equation:

  • What did you do?
  • Why did you do that?
  • Listen
  • Based on your observations, go back and ask…What happened next?

We all get excited and sometimes forget that the key to the equation is listen. Ask what and why over and over, always listening and repeating the cycle. Distil the answers to the point where you understand the decision so well it feels as if you were part of it.

Be sure to ask leading questions in a way that doesn’t get their hackles up. Because how we ask questions can have a profound impact on the answers we receive. If they don’t trust you, don’t like you, or don’t want to open up? Then move along. For now. Work on that relationship for the future and connect with other people in the meantime. Always be out there connecting.

Step 2: Learn how to look into the future and see the steps it takes to get you where you want to go.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could look into a crystal ball and know where things will be 5 years from now, 10 years from now, or even a few months from now? Any advance warning is great advance warning.

  • Do you see a new architecture in your future?
  • Will there be a new product line in your future?
  • Will your content need to be truly interactive and customized?
  • How will users interact with your content?

You’ve asked the probative questions. You’ve researched the problem and observed the situation and the stakeholders. Now you can distill the information, shaping it and massaging it, until a clear vision is formed. Project into some future time and see where you need to be. Then use this information to plan the path to get there.

Step 3: Learn how to break things down so that when you’re faced with a new situation, you’ll be able to handle it

When you’re faced with a new situation, a decision you’ve never had to make before, you want to know you will be able to navigate it.

For example, consider Divination (or Dowsing). There’s no conclusive evidence that supports the practice, but it’s interesting to consider in this context. Here’s how it works: The diviner holds a Y-shaped rod parallel over the earth and they slowly walk forward. Each step is slow, careful, and calculated. They make tiny changes in direction and, when the dowser finds what he or she is looking for, the rod drops if pulled by magnetic force.

What’s really happening? All of the scientific studies conclude that dowsing is no better than chance, but psychologist David Marks postulates that it could be explained in terms of sensory cues, expectancy effects, and probability. The dowser is using their senses, reading the geology (seeing, smelling, tasting). They’re reading micro-sensory cues, drawing conclusions and making an estimation with the probability of being right.

For us, this means that we apply an advanced grasp probability, mapped onto a thorough understanding of human psychology, and the known dispositions of the specific individuals involved to reduce the number of variables. We then refine the seemingly infinite array of random possibilities down to the smallest number of feasible variables.

We apply subjective analysis to the situation which allows us, with some level of confidence and a good degree of accuracy, to know where things are going and the path to get there.


Now you know the three steps to successfully predicting what the future holds and making sure you are in the best possible position when it arrives.

You will:

  • Look beyond the trends
  • Ask probative questions and seek deep understanding
  • Compile data from multiple sources
  • Distill your discoveries
  • Draw conclusions
  • Devise an actionable plan into manageable steps
  • Be flexible
  • Step confidently into the future knowing that you can change plans and adapt.

You can be your own Future Teller, but if you ever need help, remember your psychic advisor is always here to take your questions.

This article is based on the presentation I gave at CMS/DITA NA 2018. If you want to see the slides, you can find them here: