Accountants: Start Living in the Future

Accountants: Start Living in the Future

As the pace of change in today’s world continues to increase, CPAs and accountants need to focus their organizations on anticipating change, rather than merely responding to it, according to futurist and technology educator Dan Burrus — and that will mean developing both a new skillset and a new mindset.

Speaking on Monday at an event called “The Anticipatory CPA” sponsored by the Maryland Association of CPAs and the Business Learning Institute, Burrus highlighted the intense disruption going on in industry after industry — from Amazon in bookselling to Uber in transportation services — and warned that the accounting profession is not immune.

“If it can be done, it will be done, and if you don’t do it, someone else will,” he explained. “If you don’t shape your future, someone else will. You should be the ones shaping the future of the profession.”

To take control of that future, however, accountants will need to start thinking differently about their businesses in a number of different ways. “Right now, every company is a technology company,” Burrus said, and that means understanding the trends in technology that will affect your organization, from mobility and virtualization to interactivity and convergence, and much more.

More important, though, is the need to shift to a mindset that welcomes — or at least proactively pursues — forward-looking transformations. “Are you changing as fast as your customers?” Burrus asked. “Are you too busy to increase your relevance to your current customers?”

When it comes to embracing change, however, “Your biggest problem right now is that you’re really busy,” Burrus acknowledged. “Well, lots of companies were really busy just before they went bankrupt.”

“You need to anticipate problems,” he advised. “You could see most of next year’s problems if you weren’t so busy.”


The event was held to announce the impending rollout of a new educational tool co-developed by Burrus, MACPA and the BLI called The Anticipatory Organization: Accounting and Finance Edition,” which is designed to teach CPAs the skills they need to be “anticipatory” — to identify important trends and act upon them.

“The change we don’t like is the change we didn’t see coming — but we can see more change coming than we think,” Burrus noted, and the Anticipatory Organization learning modules are designed to give CPAs the tools and language to know what will happen in the future and position themselves and their clients accordingly.

The future is much easier to predict than most people think, Burrus explained: The sun will rise tomorrow, for instance, summer will follow spring, and computing power will increase in accordance with Moore’s Law. Many future events follow predictable cycles; still others are based on currently known facts — the aging of the Baby Boomers (and everyone else, for that matter) is inescapable.

Burrus wants accountants to learn how to identify these “hard” trends that will happen and how to differentiate them from “soft” trends that might happen. (He gave the example of Bitcoin: Its individual success is a soft trend that cannot be guaranteed with any certainty; the future proliferation of virtual currencies, however, is a hard trend because others are highly likely to pick up on the new model.)

Once you learn how to identify hard trends, “It’s amazing how much we can predict in a world of unpredictability,” Burrus said.

The AO modules are short videos, 3-5 minutes long, that introduce a single concept and then lead the user through “rapid application activities” to help them apply what they’ve learned in such a way that it sticks with them better. They will qualify for CPE credits, and the BLI expected to roll them out within a week.


Perhaps most important, the program aims to teach CPAs a new language.

“Stop giving your opinion,” Burrus suggested. “Start talking in future facts. This is not, ‘Here’s what I think will happen’ — it’s ‘Here’s what will happen.’”

That may mean communicating differently with clients, he warned, and may require what he called a “time travel audit,” where you check to find out what where they are in terms of technology and their attitudes toward the future. If they’re not into digital information, for instance, then you should present them information on paper. “Be in your customer’s time zone, not yours,” Burrus said. “Give them paper, but then ask if you can show them even more on your tablet. Walk them into the future.”

To be ready for that future, though, CPAs will need to start thinking about it themselves, dedicating time to taking the long view and identifying those forward-looking hard trends, rather than being caught up in the ever-present crush of current business.

“Take an hour a week to unplug from the present and plug into the future,” Burrus counseled. “You’re going to spend the rest of your life there.”

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