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Should you “Look into the seeds of time”?

Cathy Winston on Feb 15th 2018
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Recently every business article & book I read has one main theme running through it, and that is THE FUTURE.

“If you can look into the seeds of time, and say which grain will grow and which will not”. This was said by Banquo in Act I, Scene iii of Shakespeare’s Macbeth (1606). He spoke to three witches who he felt would prophesize what ‘seeds’ would grow and what would die. He was in fact speaking about people, where the witches prophesized that Macbeth would become King, and King Duncan would die (Enotes 2018).  Abraham Lincoln famously used this quote when Secretary of State William.H. Seward told him that he had to choose between passage of the 13th Amendment or accepting a Confederate peace (University Press of Kansas, 2018).

Not everyone can look ‘into the seeds of time’ and predict future trends, competition, customer expectation and business strategy, however looking into the future has never been so important, as we look at how the lifespan of companies are decreasing and how keeping up with change is necessary for business survival.

Richard Watson, 2017, states that “The average lifespan of an S&P 500 company in the US has fallen from 67 years in the 1920s to just 15 years today. In the UK it’s a similar story, of the 100 companies in the FTSE 100 in 1984, only 24 were still breathing in 2012. With start-ups it’s back to bleak, with almost 50% of SMEs failing to celebrate their 5th birthday”.

Most of these companies lose ground and then disappear through mergers or acquisitions, however CNBC, 2017 blame the disruptive force of technology as the cause of death for most companies. Companies like Amazon and Apple change how we do business, and the process of automation has separated the winners from the losers.

 Failure to be pro-active about technology is an obvious area, but failure to stay ahead of the our competition and continually meet our customer demands are inexcusable as they all lead to company failure according to Richard Watson, 2017.

 I imagine this is no surprise to you, but then we must ask ourselves what are the other reasons that could potentially be within our control and not always related to market forces.

1.Could it be mindset?

Is it down to complacency, is it because success has always been relatively easy, is it because the recession caused so much hardship that we are consumed with business as usual so we don’t have or indeed make time to think ahead?

2.Could it be internal challenges?

Is it bureaucracy, silos, loss of vision and passion to succeed, decision makers are too far from the customer so less concerned and focused on their needs.

(Please check out Chris Zook & James Allen book  “The Founders Mentality”.

3.Could it be we haven’t found a way to look into the seeds of time?

How can we find out about our changing customer needs? Is there a process in the company to deal with the future? Are there conversations about it? If the answer is no then where do you start?

The good news from my point of view is, if we deal with the last questions first, we can then deal with the others, and make some real progress on the road to planning for future growth.

Forbes Coaches Council, 2017  suggests 12 ways to breathe new life into a business, and for me the most important aspect is communication, opening up conversations on innovation, welcoming ideas from customers and employees and building a forum for creative thinking.

So what is the next step?

Well let’s keep it simple to gain momentum. Most customers and employees can tell you a myriad of ways to improve your current product and service. If you isolate these improvements and made the changes you would be “incrementally” innovating and have moved up the innovation stepladder.

The ingredients are always the same in my world.

  • A team of employees or customers, allocated time to look at your industry and the changes it is experiencing and the service you provide.
  • A structure to allow everyone’s opinion to be considered
  • A list of probing questions and frameworks to consider in the session.

It all becomes innovation when you “turn your thoughts into things”

You bring the team, choose the time and I will work with you on the questions that matter. I will facilitate the session, and ensure you leave with a strategy for innovation around your customer needs, key steps for success in innovation, and more importantly more confidence and ambition to soar in business.

Please email


References:, 2018. ‘In Macbeth what is the significance and purpose of this image: If you can look into the seeds of time, and say which grain will grow and which will not’.

Watson, Richard, January 18th 2017. ‘Why companies die’. Imperial College Business

Sheetz, Michael, August 24th, 2017. ‘Technology killing off corporate America: average life span of companies under 20 years’.

University Press of Kansas, August 20th 2015. ‘Lincoln and Shakespeare’

Forbes Coaches Council, July 13th 2017. ‘What can your organisation do to become more innovative?’

Written by Cathy Winston.

Edited by Lisa Downey.

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