Here's what I know about the future: To be ready for it, we need to get comfortable with uncertainty. That may sound like the antithesis of a prediction but hear me out. What we have witnessed in media and marketing over the past couple of decades (and arguably, in businesses of all types) is a new normal: perpetual transformation. Things change. They change rapidly and radically. New ideas and new business models eat the weak and slow. This trend shows no sign of subsiding, so we need to get used to the new reality of unpredictability.

Okay, now that we have accepted the fact that there's no way of knowing exactly how any job/company/industry is going to be disrupted (but that it will be), we can look forward to building the kind of flexible infrastructure that will withstand the inevitable (if unpredictable) earthquake.

In 2020, the C-Suite will extend throughout the enterprise. Effective leaders will be deeply collaborative and comfortable with the notion that the next big idea is as likely to come from an intern, sales manager, or a customer as it is from the boardroom. Keep in mind, of course, that the boardroom will increasingly be populated by Millennials who were raised in a more open, connected world and whose opinions and ideas have always mattered. They too have relied on the opinions of their peers over that of so-called authority figures and this will shape their style as they assume authority themselves. In the most successful organizations, the rarefied air of the C-Suite will be replaced by the unified mindset of collaborative creativity.

These new leaders will not fear uncertainty. They will not protect what they already know. Rather, they will appreciate the fact that they don't know everything. This allows for a constant infusion of new ideas. By building an organization fueled by empowered employees, they will be confident that every unforeseen challenge presents an opportunity for anyone to step up and that this approach sets them up for capturing more value.

An open collaborative culture will foster the kind of continuous innovation required to survive in 2020. Fear and a protectionist instinct must be extinguished. Fast failure is an ethos that has featured prominently in 21st century startup culture. However we know that not every business is a startup (nor are they venture backed and risk-insulated). But in a world where everyone and everything is ripe for disruption, experimental organizations that welcome unwelcome ideas will flourish.

Sound crazy? It might be. Or it might be the very idea that shows where your industry is headed so you can be ready. Or perhaps it is a whole new business you should be in since yours is headed for obsolescence. If you don't want to hear about it, odds are it is exactly what you need to be listening to. And leaders who are listening--to their colleagues, customers, competition, well-wishers and naysayers--will be tuned into what's coming and where they need to be. They will possess the collaborative confidence that enables them to quickly adjust course to avert crisis or find opportunity.

The future is more uncertain than ever. Embrace it. You can build the flexible foundation required for future success. Within your own organization, start by finding opportunities to sit down and really talk with those you wouldn't normally have an opportunity to work with. Really listen. Make this more than a one off; make it a part of your way of doing business. Then take that openness and collaborative spirit further: Seek inspiration from outside your network, organization, industry. Get way out of your comfort zone.

The successful organizations in 2020 will be collaborative places in which leadership is fluid and constant change is a given. We know the future holds its share of success stories. They just won't be chiseled in stone.

Published on: Mar 6, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.