Facebook ‘s 27 June announcement that it had reached the two-billion-users mark came just two days before the 10th anniversary of Apple’s iPhone – a device that has shifted one billion units in the years since its first model went on sale.

The two milestones, and the enormous numbers etched upon them, provided stark reminders not just of how the foremost social network and smartphone have directly influenced each other, but of David Bowie’s classic quote, “The future belongs to those who can hear it coming.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg shows little sign of relaxing his future focus: in a reply to a congratulations message on his Facebook post revealing the company’s new record, he wrote: “We still have a long way to go to connect everyone. But we must do more than just connect – we must bring people closer together.”

Meanwhile, online rumours are swirling among Apple’s vast, global fanbase that the company is preparing for the release of the iPhone 8, tipped to include such revolutionary features as waterproof housing and wireless charging capability. The hubbub shows that the public appetite for Apple’s consumer-focused brand of futurism remains significant.

With technologies that have emerged since Facebook and the iPhone – such as drones, 3D printing and driverless cars – providing a wealth of new business opportunities, what must leaders do to ensure that they have their senses open to emerging trends, and the ability to put their insights to commercial use?

“There’s no quick way to spot future trends,” says The Institute of Leadership and Management's CEO Phil James. “It’s about getting out of your organisation, being outward looking, attending networking events and conferences, reading roundups of what’s new in your industry, exploring the thoughts of LinkedIn’s big influencers. It’s actually about accepting that keeping an eye on the future is something that you need to do – it’s not a nice-to-have, it’s an essential. So invest the time, and make sure you actually do it.”

He adds: “We can all look at our phones when we’re commuting, we can quickly glance over headlines in newspapers – but that’s not sufficiently systematic. You only know what’s going on out there if you’re out there yourself, looking, listening and talking to people. Conferences – even small ones, such as breakfast events – are great for this. You never know who you’re going to meet, or who’s going to give you a valuable new insight until you purposefully head out, find them and talk to them.”

For further thoughts on other types of future awareness, check out these resources from the Institute