How to think about the future?

A foresight expert uses many tools to help understand what the future holds.

Predicting the exact future is not the point for a foresighteer, except that people want to hear predictions – trend this and that – those are easy to deliver and easy to consume but often very limited in foresight value for various reasons… but that's for another day.

'Predictions' will not be exact unless one 'predicts' (enumerates) the aspects of the future that are 'inevitable' and then – well – what was all the foresight work for?

The reality is that we could not even 'predict' (postdict/revisit) our past (ok some factoids and so on we can revisit). New evidence (new 'facts') comes to light, changing our understanding of the past. Things that were not recorded at the time are not within our reach.

What is useful is to understand the future better, to guide our agency and to provide freedom from perceived hurdles that, in fact, often are not.

'Future is…' 

This 'Future is…' is a quick framework. The idea is that your foresight thinking algorithm cover these five dimensions:

  • What should be
  • What will be
  • What was
  • What can be
  • What could be

This algorithm is not scientifically proven (the scientific proof tends to come later in the future – after the experiences and application – sorry could not resist) nor academically referenced (the past/parallel thinking has not caught up with me yet – would not know whom to refer to 'exactly').

This is just meant to be a thinking tool – straight out of my head to yours.

Future is… x% should

When things are not as they should be – something is wrong.

  • Relationships are not functional let alone fulfilling
  • Profitability has gone south and the market love is gone
  • Procrastination (or other similar) has taken its toll on achievements

Future is a 'should' in order to…

  • Improve life from what it is now
  • Take the world to a better place
  • Have a perspective and work it forward

The 'shoulds' tend to annoy the establishment, partly because they sound like righting the wrongs. The push back is why we hold onto industries that are dying and political ideologies whose due date was many years ago. The knowledge was there but nothing happened… Why? Because we humans got in the way.

So we, yet again, locked ourselves out of future success. One way to approach the mindset is to ask questions about the personal goals of those involved: "What will those history books say about you? …That you got on the front page of Time or that you frivolously brought a company to its knees." There are plenty of examples along these lines.

Future is… x% will

All things considered some things are inevitable in a short time frame – like what you can change in a manufactured product once the production line has started. Some eventualities are inevitable in the very long run – like for example depletion of resources if used faster than replenished.

However, a firm 'we will' can take you a long way.

The future will  ___________ (insert your view) if…

  • You and your forces are determined and organized
  • You know what the determination is all about – what is it that you are trying to achieve
  • Others sign-in to these views and are geared to make things happen – becoming agents for that future – with its positive and negative consequences (BTW canvass both)

Future is a 'will' in order to…

  • Drive an entity's future somewhere meaningful: we will take man to the moon, we will cure cancer
  • Communicate that 'goal' to those willing to listen: this is about rallying mood of the nation, organization or group
  • Harness the ecosystem to make that future happen: anything bigger than what you can go ahead and do yourself needs this

The stronger your 'will' (pardon pun) the more you have a chance of pulling it off. But seriously it has nothing much to do with your own will except in entrepreneurial circumstances where your will or persistence will at times be all you have to 'will' with, until you get that exciting $1million.

The larger the group willing together the better the chances that the meaningful goal is going to take a good slice of the future %. The more and meaningfully your agenda gives to others, the easier it will be. But, you still need to do lots of leg-work to make it happen. Your competitors will not know what hit them, right, when the force is so powerful and in particular when it is multipronged.

Future is… x% 'was'

Future is not disassociated from the past. Without sufficient recognition for the influence of the past a decision will go only so far. An organization often gives this 'what was' a bit too much credence (the % is too high) – often without realizing – due to a narrative that does not ring true. This is a bit like stating organizational values that the employees do not recognize.

Future is guided by 'what was'

  • Planet Earth is a mighty force but limited
  • Humanity has evolved over millions of years and our modern life is a minuscule drop in that ocean
  • Cultures, ideologies and deeply held beliefs provide a human being the backbone for their lives – describes who they are – beyond the 'given by nature'
  • Education systems (schools, home and the village) twenty years ago give us workers today – we will not quickly close that gap 
  • Technology introductions have created a legacy of how the world works
  • Organizations have a culture, an approach to things, strongly held beliefs and a determination of an ox to drive that strategy forward – into a future that perhaps no longer exists.

Future is a 'what was' to…

  • Build stability to human life – a massively fluctuating set of agendas where all individual wants and impositions are to be accepted by others would create a world of stagnation and fear (more than we already have)
  • Create a sense of achievement and build on what was – at times it does feel like progress is just empty words in terms of improving our everyday lives but that is a too easy a blow. We need to recognize that to organize a world of seven billion people is very different to the pre-industrial era
  • Give our imagination a double check on what might work in the future and why it might work – not exactly the same but a novel twist on what was
  • Act as a reminder of the foolishness humanity has engaged in and the consequences of that foolishness – good to remember that as our lives on Earth are puny little specs of dust, it is the 'history' books (for as along as they exist) that will reflect the better educated judgment on what was done (as those facts emerge from the files that were kept secret). You do know that your tweets will go the US Library of Congress, don't you? So behave.

'What was' provides some situations a major % of the future. A war ravaged country can expect to take years to recover a sense of normalcy. The longer it takes to stop the war the longer it takes to recover from it as generations grow expecting the revenge and danger.

Future is… x% 'can be'

Future is part sweat (putting some effort into something) and part potential. Future is limited by our abilities, capabilities and our 'command' in the world.

Future is guided by 'can be'

  • Realizing that the bigger the influence footprint the greater the 'can be' impact on the future. Dreaming big is not outside of anyone's reach.
  • Embracing the 'can be' attitude and persistence of the people who have the gusto to work hard and often risk a lot in their lives to make a difference.
  • Giving up on some of the 'what was' love to things that no longer have validity – the world changes around us. Holding onto that past can just waste a lot of brain power and potential.
  • Understanding that things can be different, can be done differently…
  • Recognizing the potential in our capability to make things happen – in contexts large and small – and having the wisdom to be patient.

Future is a 'can be' to…

  • Have hope that things can be different. That we are not bound by the frustrations in our lives.
  • Welcome models that work from elsewhere, adapting them to suit. Sometimes a model cannot be applied directly due to major contextual differences. However, it is the recognition that things can be done differently that matters then even more.
  • Keep going. When the going gets tough the tough remember 'can be'.

Future is… x% 'could be'

Future is part magic (creativity, ideas, innovation, left field surprises).

Future is guided by 'could be'

Future is shaped by dreamers and agency. Without 'could be' future would look like more of the same – not much wonder and ingenuity. If you accepted all advice you have been given, would you ever have achieved the difference you've made in the world. Of course not. It is one of those by definition issues.

Future is a 'could be' to…

  • Go beyond the obvious next steps
  • Ignore advice (I say this with tongue in cheek in all earnestness…)
  • Let the current entrenched executives talk to your hand (so to speak).
  • Acknowledge that it 'could be' different. Those worn-out ideologies have created a lot of homeless people looking for new friends and family. 
  • Play a little with all the toys – not just the ones handed to you directly.

Future is a dynamic algorithm of all this.

Now you just need to know how much to put into each bucket to solve the future conundrum that you face right now. What matters and how much? How big is the risk if the percentages are skewed the wrong way?

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