We must remember that the future is neither wholly ours nor wholly not ours, so that neither must we count upon it as quite certain to come, nor despair of it as quite certain not to come.
Epicurus, 341-270 b.C., Greek philosopher, Letter to Menouceus, The Essential Epicurus: Letters, Principal Doctrines, Vatican Sayings, and Fragments (Great Books in Philosophy)
This quote probably hit you as ‘so true’ for your personal life. Perhaps a personal goal, which you have trouble getting to or an emotional impasse you do not quite know how to deal with.
Here I’d like to expand on it a little from the perspective of ‘strategic foresight’, which is a systematic approach to deal with the future.
The quote is well worth unraveling a little.
It has in essence four parts, which all play into the way to think about the future systematically:
- Future is not fully ours
- Future is not fully not ours
- We should not count on it as certain
- We should not despair of it as wholly uncertain
Future is not fully ours
We cannot dictate the future in our private or professional lives. No matter who we are and what we do there are always elements, which are not under our control.
We can amass all details about trends, drivers and influencers and work them into very clear strategies, making those strategies a win-win for all stakeholders and engaging a passionate group of people behind them. It still does not guarantee that things will just roll as planned. People are fickle and what was a win-win one day no longer is necessarily that later. Sometimes it is not possible to keep the decision elements jelly enough to shape things according to all change. This means that sometimes we have to stay the course on things, which were set in motion before and turn our backs on the new, perhaps clearly better, possibilities. This particular aspect has changed a lot in business over the last twenty years. Things have become super liquid.
Future is not fully not ours
We should not think that what we seek and wish for in our lives is not within our reach. We may live in a life situation, which offers little sparkle about our prospects. Perhaps we face hurdles we feel are insurmountable in our professional lives.
An organisation, or individual, may look at the world as scarce. “Our company belongs to category x and only top three can be successful and others will struggle, we will benchmark and make sure we are fast followers in this industry sector” and so on. What if one looked at the world as abundant? “We have our own purpose, this is what works for us, we are similar to category x in this way and different from it in this way y. In some areas it is difficult to struggle against the scarcity mentality, as the industry is dependent on ‘categorisation’ as a way to ‘place’ things: e.g. products on retail outlet shelves. Even if a company is not the biggest in the ‘industry category’ they resemble the most, they may be doing very well for their customers and financially, to carry on with the work towards a future ‘as theirs’, due to their differentiation.
We should not count on it as certain
No matter how well the circumstances, our efforts and successes seem aligned in the right way, our way, we should not become blind to the possibility of change and agency, which alters the course of our lives and work.
Any company can falter and for many reasons. The faster the up the faster the potential for down also. As technology development and human ability to adapt speed up, new approaches can come and make previous approaches obsolete quickly.
We should not despair of it as wholly uncertain
The best way to get there is to keep going for it, ‘it’ being a life or company purpose and goal, regardless of the seemingly high barriers in front.
What ever the under dog situation, there is a way things tend to balance themselves out in the long run, as long as there is positive agency towards a meaningful purpose, the rest is details, which can be rethought and reworked.
Our emotional map
If the future is not looking to be ours and there is a degree of certainty that the situation will not mend itself easily or quickly then emotionally the best is to accept the situation and put one’s energies to new ways of dealing with the wishes and plans.
If the future looks to be ours but there is still the possibility that something could knock it all on its head, anxiety ensues.
If the future does not seem to be smiling to us and yet there is some degree of knowledge that the situation is not cast in stone, there is hope.
If the future seems to smile on us and there is rather a high amount of positive circumstance to support our wishes and plans, we more forward with confidence, and thus tend to create more positive energy around our plans and wishes.
We can influence this picture
The future may not smile on us and we may know that there are lots of hurdles facing our wishes and plans, however we can smile on ourselves and go around those hurdles and get there another way. Trouble is that we humans tend to get stuck in the mud when a particular approach does not work, we judge the goal to be wrong rather than the means to get there. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could at all times just check this map and choose where we wish to be, what ever the circumstances. Neuroscience and linguistics offer means to get there, as well as many spiritual schools of thought. On that later…