There Will be Chaos

Planning for the future never used to be so complicated.

Whether you were planning to improve your personal life, an organization, business, or even an entire community, it was simply a matter of figuring out where you currently were, where you wanted to go, and then developing action steps to address the gap in between.

Today, we live in far more complex and fast changing times.

As my future-focused colleague Rick Smyre put it in a recent conversation, today it is more a case of needing to prepare for a world that doesn’t yet exist.

I think the late management guru Peter Drucker got it right when he once said, “Trying to predict the future is like driving down a country road at night with no lights on while looking out the back window.”

The analogy of looking out the back window is especially relevant because we are entering a new era often trying to plan with ideas, leadership, and institutions that are better suited for an old world.

Instead, we need to embrace the idea that new times call for new thinking.

Smyre believes there are five major shifts that need to be made if we are ensure our planning is more adaptive in nature.

The first is the need to shift from hierarchies to networks. While traditional hierarchies worked for the industrial age, we instead need to invest in building the relationships, networks, and webs that will ensure we have the capacity to adapt quickly.

We also need to understand that very little is fixed these days.  Pretty much everything is dynamic so we need to build tolerance and acceptance of constant movement and change. And yes, there will be chaos.         
         
Very little will be predictable, everything is instead emerging.

Embracing that we live in a time of turmoil will mean that rather than planning for change that reforms we need to pursue change that transforms. In other words it can’t just be about modifying, improving, or making things more efficient and effective. Instead, it needs to be about change that redefines and turns things upside down.

Lastly, instead of our more typical linear thinking, we will always need to be much more systemic and holistic in our approach. 

So where do we begin?

Whether we are planning for ourselves, our family, an organization, business, or community, values are going to be a critical filter for decision making and priority setting. Take the time to have conversations about what is important and the beliefs and ideals that are shared. 

While it’s unlikely any of us really wants to struggle, it is important too that we embrace the chaos and act in a spirit of hope.

While chaos often leads to being risk-adverse, as we plan we need to be willing to examine situations carefully, take risks, embrace creativity, and contribute enough effort. Of course, we may also have to back off, change, or stop doing some things as well.

In the end, it means we are all need to embrace being lifelong learners and explorers who are comfortable with asking questions and not always having the answers.

Posted on 01-27-13


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