Too Tired to Lean in to the Future?

Not sure how others feel, but Covid just might have knocked some of the hutzpah out of me. Maybe I have taken my foot off the gas pedal a bit? And yes, there are days when I may have leaned back more than is typical and fallen into a napping mode that has allowed me to avoid looking too far ahead. However, even though we don’t seem to be talking about it much, I sense I’m not alone.

For the most part, it seems we are all still navigating our way to a new and different future – not just our personal future and what we want for ourselves and our families, but also about the complex challenges facing the social, environmental, and economic well-being of our communities and the world at large. 

I’ve been fortunate in having been connected to a number of futurists over the years who have helped me understand there are do-able strategies that anyone can apply for seeing beyond today.

One of them, Dr. Peter Bishop, founder of Teach the Future, supports educators at all levels to bring futures thinking into the classrooms. As he pointed out the first time we met, the importance of history is reinforced in virtually every school in the world, so why aren’t we just as focused on teaching the importance of the future? Doesn’t everyone need to be equipped to think and action with tools to imagine, innovate, and inspire?

Futurism is a means to see beyond today. It is strategic foresight that will help us all to see that while change comes from both the world and from ourselves, there is much we can do to promote anticipation and readiness for both expected and unexpected local and global challenges. It is especially critical because if we don’t get a better grasp on the kind of future we want to see, others will likely do it for us and we might not like the result.

So, where does one begin? With thanks to the many futurists I first met in Washington D.C., here are five strategies I’ve learned along the way.

1.  Cultivate Curiosity: Ask Questions

One of my most important learnings from futurist Rick Smyre is not to ignore things we don’t understand or have a basket to put them in. We need to do our best to resist the desire to ignore what is new or may seem irrelevant because it is often these ‘weak’ or ‘early’ signals that will ultimately become important trends. As he pointed out, a weak signal in 1993 would have been the internet. At the time, it was dismissed by most people as being irrelevant.

2. Trust your instincts and intuition (while learning to ignore your own bias).
I also learned – and this one was a hug ‘aha’ - that while education has taught us to believe in research and facts, the reality is that trends are evidence and conclusions based on what has already taken place. That means while trends are important, they don’t tell the full story. Even the futurists admit they can no longer predict the future, so many of the solutions we need, don’t yet exist. Individual or collective intuition is another way of thinking and knowing that should not be ignored. My personal experience with boots-on-the-ground work is that intuitive conclusions were typically accurate several years or more before the actual evidence was gathered.

3. Make time for conversations.
My most impactful strategy for gathering relevant and meaningful information about the future has been to hang out with smart people who are ahead of the curve. While some of those smart people are part of an international network of futurists or, are leaders at the grasstops of organizations, the conversations with leaders at the grassroots of our communities are just as, and sometimes even more, fruitful. Build diverse contacts, cultivate mentorships or what I think is better described as mentor mutalism, add ‘trends and early signals’ as a discussion topic at staff and board meetings, invest in the development of networks, and share updates after a member of your team returns from conferences or workshops.

4. Get used to messier, non-binary thinking
It is becoming increasingly rare to find one solution or one best way for resolving complex challenges. Instead, it is more likely to be ‘and/both’, rather than ‘either/or’. Non-binary thinking requires that one not only has new baskets to fil but also keeps space in their baskets to ensure their content is a little more flexible and nuanced in order to reveal qualities and opportunities that may not have been readily evident. In many cases, this will help determine values, outcomes, and ultimately strategic priorities for moving forward.

5. Promote a learning culture in your organization or business.

Find time for your team to practice reflection rather than simply react to symptoms of the underlying problem. It could be as simple as carving out time to address three questions; (1) WHY are we doing what we’re doing? (2) WHAT do need to do better or do more of? and (3) HOW can we do it better? Make the development of individual and team learning plans a priority, don’t cut professional development budgets, be on the constant lookout for learning opportunities, and pay attention to the word-on-the-street as there is a great deal of insight to be found among our stakeholders and at the grassroots of our communities.

While it is so tempting to ignore and dismiss thinking about the future, ultimately it is far less stressful and much more rewarding to turn toward the future with hope and a positive spirit. Perhaps we can’t change the world, but what matters is that each and every one of us can do something to change our own small corner within it.


Posted on 03-08-24

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