I'm not sure where this post is going to lead, since the trigger for it came from reading another newsletter this morning about changing the patterned stories we tell ourselves to make sense of the world and then checking out a link about strategic narratives. Both newsletters focus on helping organisations thrive in the present. That is important.
While reading both, a thought emerged: this thinking is all about growth and making profits (the standard, embedded, accepted narrative in most economies today) and by association, employ a short-term thinking time frame. The work of the two people is wonderful which is why I follow them, but I realised that even when the word 'future' is used, it is defined by today's stories. There is no long-term perspective informing thinking and decision-making.
Why does a long-term perspective matter? Because it helps us open up our thinking, expand our time horizons and challenged our patterned stories of the present? And why do that? To find the new, the novel, the different in a cognitive space where the unthinkable becomes thinkable and the impossible becomes possible. And find new stories, new narratives that will help us change our actions and decisions in the present.
Why does reframing out thinking about the present matter? Our futures wait for us to find them today, to explore them, to identify not the right future but rather the aspects of possible futures that we want to make happen to ensure our organisations are sustainable into the present ( think Kodak, Nokia, Borders, Blockbuster here) and into whatever future emerges.
And sustainable not only for organisations but our societies and most importantly our planet. And yes, there are sustainabiltity strategies everywhere now but again these usually are based on our 'presentist' thinking and stories rather than a commitment to future generations or because we accept we have to be a good ancestor.
Now, these musings of mine aren't new. Lots of people inside and outside the futures/foresight world write about the need to do this and find different ways that suit them to take this message to the world and to organisations. When I started my first business in 2007 I wrote a 'career purpose' statement:
I want to contribute to increasing the understanding of the value of futures approaches in everyday life, working primarily with individuals, to help people recognise and accept their responsibility for future generations as a way to structure their lives and decision making. I want to do this by communicating ideas in writing via a website; writing for the website and for publication; and speaking/working with small groups.
I got lost in the world of consultancy and working with organisations - not individuals or small groups - and even though I sometimes went back to this statement, I didn't know how to use this statement in my work. My PhD changed that when I remembered how much I loved writing which has led me finally to accept the principle as the purpose of my work - and this site, Foresight in the Present is the result.
I would change this statement slightly now though because I now including thinking in the phrase 'accept their responsibility for future generations as a ways the structure their thinking, their lives and decision making.' It all starts with our thinking, with our perspectives on reality and with our willingness to change our stories, our narratives that we now hold dear, unchallenged and usually not conscious in our everyday life. We should seek first to open minds, to make our brains hurt, to recognise how limited and constrained our thinking really is. To let that which we previously rejected.
These narratives emerge from our worldviews of course, and this realisation that much futures work is about the practice of foresight (essential of course), and less about the thinking of foresight that send me on my new path. The struggle to get foresight accepted begins with individuals, not organisations. With each of us understanding our worldviews that construct our thinking about what is real, how that reality has been constructed, our values, about what knowledge we think is true and what we think is false.
How do we do this? Ask some new questions of ourselves generally and its adaption for futures questions (in italics):
- what do I accept as reality? what futures do I accept?
- what do I reject as reality? what futures do I reject?
- why do I reject these realities? why do I reject these futures?
- what assumptions underpin this thinking? what assumptions underpin my rejection of these futures?
- can I challenge these assumption in authentic ways? can I challenges these assumptions that make me reject these futures?
- do I want to even want to change my assumptions? are my assumptions about futures fixed and unchangeable?
- does it matter if my assumptions about the present reality are fixed? how will my thinking about futures be constrained if I don't challenge my assumptions today?
There are other questions that flow on from these - the fundamental learning here is if we as individuals do not consciously challenge our current thinking and the assumptions we use that shape our presents and futures, and we take our reframed thinking into our organisations, then we should not be surprised when we keep asking the same questions and accepting only answers that match our current stories and narratives. We should not be surpised when our strategies fail to deliver documented outcomes.
And we in the futures field should not be surprised that it is not only difficult to embed foresight in organisation but also equally difficult to define the impact of futures practice expcept by quantifying outcomes in way that align with formulas for today's KPIs. The need for us to have conversations with ourselves about our assumptions about futures to inform the design of futures work is my message now. It starts with us. Before we use methods or designs new ones. And this site and my new book are focused around and designed for people interested in this message. It's for individuals who want to find and use their foresight capacitities, challenging their assumptions, opening their thinking and looking consciously for the new and possible in the present.
If you are reading this as a free subscriber - thank you. I'm about to start releasing pre-publication chapters to my new book to paid subscribers only (which will replace what is currently is this category for paid members), so you may want to think about subscribing - there's a discount on the paid subscriber now for a week, and you can choose monthly or annual subscriptions. If you do you are helping me sustain Foresight in the Present - it's my only income now (my choice) - and any feedback you have on my chapters (optional) will be recognised in the book.
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