I wonder if Abraham Lincoln would envisage the future, we’re all living in when he uttered that quote.
Q How would he react to the hustler hordes who are grasping their futures – diligently learning, testing, and growing their own futures?
Q How would he have responded to the macro shocks that are fundamentally changing the nature of whole industries right now?
Q How would he react to the frazzled parents who are feeling lost under the weight of home-school, work, and ever-growing anxiety about the state of politics, the economy, the environment?
I’d hope that with his statement he’d offer hope of more control and encourage people to treat their long-term future with as much zeal as their immediate concerns.
Near to my home, there’s a treacherous strait of water. The nearest land is called Devil’s Point and sailors beware. You can watch the water flow incredibly fast with the current, in fact with multiple currents flowing together and diverging out. Many people have been sharing the quote that we’re all in the same storm right now but we’re not in the same boat. I like this sentence – it’s empathic and grateful all at once. It’s a kind statement to use. It offers hope to all that we will endure, and this time will pass – and it will.
I think though there’s a further dimension and Devil’s Point has that insight. Let’s play with the image of stormy seas, the wind blowing, and craft big and small continuing their journey forwards. Smaller craft and thrown around more, larger craft have some stability. Those at the helm offer some reassurance and can help to navigate the waters, especially if they have done before. You can also see nimble sailors in light craft who are able to see the opportunities and quickly pivot direction to gain the most from the wind. You can see sailors who feel alive and exhilarated by the conditions, and those who are unsure and fear for their safety. You can see how much I like this analogy.
The dimension I would add though is around the current underneath. The current is unseen and moves fast. It is known to those who can read the maps or who have felt their pull before. It is the current that is often the most dangerous variable. Despite what’s happening above, the current is ever-present. Snap that back to business right now and that current would be technology and AI, it would be the megatrends of metropolis, ageing population and growing middle class, democratisation of knowledge, changing consumer habits, large global economic players, a planet under threat.
How then can business leaders prepare for those currents?
Acknowledge that change is happening.
History is full of bankrupt businesses that wouldn’t accept that change would happen, more precisely that change would stick, and that it could threaten their entire business model. Wake up!
Create a core team.
The changes ahead are complex, and their impact will be too. Harness input from different parts of the business – from across all areas to explore the issues ahead. What you might see as a threat could be something a junior salesperson has been watching unravel for months. Diversity is key to seeing as many different perspectives and solutions as you can.
Go out and learn!
Inspiration, commentary comes from a broad variety of sources. Try to diversify your inputs, if you typically take a cue from the global management consultancies, do that but add in views that will give you multiple dimensions. TED talks, university MOOCs, online forums, United Nations, World Economic Forum. Industry sources, academics, inspiration from other industries. Open your mind and find different data points. Especially as this might help you to find different solutions to your existing market players.
Be critical in your thinking.
Not every version of the future will be realised, and many media will have a hidden agenda. Be discerning, don’t reject but do challenge assumptions. If the net is cast too wide, focus on insight information and reviews – but do make sure you choose a variety of viewpoints.
Embrace progress and accept the 80%
This is a discipline where you try to master working in uncertainty, not master uncertainty itself. How much certainty is good enough to act on? Finer details can follow. Like many other areas there are diminishing returns to effort and you rarely need to be 100% certain to act.
Don’t lose your why!
Let go of pre-conceptions on short term goals in favour of long-term outcomes and your purpose as a unit. For example, if a school’s purpose to create an environment where children thrive and learn – is there a difference between online lessons or in person. Live lessons or pre-recorded. Staying focussed on what you want and letting go of how can help you to adopt more creative practices quickly.
There’s a clear return on investment to time spent considering future events. Irrespective of the conditions we’re reacting to now, there is still an undercurrent of change happening on a global scale. It’s for us as leaders to understand those conditions and how best to navigate through them. Of course, in-depth analysis will set you up for more success but adopting these 6 tips can help you to gain value quickly.
Throughout March we're running a series of articles on the topic of future. This coincides with the rollout of our Future Shaping workshop. A research-informed immersive workshop designed to trigger leaders into action.
To find out more, contact us and book in a call.