All the Futures (Yes, there is more than one)

Imagining our future is not just a dreamy leisure activity. Thinking about our future, or our company’s future – if done well – helps us better preparation for what may come. While company leaders often set out ‘a vision’, or management create a strategy plan, they fall short on one thing: they imagine only one future. The very one that they liked and want to happen. If this future does not happen, the vision does not come true, the strategic plan not being met, then this is regarded as a sign of failure.

In reality, there are multiple futures. And what future is happening, depends partly on us, partly on other influences. The Future Cone distinguishes between three types of futures: possible, probable, and preferable futures.

A possible future is that humans will set their foot on Mars within a decade. Sure, great achievement, but not really helping us in short and midterm. A probable future is that technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain will influence our business. If this is probable, what can we do to benefit from it and create a preferable future for us?

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Future Cone: Possible, Probable, and Preferable Futures

Notice that while probable and preferable futures are inside the cone of possible futures, former ones need not necessarily to overlap. If our preferred future is not part of the probable futures-cone, it just means it’s harder to achieve the future we prefer.

The future is nothing that just comes at us. We have the opportunity to influence it. The future is shaped by our decisions (or non-decisions). When we look at the present, we can see that it was shaped by the decisions that we took in the past. Multiple branches of a decision tree are culminating in the Singularity of Today.

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Future, Present, and Past are shaped by our decisions

And from the Singularity of Today we can extrapolate new futures. Every node represents a decision that we make or not. By acting we influence the future and make other futures less likely. If I decide to move to London, the option that I move at the same time to Singapore becomes less likely. The decision to invest in research for battery technology for electric vehicles makes it harder to pursue fuel cell technology with the same focus. Our future tree is shaped by our decisions.

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Accepting the fact that there are multiple futures possible make changes in direction less a failure, but a pursuit of other options. Therefore it becomes crucial to instill a Foresight Mindset in an organization. While a vision or strategy plan communicates that there is only one future, a preferable future including all possibilities communicates that there are multiple futures possible, and that the organization is giving multiple futures a shot, once new information is available or cross-paths are opening.

A change in direction is less a sign of failure, but a sign of an organization’s agility, as long as the members take this as a natural learning lesson without affecting motivation and team spirit. An organization shifts from a vision or plan-driven mindset to a Foresight Mindset, where change is an inherent part of the futures journey.

This article has also been published in German.

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