Learning From The Future: The Birthing Of A New Mindset

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“Acceptable ideas are competent no more, but competent ideas are not yet acceptable. This is the dilemma of our time.” -Stafford Beer (1967) via Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity

It is really easy to say that the world has shifted in exponential ways and that the problems and challenges we will face in the near future will be much different than what we’ve faced in the past.

It is a much more difficult proposition to actually do something about it…

To change the thinking and mindsets that keep us continually overlaying the same (technical) strategies and solutions that are showing themselves to be no longer effective for the (adaptive) problems and challenges that are rising up from the aftermath of these shifts.

In his work Theory U, Otto Scharmer postulates that “There are two sources of learning: the past and the emerging future.” For which he adds, “How to learn from the past is well known: But how can one learn from the future?”

And how do we keep our people, our leaders, and our organizations from recoiling from the ambiguity and unknowns that this will work will imbue and create? How do we keep from using terms like ‘research’ and ‘best practices’ as limiting factors to keep us entrenched in reactive stances towards this emerging future?

Or as Scharmer shares, “We now wish to learn how to respond to turbulence and disruptive change with resilience and flexibility, how to sense and seize emerging future opportunities, how to tune in to the sources of ‘not-yet-embodied’ knowledge.”

It is not just that our mindsets have to change, our entire way of thinking in some ways is in need of an overhaul. The reflection necessary for this overhaul will be pivotal towards wrapping our head around how we will adapt effectively towards these societal shifts.

As we march emphatically towards these tipping points, awareness will be paramount in refraining from overlaying past thinking, as well as recoiling from the uncomfortableness of the ambiguity and unknowns that this work creates. Too often, we remove ourselves from this arc of transformation because of the intensity and difficulty required from the work and journey.

Think of these words that Scharmer imparts in Theory U, “We have to abandon our conventional ways of reacting and operating. We have to deepen our attention to and wonder about the world. We have to ben our habituated beam of attending to the world and redirect it onto its source – the blind spot from which we operate moment by moment. We have to connect to this source in order to tune in to the future that is seeking to emerge. It is a quest.”

We can’t always put into words or create a visual of what is happening…but we can feel that the future is pressing in with a deep urgency and intensity, birthing forward new ways of thinking, doing and being. And it is shifting our world in exponential ways…

At this point, there is no avoiding, so we can either decide to spend our time reacting to these shifts…or we can proactively determine a call to action to design this emerging future.

“Today’s problems no longer yield ready-made solutions” and the job of leadership has “changed from a tool user to a toolmaker.” -via Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity 


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