Forging A Future Mindset

“Most change processes are superficial because they don’t generate the depth of understanding and commitment that is required for sustaining change in truly demanding circumstances. Planning, deciding, and monitoring and controlling the ensuing process may be all that are needed in situations where change is essentially about reading to new circumstances but, when you’re facing very difficult issues or dilemmas, when very different people need to align in very complex settings, and when the future might really be very different from the past, a different process is required.”  -Adam Kahane via Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future

How we approach the future is going to be very important…

Even in today’s exponentially changing and shifting world, we still have this ingrained tendency to approach the very ‘idea’ of the future as this static and preordained process that we accept as an inevitable consequence of our past and present. We tend to remain unable or unwilling to look at the future as an ongoing, evolving, active, and emergent process that we have actual influence over. Instead, we take a more reactive than proactive approach to the emergent future.

We view the future with a ‘noun’ lens, rather than with a ‘verb’ view…

And when we do take a more proactive approach towards influencing the emerging future, we struggle to do it without dragging in preconceived models of the past. Models that keep us entrenched and blinded from seeing its emergence without being anchored to the safety of our models of the past and present that impede and encroach on its progress. Often hindering its ability to unfold freely and fully.

Imagine trying to blow up an air raft while it is still in the box it came in…

The future is in a constant, active state of emerging and realizing itself. Yet, as individuals, organizations and systems, we do little to engage ourselves in the shaping of its emergence. The future is not something we accept, we have to engage, or as Senge, Scharmer, Jaworski, and Flowers point to in their work Presence, “a different type of learning process where we learn instead from a future that has not yet happened and from continually discovering our part in bringing that future to pass. Learning based on the past suffices when the past is a good guide to the future. But it leave us blind to profound shifts when whole new forces shaping change arise.”

Which is the reality that we are being currently thrust into…

The past no longer “suffices” as a “guide” or support to take us effectively into this exponentially evolving future that we are facing as individuals and organizations. In many ways, the past entrenches us in a reactive stance that ingrains present patterns, behaviors, processes, and models that keep the us from emerging more fully and proactively into the opportunities that the future may afford us.

To do this, we are going to have to create the space to more self-reflective and future-flective…

Or as Senge, Scharmer, Jaworski and Flowers share in Presence, “Slow down. Observe. Then act fast and with a natural flow that comes from the inner knowing. You have to slow down long enough to really see what’s needed. With a freshness of vision, you have the possibility of a freshness of action, and the overall response on a collective level can be much quicker than trying to implement hasty decisions that aren’t compelling to people.”  

Which must be part of a leaders reflective process. Awareness. Awareness of the busyness and urgency that creeps in and takes over. It is difficult to engage in ‘forging a future mindset’ if we are constantly consumed by the busyness that surrounds and infiltrates our lives and our organizations. We find ourselves consumed by the efficient and urgent, rather than the effective and important. In many ways, it goes back to finding time to be slow, to go fast.

The future will be very different, we have the choice to fight and recoil from it, or we can determine to proactively see and influence its emergence…

Or as the authors of Presence provide that we “need to ‘sense an emerging future’ in order to meet the challenges of managing in an increasingly technology-based economy. As the pace of technological development quickens, so does the rate of what the economist Joseph Schumpter called ‘creative destruction…” They go on to add, “this leads to the continual forming, configuring, locking in, and decaying of structure. Little is predictable or repetitive. Problems are not well defined. The rules of the game as well as the other players change rapidly as the stakes get increasingly higher.” “In this kind of environment, making decisions based on the habits of past experience is no longer optimal – or wise.”

This is the new world and the future we face.

And we have a choice.

We can choose to positively influence or ultimately recoil from its emergence.


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