Considering The “Default” Future

“You have a chance to reinvent the default, to make it better. Or we can maintain the status quo. Which way will you contribute?” -Seth Godin

  • How often do you consider the future that you are facing?
  • How often do you take time to question that future?
  • Do you consider the future from a singular or plural lens?
  • How often do you take time to imagine new futures?

The future is an interesting consideration, in that it is the future. It is not something that we can know, predict or count on. Rather, it is both uncertain and unknown, constantly evolving, emerging, and changing. But even in the midst of that ambiguity, without consideration, curiosity, imagination, we become much more accepting of the future as an unmanageable inevitability, rather than something we can have influence upon and design towards for even greater impact. If not careful, how we approach the future can do more to entrench us in the status quo than evoke new possibilities.

In other words, the future can become an accepted default…

And it is that default that we need to become much more aware of, both as leaders and as organizations, if we are going to effectively move towards the consideration of more preferable and possible futures. To add to the idea of the default, shares, “In computer technology, a default is a predesigned value or setting that is used by a computer program when a value or setting is not specified by the program user.” For which the definition continues, “To the program requestor, to default is to intentionally or accidentally allow the reestablished value or setting for an item to be used by the program. Default pertains to something that is used when something else is not supplied or specified.”

More than we realize, that very same technology “default” definition can just as easily be applied to how leaders and organizations can often view and approach the future. Those “established value or settings” can very easily become the “default” specifications for how accepting we can become towards a preordained future. Unless we are intentionally taking a long-view, unless we are taking time and space to imagine new and more preferable and possible futures, and then proactively doing something each and every day that moves us towards achieving those visions for the future, we often find that we are living into that “default” future, both individually and organizationally.

Or as Jeff Hittner shares in What You Ought To Know About The Default Future You’re Heading For, “Your default future is what is likely to happen if nothing unexpected comes along. It lives at the level of your intuition, rather than at that place where you daydream about what’s to come, so it is rarely discussed or analyzed.” For which he adds, “The default future is one you have already written, without even realizing it. It’s the track you’re on, the automated treadmill that continues unless something drastically changes.”

When leaders and organizations become aware of how easily the “default” future takes over, it comes with the realization that those very settings and values that move us into the “default” need to be disrupted, through an act of creation or imagination. Or as Logan and Saffron share in The Three Laws of Performance, “The act of creating a new future displaces whatever default future was already there.” But that necessitates leaders building in the spaces and environments where that thinking and work can have room incubate, percolate, and develop. Where new narratives and visions can come to life. It requires asking, as Logan and Saffron share, “Does your default future have any space in it to create something new, or is all filled up? Rewriting your future alters how situations occur in the present. Doing so requires that we fully create a blank space and then make declarations into that space.”

Once awareness of the “default” is achieved, it will be in our willingness to question that future, that individuals and organizations can begin to disrupt the status quo and the “default” that we are often unconsciously moving towards. We can no longer readily accept the “default” future, if we are going to create new narratives and visions for the future, if we are going to create a better way forward.

We will have to be willing to disrupt the “default” future, if we are going to create new futures…

Or as Adam Grant shares in the Originals, “The hallmark of originality is rejecting the default and exploring whether a better option exists.” More preferable and possible futures often arise out of the curiosity to explore whether “a better option exists.” Just know, disrupting the “default” and the status quo is not as easy as it seems. It is often met with deep levels of resistance. Or, as we all know, being original is very often closely aligned with with a willingness to serve as an outlier.

However, it is only when we are willing to disrupt and discover beyond the “default” that new futures are able to be considered and imagined.

“Learning and innovation go hand and hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.” -William Pollard


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