Our futures thinking is grounded in our minds

The future might already be with us in the present but that doesn't mean it's fixed yet. It means we can shape it, we can explore the new in the present, we can create futures that don't repeat the mistakes of the past and the present. Our futures thinking is grounded in our minds.

Our futures thinking is grounded in our minds

I'm writing a second post on futures thinking because I wonder sometimes if I understand what it actually is. I read an email recently which advised that futures thinking is grounded in the present-day. Of course it is because we live in the present. For me, though futures thinking has always meant thinking about futures which we do in the present, but our futures don't yet exist.

For me, futures thinking is not grounded in the present. It's grounded in our minds, our worldviews, our values and our beliefs. These are intangible. The facts, the trends, the signals we find - and the ones we don't - are defined and interpreted by our thinking.

Some of us think short-term, some of us think long-term, some of us take their action today based on the past. This is normal because we all have temporal preferences. A short-term thinker asked to imagine a future might give it a go - this was my experience in workshops - but most will also ultimately end up saying something like: I can't think long-term, I need facts. When they are asked to make decisions about 'the future', they will do so based on the present. What they know. And what they know they don't know. This thinking is convergent in nature.

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A personal story here as an example. I was running a workshop for a tertiary education institution with board members. I ask them to select a wildcard from a pack I offered them. They selected "contact with extra-terrestrial beings has been made". They had to review the strategy they had created to incorporate aliens. They immediately resisted and refused to do it. I ended up begging them to do it for me, and they begrudgingly did. In the report back, they had created the most amazing marketing plan for selling their courses to aliens - a new market segment for them. But they absolutely refused to add it to there potential actions that they might consider in the strategy development process after the workshop. They said it was ridiculous and would never happen. What an opportunity they had missed - and I told them that. Mind you, contact might never happen in our lifetime, but never?

A long-term thinker will use the present to inform futures they might imagine and they won't take the extrapolation of the present as the only future. They will be able to imagine new futures, create new ideas and synthesise information in new ways. They will also be able to apply the new to the present, so that new actions can emerge. They will understand what assumptions they have and are using when they imagine futures. They are willing to explore things that don't seem 'real' to see what emerges. This thinking is at first divergent, and then convergent.

We need both sorts of thinkers of course, but people who say they have to operate in the short-term are unknowingly constraining their thinking when it comes to our futures. This is why I now say we need to think about how we think about futures before we start thinking about them. To understand the limitations of our thinking. To understand where our assumption walls are.

Futures thinking is a cognitive experience. We begin with what we know about the present and then use our imaginations to expand and deepen our thinking, to explore and find any number of possible futures, including the crazy ones and the preposterous ones that are not anything like we have today. Note that if you do venture into crazy futures, short-term thinkers might resist if they haven't thought about how they think about futures. Guide them through it, help them find ideas we had never thought about that turn out to be useful, or things that we once thought impossible that might just open our minds to the possible.

We are grounded in the present, but our futures thinking doesn't have to be. The present we see today is the present we - and our ancestors - have created. It is not fixed and it will change in quite radical ways over time. It is a social construction as our imagined futures will be. The future might already be with us in the present but that doesn't mean it's fixed yet. It  means we can shape it, we can explore the new in the present, we can create futures that don't repeat the mistakes of the past and the present. Our futures thinking is grounded in our minds.