Imagining the future is not just a dreamy pastime. Thinking about our future, or that of our company – if done well – helps us better prepare for what may come. While business leaders often prepare and issue a ‘vision’ or management a ‘strategic plan’, they limit us to one thing: to a single future. The same one they would like to see. But if that future doesn’t happen, if the vision doesn’t come true, if the strategic plan doesn’t work out, it’s considered a failure.
In fact, there are multiple futures. And which future happens depends partly on us, partly on other influences. The future cone distinguishes between three types of futures: possible, probable, and preferred.
A possible future may be that humans will set foot on Mars. Certainly, a great achievement, but it doesn’t really help us in the here and now. One possible future is that Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain will have an impact on our business. If that is possible, what can we do to benefit from it and achieve a future that is preferable for us?
Note that if the probable and preferred futures are within the cone of possible futures, the former two do not necessarily overlap. If our preferred future is not part of the probable future cone, then it simply means that it will be hard to reach our preferred future.
The future is not something that just comes to us. We have the possibility to influence it. The future is shaped by our choices (or non-choices). When we look at the present we see that it was shaped by our decisions in the past. Different branches of our decision tree culminate in the singularity of today.
And from the singularity of today we can derive new futures. Each node represents a decision we make – or don’t make. By our actions we influence the future and make other futures less likely. If I decide to move to London today, then the option of moving to Singapore becomes less likely. The decision to invest in battery technology research for electric cars makes it harder to research fuel cell technology with the same attention. Our future tree is shaped by our decisions.
Accepting the fact that multiple futures are possible makes changes in direction seem less like failure and increases the willingness to pursue other options. This is why it is important to introduce a foresight mindset into an organization. While a vision or strategic plan communicates to employees that there is only one future, a preferred future communicates that multiple futures are possible and you change it as new information or new opportunities arise.
A change in direction is then less a sign of failure than a sign of the organization’s adaptability, as long as members see it as a natural learning unit with no negative impact on motivation and team spirit. An organization thus transforms from a vision and plan driven mindset to a foresight mindset where changes are seen as part of the future journey.