Facing the future, together

by John Mahaffie on October 17, 2007

Breakout Groups Exploring the FutureMost organizations do not stop to think about the future nor share and examine their assumptions about it very often. That can lead an organization to at best optimize on what it does now at the expense of building the capacities it needs for the future.

One way to begin to explore the future in an organization is to hold a futures event. There are plenty of ways to do so, but they center on one thing: adding new thinking to the organization’s current thinking.

Along with stirring new ideas into the organization, futures events help people surface, share, examine, and challenge assumptions about the future that drive what the organization is doing.

The tools and perspectives of futures thinking, if they do nothing else, help people discover the often-latent assumptions about the future that they are using to make decisions today.

A futures event is a powerful way to do this—with lots of people and in an intensive way. A well-designed futures event will get people to set aside their day-to-day concerns and responsibilities and think on behalf of their organization about what is changing in their market, their sector, and the world that is offering opportunities and challenges.

Some futures events drive to specific, actionable conclusions. Others, like a church revival service, strive only to change and enliven people’s thinking and settle new ideas in their heads that inform their decisionmaking going forward. Thus the range of purposes/outcomes of a futures event stretch from raising consciousness about change to defining immediate and longer-term actions for the organization.

A middle ground for this spectrum of possibility is to design an event that implicitly or explicitly rearranges the organization’s priorities. Thus a technology firm, might, for example, discover that change in the world has put water resources at the top of the list of problems to be solved. That discover leads them to mark it as an area of emerging opportunity and R&D priority.

We will be sharing more thoughts on ways to design futures events on this site, in the coming weeks.

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