All futures are global

by John Mahaffie on January 10, 2008

Delhi, photo by Wili Hybrid, via Flickr To look effectively at the future of anything, you should take a global view. Most organizational executives know this and are familiar with the broad themes of change unfolding around the world: globalization, the rise of China, climate change, and so on. What is harder is for people to give the global view enough attention in their work, to really internalize it and keep it in view as they do their work. [at right, Delhi Street Scene image by Wili Hybrid, via Flickr] In our efforts to help organizations study the future, we always emphasize that all futures are shaped by the global future. Even the corner dry cleaner or a taxi driver is affected by the world: immigration, energy prices, the cost and availability of resources, regulatory change shaped by international influences, and of course by the global economy. It is hard in management and planning to adequately understand what’s happening globally, and to keep a strong focus on the world as part of the fundamental context for decisionmaking. We have found that even the peripatetic business executive, who travels internationally, can let down his or her guard and, without fully realizing it, get caught thinking from a distinctly local or personal point of view. This is most clear when people look at the world through a lens of their own values and lifestyle preferences, assuming people elsewhere are just like them. Here are some things you can try to overcome this problem:

  • Explicitly discuss the point of view problem, and encourage a workshop group or team to sharpen their thinking about different values and perspectives around the world.
  • Have people explore different identities, e.g. a young urban mother in India, a Russian factory worker, a schoolchild in Brazil. Consider assigning participants in a workshop an identity and have them discuss a topic, react to a product concept, and so on.
  • Use images, quotes, and data from elsewhere to bring focus to and a stronger sense of the views and values of people in other cultures, and life situations. Viewing a new photo from another country of interest, every day, can keep other perspectives fresh abnd present in your work. Daily photo blogs make it easy to do this.  [see also: Environmental Scanning, Flickr, YouTube, and photo blogs on this site]
  • Find blogs from different places and different life stages, and use their views to sharpen your understanding of others’ perspectives on life, issues, the world.
  • Subscribe electronically to news and opinion sources from other countries, and make reading those a regular part of your work.

Finally, consider assigning yourself the “global consciousness” role on your team, and make it your work to keep your colleagues from slipping back into more parochial thinking.

Update: Please see also this special page on environmental scanning.

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