“Probably when our species developed the trick of memory and with it the counterbalancing projection called “the future,” this shock-absorber, hope, had to be included in the series, else the species would have destroyed itself in despair.”
–John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez, 1941 (Penguin edition, 1995, p. 72).
We are all routinely capable of deceiving ourselves when it comes to our thoughts about the future. While many (too many) people carry around ideas about the world going to hell in a handbasket, our actions often depend on great optimism and we assume outcomes that may not be realistic. Often we just “hope for the best” in facing the future. Steinbeck has it right–this is human nature, and it is our way of steering clear of despair.
But being reflexively hopeful is a potential trap. We need to move off of hope as an instinct, and base it on a better understanding of the future. The tools of foresight help put that basis in place. Identifying trends, exploring scenarios, and roadmapping, for example, bring a stronger focus to the emerging future, and can help us acknowledge both the problems and the opportunities we face.
Foresight tools can move us from just being hopeful to having optimism for the future based on an honest reckoning with the problems we face and how we will deal with them. We can then envision success under a range of possible futures—and strengthen our ability to see a positive path forward in the face of uncertainty. Then our hope is more than just an instinct—it’s based on knowing what we will do to achieve a positive future.