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Fear the old, not the new

Guilty as charged! Even futurists can fall into the trap of denying the forces of change, wishing they didn’t exist. What happened to me is that I caught myself being unwilling to look at how a system is changing because I didn’t want it to change.

I am a big fan of baseball, and spend a lot of time helping my local Little League. I’ve read deep into the history of the game-it’s well over 150 years old, and I’ve steeped myself in the traditions of the game. One of baseball’s qualities, and one that is important to many of its fans, is how little it has changed over the decades. Valid or not, students of the game compare statistics from today’s players to those from decades ago. We assume continuity, and even that there has not been significant change to the key things that shape the game.

So a few months ago, an Association for Professional Futurists member passed along a journalist’s request for ideas on the future of baseball. I knew I could and should answer, and some of my colleagues told me they were sure they would see my ideas enter the mix on the Association’s listserve. I stayed silent.

I realized a little later that I clammed up because I do not want the game to change. That’s an awfully dangerous frame of mind for a futurist. But I am glad I recognized what was happening to me. It’s a danger we all face. Most importantly, it puts us in a purely defensive position when we have the chance to shape change. Instead of positive ideas for change, we’re likely to resist, cast doubt, and work against change. That usually doesn’t work, and we lose the chance to be part of shaping our future.

Fearing change

It’s normal and natural to be cautious or fearful about change. So we often fear the new. But often it’s the old that will get us. Old views, old ways, old systems, old attitudes can be dangerous.

A big part of improving foresight is helping ourselves and others get unstuck, change our mental models and points of view, and changing the language with which we speak about the world. In business fearing change can be about holding on to the big legacy of sunk investments and to deep-rooted practices that probably have to change.

The culture of a business is not what’s rigid, necessarily, it’s the practices-the ways that culture is manifested and carried out that are. Learning to get unstuck means recognizing those things, and being willing to confront them. A good foresight culture makes doing that a part of its culture.

Image: Boston Public Library

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