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Interpreting the intangible

“There are intangible realities which float near us, formless and without words; realities which no one has thought out, and which are excluded for lack of interpreters.” –Natalie Clifford Barney*
IcebreakerBarney was not thinking, per se, about the future when she wrote this. We probably should not accept that there are “realities” in our future, since the future does not exist. But this insight is valuable in considering the future.
Some thoughts for foresight from this insight:
Intangible realities — We should assume that we don’t know enough about the future, and try to discover more about the forces and trends shaping it. We need to try to make the possibilities more tangible. This means researching the changes unfolding now to find out more, testing out ideas about what might happen, and sharing and critiquing our assumptions about them with others. We cannot make the future tangible, but we can get clearer about the possibilities, and what's at stake.
Formless and without words – This is what leaves most people unable, or unwilling to try to understand the future–it cannot be measured, photographed, or described with any certainty. But giving words to the future possibilities, and trying to describe them to each other, are critical steps in making them more tangible and thus something we can act on.
No one has thought out – Saying what these potential futures would mean to what we care about is critical, and we can begin to do that when we have taken a closer look at how things are changing, and shared our best insights on what is happening and could happen.
Lack of interpreters – Let’s be sure we don’t exclude the future from what we’re doing by assigning ourselves the role of interpreter. Somebody has to do it, and it probably has to be us.
*Natalie Clifford Barney was an American playwright and novelist, 1876–1972. She lived as an expatriate in Paris
Thanks to Jay Chatzkel, Progressive Practices, Beyond the Deal newsletter, for sharing this insightful quote
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