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What people say when you ask them to think about the future

Here are four things I hear all the time from folks I am working with, their reactions to me pushing them to think about the future.

Frustration facepalm“Thinking ten years in the future is really hard” Yes, but the rewards are great in exploring the possibilities, as best as you can, and discovering a range of futures you might face. With more of the possibilities explored, you can begin to prepare for what may stay uncertain, but you will be better prepared. Then you can build strategies that are robust against the range of possibilities.

“This is way outside my comfort zone” That, I think, is the whole point. You cannot be sufficiently strategic, respond to, and even lead change, if you stay too comfortable. You have to think the scary thoughts, take some risks. They are only, in doing this, intellectual risks. Nothing’s really at stake when you explore new thoughts about your future, and the stakes are really high if you don’t.

“Nobody can predict the future” That’s absolutely true. But we don’t work to give singular predictions of the future, we work to understand the possibilities and prepare better for them. In fact, the goal is to shape the future, not predict it and then wait to see what happens. If you know what’s possible, you can 1). take action to shape at least part of your destiny, and 2). prepare for uncertainty by charting a course that leaves you ready and adaptable, at least within the range of the more likely possibilities.

“I’ll be retired and on a golf course by then” Not so fast! First, are you sure you’ll be able to retire when you think? And that you’ll want to? Then also, don’t you still have a stake in the future, e.g. of your organization? Are you a shareholder? Do you care about its legacy? And all this is part of the bigger picture, the one that leaves you adequately funded for your retirement, and ensures that the golf course will be in good shape for your hours on the links.


These are just some common reactions, and there are many more. I’d love to hear yours: your own reaction to being pushed to explore the future, or ones you’ve heard, please feel free to share in the comments section.

Image: silvain.collet via Flickr, Creative Commons attribution license

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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • steve rados March 18, 2014, 9:03 am

    Always enjoy your articles John.
    My question is, how will our planet hold up in 10,20 50 yrs. with population growth and depletion of resources? I want to know more for me as much as my children and grand children.

  • John Mahaffie March 18, 2014, 9:27 am

    Steve, Yes, you’ve got the the questions that truly matter, and I don’t ignore them. What I worry about most is not if we can solve those needs, but if we have the will to actually do it. So I am an optimist who is regularly pessimistic about humans getting their act together. I try in all of my work to make some difference to that–to raise awareness, get people thinking, and help them see what’s needed.

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