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Futurist as Missionary, Salesperson, Politician, Counselor

2429091134_b829eb0d2c_mUltimately, your efforts around foresight–for their relevance, for their impact, for the willingness of your stakeholders to engage and get behind them, come down to agency*. How much room for action, maneuver, and strategy do you have or can you have?

Your degree of agency will shape expectations that you or the team you work with will take on a smaller or larger scope of change. To build agency, you probably have to take up new roles.

Consider the Low Hanging Fruit model I wrote about earlier. Most players have a little bit of maneuver, and some have a  lot. The low-hanging fruit, those actions that don’t imply big spending, revolutionary change in the organization’s operations and systems, and, to put it simply, don’t require much permission, those are easy, doable–middle level executives, or even an individual, may have the authority (agency) to take positive action.

But the levels considered more serious–big-systems change–require a lot more stakeholders to be on board: the boss, customers, regulators, the CFO, board members, etc. Your or a small team you assemble to explore change cannot act alone. Your agency is insufficient.

And in foresight, nearly always, you will discover a wider arena for action, or bigger strategic moves that make sense. In my work, it’s routine for executives to find, as we work on the future together, that they need more permission, more buy-in, more access, maybe more money than they expected. Scratching the surface of change reveals far more that needs reconsideration. The small question becomes a big question.

You may lack the agency to take the issues and changes you discover on, and you will need to build further capacity to orchestrate change. That means playing new roles you may not be used to.

New roles you’ll play: Missionary, Salesperson, Politician, Counselor 

Making the case for change with rationales, data, explanations, convincing arguments. If the future state you anticipate is to be understood and believed in, you will need to make it so. This means you are a missionary.

Getting buy-in from the executive-level. They may need to have “been there” to truly see the need for the strategy, so you will need to bring them into the conversation, give them rationales. This demands you be a salesperson.

Getting buy-in from the rank and file. This next wave of change will benefit from far more people being on board, if not in the decisionmaking, then in the rationales for the changes. Your “big system” changes will affect far more people. And change is scary, mysterious until explained. This may mean you are a politician.

An ability to surprise people without being rejected. You can’t usually go into a fresh look at your future without encountering surprises. In fact, if you don’t you are probably not being effective. Your surprises will probably be even more unexpected for your constituents. For this you will need to soothe fears, you’ll be a counselor.

So look for how you need to build agency, and consider what roles you are stepping into. It will make a difference to your success, and break down some of your frustrations as you confront the need for change.

Image: Mariano Kamp, via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution License

*I define agency here as: the capacity for exerting power or control in order to change something.

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