Planning for the future never used to be quite so complicated.
Whether I was planning to improve my personal life or business, or working with other organizations, neighbourhoods or even entire communities, it typically was a matter of determining the current situation, where you wanted to go, and then determining how to address the gap in between.
A review of top trends and predictions, a situational analysis, a review or development of a vision, mission and strategic priorities and, badda-boom-badda-bing,
an action plan for moving forward emerged. Yes, those were the good old days.
The challenge today is that we live in far more complex and fast-changing times.
The only thing the futurists seem to agree on these days is that it is increasingly difficult to predict. It's almost as if the crystal ball has developed cataracts and vision that has become foggy as the result of growing citizen cynicism, distrust in government, concerns regarding global warming, and a growing use of technology and artificial intelligence that is displacing, disrupting, and contributing to increasing volatility among existing businesses and professions. My future-focused colleagues Rick Smith and Neil Richardson articulated this period in time aptly by naming their recent book, Preparing for a World That Does Not Exist – Yet.
I think the late management guru Peter Drucker may have got it right when he once said, “Trying to predict the future is like driving down a country road at night with no lights on while looking out the back window.” The analogy of looking out the back window is especially relevant because we are entering a new era often trying to plan with ideas, leadership, and institutions that are better suited for an old world.
Instead, as we move into a new decade, we need to embrace the idea that new times call for new thinking.
Smyre and Richardson believe there are five major shifts that need to be made if we are to ensure our planning is more adaptive in nature.
The first is the need to shift from hierarchies to networks. While traditional hierarchies worked for the industrial age, we instead need to invest in building the relationships, networks, and webs that will ensure we have the capacity to adapt quickly.
We also need to understand that very little is fixed these days. Pretty much everything is dynamic so we need to build tolerance and acceptance of constant movement and change. And, as we're already seeing, there will be chaos.
Very little will be predictable, everything is instead emerging. Embracing that we live in a time of turmoil will mean that rather than planning for change that reforms, we need to pursue change that transforms. In other words, it can’t just be about modifying, improving, or making things more efficient and effective. Instead, it needs to be about change that redefines and turns things upside down.
Lastly, instead of our more typical linear thinking, we will always need to be much more systemic and holistic in our approach, tackling more than one issue or problem at a time.
So where do we begin to move more effectively into the future?
Whether we are planning for ourselves, our family, an organization, business, or community, values are going to be a critical filter for decision-making and priority setting. Take the time to have conversations about what is important and the beliefs and ideals that are shared.
It is also essential that we move from an outputs focus (the what and the how) to an outcomes focus (the why) in order to do a better job of understanding, evaluating, and accounting for such intangibles as learning, intellectual capital, happiness, community, relationships, and genuine wealth.
While it’s unlikely any of us really wants to struggle, it is important too that we embrace the chaos and act in a spirit of hope. While chaos often leads to being risk-adverse, as we plan we need to be willing to examine situations carefully, take risks, embrace creativity and innovation, and contribute enough effort. Of course, we may also have to back off, change, or stop doing some things as well.
It will also mean embracing being a lifelong learner and explorer who is comfortable with asking questions and not always having the answers.
In the end, and perhaps most importantly, it will mean having the courage to address all of the above by being an agent of change. That doesn't mean you have to have all the answers, it can be as simple as calling the meeting and inviting diverse stakeholders to the table.
Ultimately, it is change that leads to hope and making a difference, so if you only have one resolution for the new year, be open to the power and possiblitiies of planning for change.