Our institutions, relations, our way of thinking, even some of our treasured values are all going through radical changes, making it very difficult to plan ahead and prepare for the future. Indeed, in times of exponential changes and high uncertainty, many people have no notion of what sort of world they should prepare for. Some might even decide, fatalistically, that they cannot know or do anything about their own futures.
But why fatalism, standing and observing the future when we can have the choice of shaping it, even in the most turbulent times? People who can think ahead can easier anticipate change and be prepared to take advantage of new opportunities. The skill of foresight is about planning for the unplannable — knowing and working with the fact that we live in a changing world — a world that is behaving like an organic, living system, rather than a machine.
In order to be able to look forward and do foresight, consider these recommendations:
- Look back!
If we don’t understand our past, we may become ignorant to many of the probabilities and possibilities presented. Make time to really explore the facts and data of what has happened, then look at how things happened and the different experiences of that, as a source of rich learning and hindsight that can dramatically inform your future plans. How did you behave in past crisis? What did you learn from that? It also helps a lot to reflect on how fast our behaviour and adoption pace has changed. Can you imagine that the iPad was launched only 10 years ago? And now is mainstream! In 2010 consumers couldn’t seem to figure out what it was for. Why would anyone want a touchscreen-only computer with no ports? I saw articles in which the name was mockingly compared to feminine hygiene products. Now there are millions of tablets sold, not only from Apple, but from many other providers. 10 years back for early adopters, now mainstream! Not to mention that there are times, like the current pandemic, which become catalyzers for even faster changes.
So hindsight is really important. At the same time, if we spend too much time in the past, we can easily lose sight. Here is where Insight, comes in! Insight is the bridge between the past and the future, between hindsight and foresight.
2. Scan for insights!
So the second recommendation I have for you to take time and build a habit of scanning and paying close attention to novelties, to innovations, to weak signals of change. Is there a new concept of shop opening in your city? Are you reading about a new technology or maybe a patent? Or someone is telling you that they are involved in a first of a kind project. Or you saw on Linkedin a posting for a job title that you have never heard of before? Or you feel that you are hearing more and more people talking about a certain product or service? Or maybe you heard about a startup that aims at disrupting a certain field? Dive deeper, talk to those people, try to understand why are these changes happening now, who is initiating and adopting such changes. Even if or actually especially, if they are referring to a subject that you do not necessarily believe in its future viability, challenge yourself and your current beliefs! This kind of insight practice, scanning and analysis of weak signals of change can help you better understand what might come next. Remember William Gibson saying:
“The future is already here, is just not evenly distributed.”
After understanding what has happened in the past, what is happening in the present, we should stretch our thinking and have a long-term view of our future wants and needs, and preferably an idea of how to get there.
3. Vision for the future!
That is Foresight! In the simplest terms, it can be considered an act of looking to and thinking about the future. The future is not predetermined, there are many ways in which it can unfold. Forget about predictions! Explore the potential futures! The future is unfinished, unwritten.
Modern neuroscience has taught us that we think about the future because our brains are literally built, by natural selection, to do so. Parts of our mind choose whether and how much to think about the future, and other parts are driven to do so, whether we consciously want to be future-thinkers or not. When we save money for a vacation or an emergency, we are using basic foresight skills. The same when we study for an exam before being tested or when we check the weather on our phones for a future event.
Foresight is future-directed behavior. Moving from the assumption that the future will just be a continuity of the present toward a better understanding of changes and multiplicity of the future will allow us to better prepare for it.
So remember! Hindsight, Insight, Foresight! When we practice all these three, we can learn to be calmer in the face of our present challenges. We can channel our energies into productive action, rather than complain, because we clearly see many more ways in which we can and will make better futures!