Why “Vitamins for your futures” plural?

6 01 2010

Long term thinking is a very humbling experience. You have to accept to be wrong to hopefully be right. In a sense, there is something “organic” in such an approach. Nature has always favored redundancies and failures to celebrate the triumph of the fittest. The evolution process thrives on countless variations of genetic codes that could have been the most optimal answer in a different environment.

Likewise, forward thinking is all about studying all those futures that could exist provided forthcoming events follow a certain path. Of globalization and technological innovations like the Internet emerged a growing human network that has exponentially accelerated the pace of changes. Describing the world in the next ten years becomes increasingly challenging. Just look back to all the things that happened in the last ten years, could you imagine commenting to this post on your Iphone while traveling through your daily commute?

We all assume that history follows a linear process. Looking back to their own life, human beings perceive History as one gradual evolution. Yet, History is more defined by disruptions e.g. wars, pandemics, technological breakthroughs than slow evolutions e.g. demographic variations. Potentially disruptive events are legion and the combination of such events can generate countless alternative futures.

Rest assured, the painstaking analysis of all potential futures is not necessary. Different events share the same effect i.e. a pandemic and a war will similarly impact commodity flows. Thus, rehearsing one potential future will increase your preparedness beyond the specifics of the scenario you envisioned.

Embracing a true open mind is the only thing you really need in this forward looking quest. It is however harder that it sounds.

Whether they admit it or not, people inherit their mental models from their community, their parents… and rarely question them. Those mental models are unfortunately the prism through which they make sense of the world that surrounds them. While Head of the Scenario planning division at Royal Dutch Shell, Peter Schwartz developed a scenario about the fall of the USSR. He presented this scenario to the CIA. Unable to apprehend a world without their arch-nemesis, the CIA disregarded the scenario as implausible. Their mental models were simply too grounded by years of Cold War.

Connecting dots between emerging trends while identifying potential game-changers, as we will do in this Blog, is the stimulus you need to open your metal models. Never let your mind rest for too long on one “official” future, always challenge yourself and ask how you could be wrong.

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