Strategic Thinking Articles

How to Be a Futurist

This is the first article in a series on "How to be a Futurist"

Don't go running for your crystal ball; what I'm talking about isn't soothsaying or fortune telling. I'm not suggesting that anyone can predict the future. I do believe, however, that it is possible to create your own desired, preferred future - to put into place a method for keeping a watchful eye on the winds of change and use those changes to your advantage.

Was that a collective moan I just heard? Tired of being told you must be "proactive?" What, exactly, does that mean anyway? It's become a platitude and is tantamount to a four-letter word. The word "proactive" isn't even in the dictionary. It's intended to be the opposite of reactive (which is in the dictionary and is defined as "acting in response to an agent or influence.") Dictionary or not, we all understand proactive to mean we should be acting before an agent or influence is introduced that would cause us to react. Personally, it leaves me feeling empty and I'm not sure it helps me to be proactive when I don't understand what actions I should be taking in order to fit the description.

I propose we look at it a different way. Rather than being proactive, why not be creative? There are three ways to influence the future: You can be reactive, ignoring signs of change and relying on crises modes of management. You can be responsive, anticipating what is probable and planning for it as best you can. Or, you can be creative, envisioning what is desired and making it happen. Out of those three, the first is least desirable and most costly over time. The second is certainly more palatable than being reactive, but smacks of treading water (we're not drowning, but we're not really going anywhere, either). The third, the creative approach, is the most desirable and preferable way to ensure your organization's future success.

But how do you create your dream future? It's similar to creating, or designing, a dream house. You must begin with a blueprint - a sketch, an idea - of what you would like your organization to be. Understanding what is happening in both the micro-and macro-environments of your organization facilitates this process.

In a series of six articles, we will discuss the steps that will help create a truly desired and preferred future in more detail, with examples of what is involved in each step. These steps include:

  • Looking for and identifying change
  • Considering the implications of change and critiquing those implications
  • Imaging differences (scenarios)
  • Envisioning ideals (visions and visioning; missions)
  • Planning achievement (more than just strategic planning, it includes identification of resources, allies, timelines, etc. It is the implementation arm)
  • Monitoring change (a feedback loop to the first component - identifying change)

This article was published in the September 7, 2001 issue of Association Trends magazine

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