Some of you who know me personally will know that over the past year, I’ve been dealing with a string of health issues, thankfully all relatively minor and all easily treatable. I’m very grateful for that outcome.

What dealing with health stuff does when you get to my age is make you stop and re-think where your energy is going. I love what I’ve been doing, but for some time, that little voice in my head has been telling me that I had lost focus just a bit. That the ‘I have to pay mortgage’ syndrome had taken over, and that had resulted in less than optimal outcomes for both me and how I work and unfortunately, for at least one client (to whom I have apologised).

The good thing is that if you give yourself the time and space to think about where you want your energy to go, where it is that you can make a difference, you come out at the other end of that process in a much better space. So what does that mean for Thinking Futures? Inevitably, it means strengthening the good, and letting go of what for me, are energy sinks. Here’s where my thinking is at the moment. Let me know what you think.

What I’ll keep doing…

Sharing what I know
One of the things I will do is to maintain my strong commitment to sharing my knowledge base openly. You tell me that this openness is really useful for you, and I won’t change that.

I’ve worked with to many people who treat knowledge as power to know how pointless that is. And in the era of social media and open knowledge, I’d be just a tad silly to not share what I know and what I find. It’s always been a primary business driver for me, and it will remain at the core of what I do.

Honing my expertise
The problem with the ‘I have to pay my mortgage’ syndrome is that you delude yourself into believing you are smart enough to do everything for everyone. You aren’t. I’m not. My expertise in is higher education. That’s where I worked for almost 30 years. I’m passionately interested in working with people to design new ways of thinking and working that will see higher education institutions – and universities in particular – have a strong and sustainable future.

I have just re-started my PhD on the future of university management, because I want to design collaborative approaches to working in, and managing universities. At the core of that is the need to close the gap between how academics and administrators/managers/professional staff view their roles, and how they work together.

So, it makes sense for me to focus my energy in this space – where I really do want to make a difference. While the tools I use suit all organisations, I want to build my expertise and reputation in universities. That doesn’t meant I won’t work with other organisations if it’s a good fit – and usually, that means I’d love to work with non-profits and government departments who are also interested in designing new ways of thinking and working.

Using the right tools
Environmental scanning is at the nub of good thinking about the future, and I will continue to focus a fair bit of energy here. The ability to find and use strong and credible information about changes in the external environment needs to be a core capability for all staff in all organisations. That capability is underpinned by a number of tools including trend analysis, delphi and cross impact analysis.

Scenario thinking (or scenario planning)  is my other core tool.  I also use an integral approach to my project planning and my work wherever I can. My aim is to keep developing and improving how I use these tools in my work, and adding new ones if it’s appropriate.

And, I’ll continue to develop and share resources in how to use these tools in your organisation.

What I’ll start doing…

A design approach – well, re-design
I’ve been fascinated by the connections between design thinking and strategic foresight since I first encountered about it in 2009 at an Association of Professional Futurists (APF) Gathering, and this was reinforced at the APF Professional Development Day in July this year. Since then I’ve been trying to work out  how to use in it my work. In one of those blinding moments of clarity, I realised that what I have been trying to do all along is help people to ‘re-design’ their thinking processes and their strategy processes. This focus on re-designing will appear more often in my work.

Keeping it simple
I learned how to write in universities – my first job was a committee secretary. So I have a writing style on my site that ranges between academic and business in style. I’m going to try and re-wire my brain to write in a way that feels more comfortable for me, which still delivering clarity of message. That will be a work in progress, I’m sure!

Part of that process of moving to a simpler form of writing  is of course, plain English and no business jargon. I have relabelled some pages on my website recently to Seeking, Thinking and Doing as my core services – instead of Environmental Scanning, Strategic Thinking and Strategic Planning. There’s nothing wrong with those existing terms of course – well except maybe the last one, but that’s another post – but they all come with a range of pre-conceived notions of what they are, and of their value that gets in the way of thinking about the future of the organisation.

Building a Community
Being part of online communities is not new any more, and I’ll probably join the club by moving to a membership group based on the Thinking Futures website and connected out to other networks.  This won’t conflict with my goal to share my knowledge. Instead, it will allow me to customise that knowledge a little more for people who are ready to take the next step in redesigning their strategy.

These new elements will take a bit of time to integrate into the website, so check back occasionally and see how I’m going.

scanningScanning differently
I have been scanning all over the place, because I can, and because it’s quite an interesting and fun thing to do. I don’t really want to stop doing that, but I do need to do less of it. And given what I’ve written earlier, I need to strengthen my scanning around higher education.  So, here’s my plan.

Instead of me doing all the scanning, I’ll tap into my networks (mainly Twitter and Google+) to help me out. I’ve set up a weekly Thinking Futures Update on which you can subscribe to – this will be home to scanning across a range of areas.

Given I’m trying to focus more on higher education and universities, these are the areas where I’ll build my scanning activity:

  • the future of the university,
  • how people in universities identify and prepare for their preferred futures,
  • the future of university work,
  • the future of university management (hmmm…that sounds like a good PhD topic), and
  • the future of learning, in particular how new technologies and their use are shaping pedagogy.

Taken out to the global level, I’ll also be looking at the future of organisations, work and management more generally and technology which is a personal favourite (plus anything else that I find that I just can’t ignore).  I’m looking at some curation sites to use to publish my scanning on universities, and I’ve also set up a University Futures Update on to capture the good things on universities and learning that flow in Twitter.

What I’ll stop doing…

My Newsletter
Those of you who have signed up for my newsletter will know that it’s been through a few iterations, and that it does come out occasionally – well, more like erratically. Feedback about the newsletter has been good (thank you). I usually put into it what I’ve already written somewhere else, or some useful scanning insights, so it’s not a unique publication in terms of content. And, I do feel guilty that I’m not sending it out more often, so I had two choices – one was to make the schedule more regular; the other was to stop doing it. And I’ve chosen to stop, at least until the end of 2012, to give me time to work out where it will fit – if at all – in the new version of Thinking Futures that is emerging.

Personally, I’ve been unsubscribing from newsletters and using RSS feeds – that way, my email is less cluttered (a good thing). I can then review all my sources at one time, rather than the ad hoc way you do when you read email. That was probably at the back of my mind when I decided to stop doing my newsletter. I may be once again assuming that everyone agrees with me without ‘testing the waters’ (something my staff used to tell me I was very guilty of), but I’ll see how it works out over time.

I will still maintain a mailing list and use it to send out information about the occasional notice webinars, new strategic futures guides, and similar information. These communications will be more like regular emails though than the current ‘styled’ version of the newsletter – and they will be brief. The Thinking Futures website will be the hub for all my writing, so check back here to see the latest posts, or subscribe to stay to touch.

That’s it – at least, that’s the stage where my thinking has reached at the moment. Onwards!