A redesign of my business model, a domestic challenge, two immersive experiences with fellow futures and foresight folks and a PhD with a strong focus on critical reflective practice has got me reflecting, something I don't do enough of.
Business model redesign and what really matters
I was a Founding Partner of the Centre for Australian Foresight (CFAF) which set me thinking about what it was I actually did in Thinking Futures. Hence my business model redesign. It's still a work in progress and will, I think, see Thinking Futures focus very clearly on the practice of foresight - resources, webinars, and this blog. It made me think quite deeply about what is it about foresight that has value for individuals and organisations, and then to explore how to demonstrate that value in my practice. The Business Model Canvas has been useful for me here, as well as taking a design thinking approach to this redesign, which will involve some prototyping of ideas with people to see if they work.
Domestic Challenge and the reality of work life balance
Domestic life always has a knack for getting in the way of business, which is to be expected given they are so closely intertwined for me. I am reading a book called The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simply Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Garry Keller and Jay Papasa. I don't think the key message around focus on the one thing that matters is all that new but they have presented it well, and there are some ideas which invoked some clarity for me. One of these is around work-life balance. I've always had a problem with this term but could never articulate why. One obvious thing is that it separates work from life and for me that's a bit daft - life includes my work and the balance bit comes from making sure I spend enough time on me as an individual - physically, emotionally, mentally and socially.
The desire for balance is part of our belief that we need compartmentalise ourselves from the 24/7 world of work we find ourselves in, which is exacerbated by the rise of technology and our apparent love of it. Until our organisational leaders and society generally understand that the future of organisations and work is not bricks and mortar and not 9-5, however, we will seek out this elusive balance. I work from home and am disciplined enough to get my work done when it needs to get done (mostly), and have the freedom to balance domestic and work issues in a way that makes it easier for me and my family. That factor alone is why I don't think I'll ever go back into an organisation to work as an employee.
Keller and Papasa point out that if you look at balance as being in the middle, with work on one side and life, "then out of balance is when you are away from it. Get too far from the middle and you are living in the extremes. The problem with living in the middle is that it prevents you from making extraordinary time commitments to anything else". But the best bit of this for me was their comment that "the magic never happens in the middle; magic happens at the extremes...but we don't know how to manage our lives while we're out there."
In a foresight context, when I do scanning work, I encourage people to go to the edges to find the new and the innovative, rather than stay in the mainstream where there is nothing new in terms of trends and we all have access to the same information. Same with work-life balance which Keller and Papasa term counterbalancing: moving across the middle to spend time where it needs to be spent at any given point in time. Sometimes you need to be in the middle like I needed to be to deal with my recent domestic challenge and sometimes you need to move to the extremes - most of the time I try to move out towards the extremes now.
This statement, coming from a structure loving person, indicates a tangible mind shift for me. The extremes are more challenging mentally, but that is good. Like I couldn't go back to an organisation full-time, I don't think I can think productively in the middle anymore either.
Immersion in Foresight and what I learned
I've attended the Association of Professional Futurists Gathering in Orlando in May and have just returned from the World Future Society Conference in Chicago. Apart from the impact of jet lag, I enjoyed the opportunities to reconnect with my friends and colleagues, meet new people and participate in some valuable sessions. The Gathering is much more an immersive experience than the WFS Conference, so you can't really compare the two; both were valuable for me and provided fodder for my reflections.
I am an introvert and spending too much time in loud, noisy places really does do my head in, but I managed to hang out at the Simulacrum After Party at the APF Gathering. Lesson: it's important to push yourself beyond your comfort zone whenever you can.
I am getting better at challenging bombastic people who think they are really smart but who just suffer from closed minds. I used to think they were closed minded and said nothing, now I tell them. Not the most tactful thing to do perhaps but on the occasion this happened at WFS, I had help from a couple of other people who agreed with me. Lesson: time's too short to not challenge closed minds.
A corollary to this lesson is responding to people to say they are comfortable where they are, thank you, and don't want to change. This comment usually happens in the middle of an organisational change process. I was in a room with university academics and professional staff recently where this comment was made and I blurted out something like "well, my view is that being comfortable in the face of the degree of change your faculty is facing is a really dangerous place to be" - received with a strange look and more criticism of the change being discussed, so I don't think I conveyed my message well enough to penetrate the closed mind!
This was one of the few times I spoke before thinking and upon reflecting, I realised this is one of the core issues for people doing futures work - helping people recognise and deal with change in context. Not only are there closed minds about what change matters and what is important in a given context, there are also people who deny that change is part of their lives now. They also deny that they have to find a way to respond to it or their discomfort will only continue to increase. Lesson: find a way that works for you to understand change in your context and how you want to respond to it.
I listened to some really good presentations at the WFS Conference, but listened to others that were incredibly superficial futures work. I won't name names but if you are going to call yourself a futurist, then think beyond the superficial and pop cultures realm if you really want to help people explore their possible futures - go deep. One presentation in particular saw me get up and leave when the last tip for participants was 'you can't predict the future' - I felt like I was in my first strategic foresight class again. While there was a mix of professional foresighters and interested members of the public in the audience, surely one of the first lessons of speaking is to scope your audience so you can pitch your content appropriately? Lesson: start integrating integral futures more overtly into my work to reveal this depth - I've been using it in stealth mode for some time, but it's time for it to become visible.
I won't say much about this except that my PhD has given me the opportunity to do deep thinking dives which I really enjoy and which I realised I have not made time for - despite, sadly, this being a core message when I do workshops and webinars. This hallelujah moment led me to the business model redesign described in the first point, to think deeply about what it is I want to do with my foresight work, to identify the one thing that will let me make that elusive difference. Lesson: whatever you call it, make time for critical reflective practice, particularly the kind that makes one challenge self and underpinning beliefs - uncomfortable but worth it.