I wrote this back in 2007, and in the reorganisation of my website, figured it made a better blog post than a page on my site. It was this fundamental principle of futures work - that we are responsible that future generations - that was one of those light bulb moments for me while I was studying at Swinburne University of Technology. And once the light bulb has gone on, there's no turning back! All our decisions today will influence the future. One of the basic tenets of futures work - at least in my mind - is accepting responsibility for future generations. Rather than making decisions based only on our context and needs in the present, those decisions need to take into consideration their potential impact on future generations.
Allen Tough, a US futurist, has written about the need to consider future generations in our decision making, both personal and individual. For me, this is a critical futures concept. Everything we do today will have an impact on the future, even though we might not be around to see it.
We are the conscience of future generations:
You are alive at a pivotal moment in humanity's development. You are making some of the most important choices in human history. Your era is marked by positive and negative potentials of such newness and magnitude that you can hardly understand them. Through your public policies and daily lives, the people of your era have tremendous power to influence the future course of humanity's story. We strongly care about your choices, of course, since we benefit or suffer from them quite directly. We live downstream from you in time; whatever you put into the stream flows on to our era (Allen Tough, Message from Future Generations).
Now, if we are all tied up with the here and now, and are afflicted by affluenza, then the plight of future generations isn't going to be high on our agenda. Our worldviews are likely to miss it altogether as an issue worth spending time on. But if you and I don't, who will? The sustainability agenda is built on this premise - that, if we don't look after the planet now, it won't be around for future generations (although whether or not the corporate social responsibility movement is truly built on this premise or is a reflection of the need to do it as a business imperative is a topic of discussion for another day). This is a personal responsibility that everyone needs to accept as an individual, and it's an organisational responsibility. If we accept that we are the conscience of future generations, then why would we not consider the impact of our decisions today into the future?
In a strategy sense, accepting responsiblity for future generations means always systematically considering the impact of potential decisions on the future. How do you do this? By using futures approaches in the strategic thinking stage of strategy development.
It seems common sense, but most strategy development does not include methods that systematically address the future impact of decision making today. While some organisations use some futures methods, few CEOs have the foresight to embed these methods into their strategy processes, and to build an internal foresight capacity over time.
It is not difficult to start to introduce futures approaches into strategy and planning frameworks, but it is an additional task that an individual and the organisation needs to commit to doing. It is hard enough coping with what is on your desk at the moment, as well as taking on a new task. But, once you accept that you do have a role to play as the conscience of future generations, not using futures approaches isn't an option.