Everyone uses mental models and their supporting ideas, beliefs and assumptions to inform how they think and work. I've summarised my core ideas and how they came to be important for my work here. Together, these ideas shape how I think, write and work - it's important that you know what they are if we ever work together to have collaborative conversations about the future.
I originally used the term futures ready to describe strategy infused with foresight that allows organisations to be ready for whatever opportunities and challenges the future brings to their doorstep. I've re-framed it now as applicable to strategy only to a broader organisational focus - the aim of futures ready strategy is after all, to build futures ready organisations. And my narrower focus on the strategy process is not the whole story because it's people who create possible futures and make decisions about how to make those futures real today. My updated definition is:
Futures ready is the capacity of individuals, groups and organisations to be prepared for the future. It is both a mindset in individuals and a strategic state for organisations.
Finding out about integral futures in my foresight study at Swinburne University in the mid-2000s changed how I think and work. The idea that using the future today needed us to engage with four dimensions of reality to have impact made total sense.
Those four dimensions are: (i) seeking out diversity of perspectives on the future, designing (ii) processes and (iii) promoting cultures that both support thinking about the future in more holistic and inclusive ways, and (iv) understanding change that matters in the external environment to create pathways to the future.
Integral made it clear that change processes and planning today largely ignore the power of people and culture in favour of data and process. How people think about the future and whether a culture is open to the future also determine if organisations can be futures ready. Here's how I see it.
An integral approach to the future integrates people, culture, process and environment. It values ways of knowing about the future held in each of these domains to create a holistic and inclusive way to prepare for the future.
When I was trying to work out why I believed so strongly that conventional strategic planning was past its use by date, I finally understood that it was the collective mindset that structures both what we understand strategic planning to be and how it's done. Changing the strategy process alone isn't enough to be futures ready. We need to change our mindsets too.
Mindsets are intangible yet they enable and constrain how we make sense of the world, how we make decisions, what we believe to be right or wrong and what we believe the future will be like. All mindsets are shaped by beliefs, ideas, values, assumptions and cognitive biases. It's uncomfortable to let go of the things at the core of how we think, but if we are to be futures ready, we need a futures mindset.
The future will not be more of today. What seems reasonable and true today probably won't be reasonable and true in the future. We need to first build a futures mindset to be able to work together to become futures ready.
I discovered foresight in 1999 when I asked to 'do foresight' in our university strategy development. I used foresight methods and thinking to design strategy work for some years before I understood that the important part, the biggest success factor, was individual foresight. Individuals who recognise their foresight capacity and their futures agency is the precursor to creating organisational futures agency and futures readiness. Foresight can therefore be both an individual and organisational capacity. I define it as:
Foresight is first and foremost a state of mind, both the individual and collective ability to be open to the future, to be see the world today though a new lens, to be able to better prepare for the future, however it emerges.
I have been working on strategic thinking and the future in organisations since 1999. I now see strategic thinking as a form of futures thinking. An individual's strategic thinking capacity is at the core of preparing for the future - depth in the practitioner has a direct relationship to our ability to be futures ready as organisations and individuals.
There is a vast literature about strategic thinking. For me, it comes down to recognising how our brains patterns what we see and don't see in the world, what we perceive to be real, and the consequent need to challenge our assumptions and cognitive biases. We should never dismiss anything just because we think it's rubbish or will never happen.
Futures thinking is the new strategic thinking - open to the future, engaging with complexity, exploring multiple possibilities, moving beyond constraining your thinking to, or assuming a single linear future. Here's how I see it:
Strategic thinking is the ability to think in multiples with an open and inclusive mindset. Strategic thinking is futures thinking, the ability to face the future and navigate complex change to be ready for emergent futures.
I came to the idea of conversations as the core of my way of working over a period of time. There was no 'aha' moment, but rather a gradual understanding that my preferred way of working with people on their possible futures and where I could have the most impact was with individuals and small groups (not the keynote speaker, the workshop facilitator, the expert consultant, the person who knows the answers).
The common thread was how how it was to stop people having conversations about change and the future in workshops. Conversations are how people engaged with the future. Where I could make a difference was to help people recognise and use their foresight agency, to move thinking beyond the cognitive constraints of today's strategic planning to become futures ready.
Conversations are at the heart of becoming futures ready. Asking the right questions, bringing people together to share ideas, images and beliefs about the future is what starts to create futures ready people and organisations.