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 since 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. Without futures ready people, an organisation will never be futures ready. 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 immediate and total sense.
Those four dimensions are: (i) seeking out diversity of perspectives on the future, (ii) designing inclusive and forward facing processes, (iii) promoting cultures that both support thinking about the future in holistic and inclusive ways, and (iv) understanding change that matters in the external environment to create pathways to the future.
Integral made it clear to me that change processes and strategy 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 into conversations about the future. 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 has failed us, I finally understood that it was the collective mindset underpinning what we accepted to be true and useful about strategic planning and how it's done. Changing the strategy process alone isn't enough to ensure our organisations are 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 seriously uncomfortable to let go of the things at the core of how we think and what we believe, 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 really 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. It is 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. To think differently.
I have been working on strategic thinking and the future in organisations since 1999. I see strategic thinking as a form of futures thinking. An individual's strategic thinking capacity is at the core of preparing for the future - thinking about the future deeply 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 pattern what we see and don't see in the world, what we perceive to be real, and hide our unquestioned assumptions and cognitive biases. At the core of thinking about the future is first challenging what we believe to be 'real' and 'true'.
Futures thinking emerges when we recognise our foresight capacity. It's thinking open to the future, engaging with complexity, thinking in terms of multiple futures not 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 work over a period of time. There was no 'aha' moment, but rather a gradual understanding that my preferred way of working was with individuals and small groups, helping them explore their possible futures. This is where I can have the most impact (rather than as the keynote speaker, the workshop facilitator, the expert consultant, the person who knows the answers).
The thing that I kept coming back to when I was thinking about this was how hard it was to stop people having conversations about change and the future in workshops. Conversations are how people engage with the future. Where I can make a difference is to help people recognise and use their foresight agency in conversations, 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.