Strategic Foresight – Understanding the Negative Future – Nu Leadership Series

“It is not how long you live that counts but what you do in your life that is important. You got to learn how to deal with the storms of life.”

Rev. Richard Brown, Jr.

Do we really want to pry into the future? Some people do not want to consider it. Clearly, the future is a highway with varying lanes, but do humans have the capacity to accept unhappy endings? In general, it is my position that humans are incapable of accepting unhappy endings. In fact, futurist Edward Cornish argues that it is easier for people to sustain a long-term perspective when they have a clear vision. Futurists utilize many techniques to anticipate the future. For example, strategic foresight can provide an avenue where organizations can strategically analyze short, mid-range, and long-term planning. Thus, it ‘s a glance into the future. This concept is easily seen on the Big Screen. Hollywood blockbusters are the chronology of happy endings. People want to believe that all stories have positive endings. This concept is derived from childlike innocence as Americans. Unfortunately, the future may include unpleasant outcomes.

However, life doesn’t always provide a nice story. For example, globalization can provide many job opportunities, but the outcome isn’t always positive. In fact, the future prediction for the full-time worker is bleak. It is evident that technology and outsourcing are now making the part-time worker a reality of today, not tomorrow. In fact, Charles Handy theorized that unemployed or spare workers will create their own new work in the future. Therefore, individuals will control their own destiny and become entrepreneurs. However, this runs counter to our American culture. Grandma taught us “go work for a good company and get a good job with benefits.”

In fact, Bruce Sterling, author of Tomorrow Now, further argues that simple, predictable, and solvable jobs will go to the poorly educated and unprepared or to intelligent machines. However, high-paying jobs will go to the highly prepared, teachable, and creative individuals. In the future, good jobs will be the apex of human difficulty. Technology and understanding of complex systems will require a well-grounded person. However, futurist James Canton argues that American youth, our future workers, will be unprepared in math/science and may be locked out of future opportunities.

Based on many observations, organizations and individuals don’t want to hear negative scenarios for future generations. This reality reaffirms that people don’t want to think negatively about their future. Therefore, they often operate in denial or ignore the future. Clearly, organizational leaders need to develop a strategy to deal with negative consequences. Many people don’t have the patience to look beyond short-term gains. Therefore, effective leaders need to know how to deal with the possibilities of negative futures.

References:

Canton, J. (2006). The Extreme Future. New York: Dutton.

Cornish, E. (2002). Futuring: The Exploration of the Future. Bethesda, MD: World Future Society.

Handy, C. (1997). The Age of Paradox. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Sterling, B. (2002). Tomorrow Now. New York: Random House Publishers.

© 2008 by Daryl D. Green