Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Future is about change

The reason we are interested in the future is because we know that things will be different. We want to know what will change.

In our lives, there are several things that bring about change. The dominant force of change is simply getting older. Every day. As we get older, we change. Think about the differences from childhood to adolescence. Profound change. Lots of physical growth; upward, filling out. Hormonal and emotional change. And changes related to becoming independent.
The changes brought about by maturing and aging may seem most obvious during adolescence, but there are other times of life, such as menopause and very late in life, that the physical changes are also important. There is a pattern of life stages and normal change that has been understood since the time of Hippocrates, and understanding these stages and patterns can provide considerable insight into changes that you can anticipate in your future.
But there are other forces in our lives that are also changing throughout life. One of the most obvious forces of change is simply the things we do. As children it’s our games, our learning. Then we start school and begin formal learning. The games change to sports and organized activities. And the learning becomes more detailed and complex, then suddenly formal learning is over and careers start.

There are also social and cultural patterns in our lives. These can vary from one country to another, between religions and between political systems. Migration from one social system to another can result in enormous changes in any person’s life. There are also differences between families. One family may have a culture of love, communication, gentleness, understanding, while another family may have a culture of confrontation, argument, distrust or other characteristics. These differences become apparent when two people with different family cultures marry, because some change is inevitable.

Many changes in our lives involve our own decisions. These are changes that we make ourselves rather than those changes that are pushed on us by outside forces. Some of these decisions change the direction of our lives. Choosing a career, deciding to marry, deciding to have children or deciding to divorce are all decisions that change the direction of our lives. These are sometimes referred to as “turning point” events.

What makes a change event important in your life? Two characteristics that you should consider are impact and probability. How likely is an event to happen? If an event happens in your life, what will be the impact upon your life?

Futurists use probability and impact as key criteria when planning for future events. Events that are both highly probable and carry a high impact are the events that should be planned for. Strategic planning in large organizations is generally based on high impact, high probability events. These concepts carry over well into our personal lives, so we should plan first for those events that have high probability of occurring and will carry a high impact when they do occur.

Like what?

Let’s start with retirement. That’s an event that Boomers are starting to think about. There’s lots of advice in the media about how to save for retirement, so most people are aware of financial planning for retirement. But when you actually stop working, what will you do? Travel? Play golf? Watch TV?

You’ll probably be retired for at least twenty years, so you what activities will keep you interested over two or more decades? What will be your role in your family and your community? Where you will live? Downsize and stay in the same area? Move to the tropics?

And what about your health? What will you do to maintain or improve your health?

Those are just a few thoughts for one high probability, high impact event in life. But I think that’s enough to get you thinking about events that are likely to occur in your life in the near future.

Monday, December 3, 2007

What is a “Vision” and why is it important?

Futurists frequently talk about or refer to “Visions of the future.” But sometimes we (futurists) assume that everyone understands what we mean ...but they don’t. The question I hear most frequently from audiences is “How do I create a vision?” And they want a step by step answer. So here’s how.

First, what is a vision of the future? This is important, because a vision of your personal future is the first step in actually planning for your future. A vision of the future is the image in your mind of what the future can or should be like at a given time in the future, say 10 years.
Why is that important? Because that is where you want to go. Your destination. If you don’t have a destination in mind, how will you get there? If you don’t know what you want in life, you’ll have to settle for what you get.

The big question is “How do I create or even decide on a vision of my future?” I suggest you build your vision in small parts. Six parts actually. And you can break down into smaller parts if you want, but start with these six domains or areas of change in your life:

1. Activities. All the things you do. School, career, religion, sports, hobbies, travel, etc.
2. Finances. Everything related money in your life. Income, assets, investments, liabilities, debt, risks, insurance, etc.
3. Health. Everything related to your physical and mental health and care. Your present health status, personal hygiene, medications, diet, exercise, medical and dental care, etc.
4. Housing. Everything related to your home and where you live. House, apartment, hut, community, region, climate, etc.
5. Social. Everything to do with people. Your family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, community, advisors, organizations, etc.
6. Transportation. All your modes of transportation, starting with walking. Personal and public transport, local and long distance.

Now look at one of these domains in your life and ask yourself two questions:

1-What is my status in this domain now? Or… What is the quality of my life in this domain?

2-Where do I want my life in this domain to be in ten years?

Consider each of these six domains and make decisions about what you want your life to be like in ten years. Do your choices in each domain work together with choices in other domains or is there conflict? Once you resolve any conflicts, you will have a good of what you want in your future. All that remains is to bring your six decisions about the future together to build one complete image, or vision, of the future you want ten years in the future.
Not terribly complex, is it? You’ll find a little more detail on my web site,

But there is one more important point about visions. This is your vision, so you can change it at any time. You are not locked in. It’s like taking a trip. You can pick a destination, but you can change your mind, even after you’ve started on your journey. In both cases, whatever seemed important at one time can change, so you can change your destination, or your vision. As well as your future.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Long term thinking

I strongly believe in futures methods, the methods futurists use. More, I believe these methods can help individuals acquire the ability to think long term. I also believe that long term thinkers take responsibility—in their lives and in their careers. They also make good leaders.
Last Spring, Jeff Gold (Lecturer at Leeds Metropolitan University School of Business and Law) and I presented a paper on Personal Futures at the AHRD (Academy of Human Resources Development) convention in Indianapolis. Our approach dealt with using Personal Futures concepts in helping employees develop career paths. We were surprised. Very.
After our presentation, we were each approached at different times by individuals who liked our concepts, but thought we should direct our approach toward executive education and development. Teaching long term thinking and long-term perspectives to people who would become leaders in different areas of their organizations. This caught both of us by surprise.
But it makes sense. The ability to think many years ahead is an important leadership skill. Much like chess. Leaders and chess players need to know where they are going and what moves they must make to get them there.
Of course the same applies in our personal lives. And our children’s lives. Looking ahead. Planning the moves that we must make to take us to our vision of the future.
And there is a word that futurists use a lot…Vision. Organizations spend a lot of time thinking about their vision of the future. Executives attend multi-day seminars or workshops on how to develop-create-design a vision of their organization’s future. As individuals, we can also benefit from a little time thinking about our future. Developing a vision.
And it’s not hard. The next addition to this blog (approximately next week) will be about creating a vision of your future. A vision of where you want your life to be ten years from now. In detail..

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Trends: The “Gotcha” Trend

It used to be con-men (and women) who used confidence games to trick unwary or unsophisticated individuals out of their money. They would gain the individual’s confidence, then take their money. Many of these tricks focused on the individual’s greed and the apparent opportunity to make money, like the “pigeon drop’ or the Nigerian letter. Then there was an increase in ways to take money from people who simply trusted too much, often the very old or very young.
The age of computers accelerated the trend, and gave lots more people the opportunity to work cons or scams on larger audiences. It seemed as though as more people became scammers, the concept of cheating people, particularly the less sophisticated, became more acceptable. Now big corporations appear to take it for granted that it is their right to take advantage of the public. I began to suspect there was a required course in the MBA programs that taught graduates how to take advantage of people.
The age of “the customer is always right” has pretty much passed. We now seem to be in the age that tests the customer’s tolerance for outrageous acts. Increase the fees. Increase the penalties. Increase the pressure. Demand payments further in advance for subscriptions and memberships. Stall payments. Stall cancellations. Work on other people’s time and money.
None of this is new. But it is a trend that seems to be accelerating, pushing the ethical and moral boundaries. And it is becoming part of our lives. And your children’s lives. And your parent’s lives.
ISPs are a good example. I remember trying to cancel a subscription to AOL. I thought I would have to cancel my credit card! MSN was a little easier, but I still had to talk to a live persona after a long wait. About the only time you can talk to a live person anymore! The major banks have pushed the boundaries with credit cards, pushing them at populations who appear less sophisticated. Easy marks. Teens and early twenties, before they get wise to the ways of the world. People with low credit scores (just like sub-prime mortgages) who want credit and will pay exorbitant fees.
Why do I bring this up in a blog about personal futures? Because this is a trend that will envelope you in the future. And it will continue until it gets so bad that state and federal legislatures will have to take action. When the value of votes exceeds the value of lobbyist funding.
This is the point. If you are aware of a trend, you can develop strategies and take actions to take advantage of the trend or, in this case, prevent the trend from taking advantage of you.
The example that brought this to mind and into this blog was an email I received this week from Norton/Symantec. I’ve used their anti-virus software for a few years and last year, I renewed on line. My mistake. Like many firms, they ask if you want automatic renewal. I usually click or unclick to indicate “No.” I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt here and assume I mistakenly accepted their offer. Last week I received an email late in the day (9:32 PM November 14) advising that it was time to renew and I would be automatically renewed if I did not cancel. By the previous day (Nov 13)! This was, of course, sent by non-reply email.
You may have to read that paragraph again, but it’s true. All done automatically by their software. If accused of manipulating against their customers, Norton would, of course, tell us that there was a simple software error that is being corrected. In the meantime, how many customers give up in frustration and accept another year of service that they didn’t want? And I believe that is the key. The financial guys have found that by cheating a little with their customers, they can make more than enough money to pay for any consequences. They can comfortably write off customers who fight their way through the system. So this trend will continue.
But…trends are like pendulums. They can only go so far in one direction, then they reverse direction. The very success of an accelerating trend leads to its eventual reversal. In this case, that could be customer outrage, but more likely an economic decline or recession. In either case, when customers stop buying a service or product, businesses tend to change their ways and do whatever is necessary to woo their customers back. They may reduce prices or fees, or even start treating the customers like…well, customers!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

When do you start? When do you stop?

From time to time, people tell me “I’m too old to worry about the future.” The other side is when I’m asked “When are my children (or grandchildren) old enough to think about their future?”

My short answer: people should be thinking about their future at any age that they can do something about their future.

When teen agers start making decisions about their lives; what classes to take in high school, how much education they will pursue, what careers or jobs look interesting or whom whey may marry. They are starting to think and act on their future. At that age, many decisions or thoughts are simply reactions (have to fill in the blanks on a form) or responses to peer actions or pressures (“My friends are going to college” or “My friends belong to gangs).

In my opinion this is the time when young people should be given the opportunity and the tools to explore their possible futures, and to understand the long term consequences of their actions. Frankly, I believe that many young people simply drift into their futures with very little of their own thought. Many decisions before age twenty are made on emotion or peer pressure more than serious thought.
I also believe that teenagers who understand the future effects of their decisions or actions would be less likely to drop out of school or become involved in crime.

I won’t go any further down this path of “I believe…” because I recognize I have my own biases. But my own experiences tell me that people who have thought about the future and made a plan for the future have a better chance of achieving a future they want.

But let’s move on to the other end of the age scale. When are you too old to think about or plan for the future? I have talked to a lot of groups of older people (over 60). I’ve also done considerable research in this age group, and I’m surprised how many people say they are already too old to think about or plan for their future (A frequent response is “ I don’t even buy green bananas any more!”)

To a futurist, those responses are a little distressing. On the other hand, when I probe deeper I find there is more planning and thinking about the future than some of these people recognize as future thinking. Yes, they have long term care insurance. Yes, they have signed a “Do Not Resuscitate order. No! They don’t want to go to a nursing home. No, they don’t want their lives to end in an emergency room. Yes, they’re seeing to the education of their grand or great grandchildren. And, “We’ve booked a trip to India for next year. Making plans for a cruise after that.”

So age is not a factor in thinking about or planning for the future. If a person reaches a point where mental of physical problems take away the ability to take actions related to the future, then future thinking becomes limited. But that also seems to indicate the end of personal independence. Maybe that is the real key to personal futures.

In any case, when I speak to groups of older people, I’ll continue to encourage them to keep planning at least ten years ahead in their lives. With young people, I’ll encourage them to start thinking ten years ahead.

For more about Personal futures, visit my web site,

Friday, October 26, 2007

Can you really create your own future?

Can you really create your own future?

I guess we should deal with this question first, since it's the premise of this blog. The short answer is yes. Emphatically. Yes

It worked for me. A little late in life, but I learned that I could make a plan for my life, then make it happen. I was in my last semester in graduate school in Studies of the Future at the University of Houston, and the class assignment was to create a personal strategic plan for the next ten years of my life.

At that point, I had been through two years of classes learning about futures methods and how they applied to business, government and other organizations. I'd talked to people in organizations about their successes. I was convinced, and confident that futures methods worked. But now I had to apply those methods to my own life. THAT was a little more complicated. Where should I start?

Futurists working with organizations usually focus on the driving forces that are steering the organization into the future. But all the forces we'd studied were MACRO. All the methods I had learned were based on big forces. Changes in the global economy. Changes in world and national populations. Changes in markets, supplies, economies.

Now I was looking at MICRO futures. Me. My family. My career. Things I wanted to do. What are the forces? What are the issues? Where do I start?

With help from George Morrisey's book Creating Your Future (1992), I got through the assignment. I made a personal strategic plan. And the truth is, I'm still living that plan. That plan changed my life. In lots of ways.

So, yes. You can create your future.

But I also learned that applying futures methods to your life can be a complex process. So I went back to school and spent a few years doing research to find a way to simplify that personal futuring process.

I came up with a three step approach, which I have tested with futurists and people interested in the future. I've written about this approach, made presentations at conventions of futurists and conducted workshops. Some people have contacted me months after a workshop to tell me that the workshop changed their lives.

But I'm not here to sell workshops. Or books. Or anything else. This blog is simply to help you learn how to think about and plan for the future.

Now, back to the three steps:
  1. Understand your life. Where you've been and where you are now.
  2. Explore your futures (plural). I suggest creating scenarios based on #1, your life.
  3. Create a personal strategic plan- decide what you WANT your future to be in ten years, then make strategies to take you to that future.

It works. You really can create your own future.

Future blogs in this space will take you through the process, step-by step. If you want to jump ahead a bit, there's an article in The Futurist, May-June issue of 2006 that explains this approach. You can also check my web site,