Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Basics: What futurists believe

Obviously, I can’t speak for all futurists, but the futurists I know share some common beliefs about the future. Understanding these beliefs may be helpful as you think about your own future. One scholar/futurist, Dr. Wendell Bell, has summarized these core beliefs in a list of twelve assumptions that futurists make when they consider the future. Bell’s two-volume, Foundations of Future Studies (1997) is a classic among futurists.

I’m not going to go into all twelve of Bell’s assumptions, but I will discuss three beliefs that I think are at the core of futurist belief and most important to individuals.

The first is that the future is not predetermined.
Bell and other futurists add the qualifier “totally” as in “not totally predetermined.” OK. But the important point here is that if the future is not totally pre-determined, there is more than one possible future. There are alternative futures. There may be good futures, bad futures, unimagined futures… but there is more than one future. This concept of alternative futures leads us to scenarios. The scenario methods (there are at least a dozen variations) are all based on the concept of alternate futures.

Which brings up the next belief, some futures are better than others.
Some futures may be really good and others may be really bad. Do we have choices? If you could choose your future, you would probably choose the future that is best for you. Futurists call this the “preferred” future. By itself, this belief seems small, obvious, not really too important. But, when combined with the third belief, preferred futures take on considerable importance.

The third core belief is that actions we take in the present can influence the future. Notice that statement says “can” not “will.” No promises! This is why strategic plans contain an action plan. Exploring the future does not change anything. Exploring the future, with scenarios for example, only tells you what may be or could be. Developing strategies and making plans does not change the future. Not until actions are taken can change begin.

Contingency plans do not change the future. They provide strategies for dealing with the future when it arrives. And this is one of the key faults or weaknesses of strategic planning. The future does not begin to take direction or change until action is taken.

That simple.

To achieve a preferred future, or your vision of the future, you must take action. You can make great plans and develop excellent strategies, but until you act on either your plans or your strategies, they are simply wishes for the future.

In my first personal strategic plan, about ten years ago, I determined that I wanted to write. Be published. I had known all my life that I liked to write and wanted to write, but I hadn’t. I put writing in my plan and started taking action. I’m writing now. I’ve been published, even paid for writing. That will continue to be a part of my future. But it wasn’t until I made the decision to act, and write.

Futures methods work.
You can make decisions about your future, now.
You can act on those decisions.
That is how you make your future.

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