Interactive Guide to Generating a Foresight-Inspired Strategy

The next block of meetings is set to begin at 1 PM, but you have been so much in the flow that you hardly noticed the time. You can remember when you were regulated by the ticking past of seconds and hours. It is the kind of thought that pops up briefly when there is still the necessary intrusion of synchronized time. Thankfully, you do not have to dwell on those thoughts for long, because your X-TIMELESS gently reminds you to NOURISH. Based on your biometrics, the alert makes recommendations for enhanced gut flora, nutrient densities, and total protein intake. Your favorite midday snack would suffice and regulate the spike in cortisol that the upcoming meetings will no-doubt inspire.

First inspired by Tim Ferris, your X-TIMELESS operates on your needs instead of on what now seem like pointless cultural norms. In 2050, time is layered and rich with possibilities. And the X-TIMELESS, once embedded, is your advisor. It is how you make the most of what you could be. Right before the meeting starts, you are prompted once more. This time, it says, “After the meeting time, don’t forget to DANCE.” See? It even has a sense of humor.

Perhaps a device that allows us to no longer be tied to chronological time may seem a distant reality. What would be the utility of such a product and what relevance might it have for you?

As is the case with many profound and transformative experiences, the answer to that question is in the question itself. This concept and the host of others outlined in the 2050 Human+ catalogue are intended to inspire novelty and breathe new life into your strategic development process. For leaders tasked with developing new plans for how to improve communities, increase profitability, or forge sustainable solutions, the catalogue comes with a Futures Starter Kit to infuse strategy with innovation and make your plans anti-fragile.

Those are bold promises, we realize. But we hope you receive them as an invitation to rethink your approach to planning.

Download our 2050 Human+ Product Catalogue with Futures Starter Kit, and you will not be able to look at strategy in the same way again. It will begin to instill in your organization and among your stakeholders, a ritualized, continuous practice of strategic planning.

INFINIFIT: Another Human+ 2050 Product. Developed by our community of executives, builders, artists, thinkers. Artifacts from the future provoke immersion into possible futures and bring greater resolution to your vision.

2050 Possibilities Made By You and For You

The promise of this outcome is embedded in, of all things, a product catalogue from the future. The intention of these in their curation is a foray into possibility. But rather than diving in with a blank canvas, these speculative artifacts provide you with a scaffolding, a trail map into the kinds of futures we have uncovered.

It is fair to ask, if these are not predictions, then where did these artifacts come from?

Their arrival here in our present day was generated by the community of people like you. Over the course of three virtual workshops, we gathered executives, thinkers, community leaders, futurists, designers to engage in a series of experiences. The series provided an experiential developmental opportunity for the futures-curious to dive into possibility, develop artifacts, and generate novel insights. The wisdom of that development is both what is contained within the starter kit and what it can inspire in your business, community, or organization.

The community that built these speculative artifacts did not receive any special training. There were no subject matter experts nor were there Ray-Kurzweil-esque transhumanists. These were people like you. People who received very simple, but powerful inspiration.

And this is important. Because it gets at why your strategies can be enabled by futures thinking: It is a fundamentally human thing to do.

What Makes Strategy So Hard These Days

In our world of annual reviews, quarterly KPIs, and daily to-do’s, the room for futures thinking is reduced to nearly nothing. This reduction seems pragmatic and realistic in business. It is the wisdom of our time to focus on the next thing. Why worry about what may be when we must be concerned with what is?

Any leader who has been in the trenches of strategic planning knows well the four horsemen of assumptions, threats, politics, and uncertainty. You have likely even been humbled by them. All one would need to do is pull up your plan from 2019. See all of those confident, pre-COVID designs? The assertions about the future of work? Our default setting in planning is to believe that the future is a linear continuation of the present moment. That what is happening right now will continue. However, the pandemic was only one of numerous cultural, technological, geopolitical, and environmental disruptions that have increased the general feeling of uncertainty in the business world. If you are feeling this way, you are not alone.

Visionary firms are increasingly becoming more curious about the practice of possibility exploration. Over the past three years, Google searches for “strategic foresight” and “foresight” have increased by 404%. More firms and more people what are seeking to create influence are looking to incorporate foresight and futures thinking into their strategy creation.

This catalogue, therefore, is not a catalogue at all. It is evidence that speculation about futures is possible and necessary if we hope to have strategies that are antifragile. This catalogue is your invitation. It is asking you to join in with the true visionaries pursuing their preferred futures in the face of unknowns.

Why You Shouldn’t Download This Thing

One of the most well-thought-out arguments against incorporating futures insights into your strategy is an economic one. There is a notion that if you parse out time to dwell in possibility, you run the risk of a few outcomes:

  1. You might burn out the political capital of your stakeholders. More bluntly, you could wear people thin.
  2. You might be needlessly preparing yourself for eventualities that are not likely. You risk dealing with the most urgent challenges to your future.

These are valid and true arguments. And those truths are baked into what we are presenting to you, because the following is also true:

  1. You must inspire the will of your stakeholders too when a strategy is implemented. How often have you done the work to build a sophisticated plan only to have it fall down when there is a need for zeal or excitement about the next developmental phase? Images of the future will work when nothing else can when you need your stakeholders.
  2. You must face uncertainties head on. If you really want to make an impact with your mission, designing for potential realities will make you less surprised when the next “unexpected” or “unprecedented” thing occurs.
Bimodal graphic on strategic efficacy and number of possilibities.
The question for you is: How much time are you spending in possibility? If you are like most leaders, you will answer with a “not enough.”

What appears to exist in board rooms is an assumption that there is something binary. It may seem like you can only choose to approach strategy from a practical perspective or from a foresight perspective. This is simply not the case. That deep reality that visionary firms are embracing is that the incorporation of possibility into planning is bimodal in nature.

“No possibilities” means you are operating only out of assumptions. “Only possibilities” means you never make a deliberate decision. The proposed approach is one that embraces consistent curiosity over time.

Even an incremental increase in possibility exploration will net improved strategic efficacies. This catalogue is a set of pre-baked goodness for your next strategy conversation, team huddle, or leadership retreat. And if you act now, we will throw in a set of lab-grown steak knives.

How to Simulate Your Company’s Journey Across Space and Time

The most storied romance in business is the one between leaders and their visions. You know it if you have ever read an Inc. article or logged onto LinkedIn. Memetic quotes about vision, passion, pursuit of dreams from Henry Ford to Dolly Parton are posted and reposted. And through their regurgitation, we manufacture a simulacrum of wisdom. And that wisdom sounds something like this: Leaders must be exceptional, lone visionaries.

Indeed, Business Insider top ten listicles would have you believe that you must be wrapped in a love affair with your vision. Well, it worked for Steve Jobs, did it not? We carry an image of him meandering through a Walden-esque scene and waiting for Mother Nature to reveal her deepest secrets to him. And what did She whisper? iPhones. After the commune on the mountaintop, he would descend and deliver his vision. And the humans who receive it would gratefully follow the ideas.

Why Do We Hold On To This Leadership Myth?

It feels good to believe this. If only our lives could be so simple.

Today, leaders face challenges with unprecedented complexity. It helps not that when mired in this complexity, we lack sufficient models for making sense of that complexity. Few are those who, so assailed, can win out in single-handed combat. And so, even with an inspired vision in hand, leaders will meet dreaded horsemen of Apathy or Confusion. The human beings at every level of the organization struggle to understand how the vision relates to their present-day realities.

If you have experienced this as a leader, you know its demoralizing impact. Take heart, the issue was not the worthiness of your idea or innovation. The issue was that generating the ultimate vision in isolation set you up for failure.

Leadership as Vision Provocateur

Here is what I beseech you: Shift your role of leader from being the lawgiver and vision-generator to that of inspiration-giver and curiosity-generator. You are not Elon Musk. Nor need you be. The world is asking for you, as someone wise in the ways of vision, to create an environment that has a competency for collaborative visionary thinking.

You are not Elon Musk. Nor need you be.

The challenge for leadership is to fold the collective consciousness of your company into your vision. Your organization has a diverse set of images of the future.  And perhaps you have tried, in vain, to elucidate those images through a SWOT analysis or other tactics. But it is not easy. Because these images exist in a realm that precedes language — a place of emotions, colors and, well, images.

To uncover the images of the future and create a following behind your ideas, you can leverage the discipline of strategic foresight. A simple activation that comes from that discipline is the Futures Wheel.

A journey with your stakeholders through space and time.

Invented by futurist Jerome Glenn, the wheel uncovers the long-term implications of a decision or a change. It is most useful in inspiring your team to look toward a horizon and play with possibility. Rather than selling your already baked vision to your stakeholders, you can activate possible futures to enfranchise your organization in facing a challenge.

Take a Trip Around the Wheel

  • Recruit your team. This could be your managers or leadership or whomever you think would be most insightful in helping you to craft your vision. It could include people from outside your organization. The point is that they should know they are venturing through time and space with you.               
  • Solicit the team for trends or changes. Make a list of potential threats or disruptions to your company. Maybe you recently performed a SWOT Analysis. If the change or insight comes from your team, all the better.
  • Create language for the center of the wheel. Craft the wording of the trend you found in future language. The trend or change can be internal (we create a new product) or external (a competitor emerges with a superior product). Example: U.S. housing starts decline by 10 percent.
  • Determine your time horizon. Tell your team that the change or decision that you have placed in the center is present day. And now we have been transported ten years in the future.
  • Ask for the first order of implications that could occur. Ask the simple question: “And then what?” Stakeholders identify their first order implications or visions.
  • Repeat for the next order of implications. Have the stakeholders draw the connection from the first order to the second order implications. Repeat the same process for third order implications.
  • BONUS: Rank your insights: 1. Most important. 2. Most likely. You can ask for a scale or just a simple dot-vote procedure.

By simulating a journey through space and time, the Futures Wheel creates visibility into the potential pitfalls, gains, surprises, and adjacencies that are otherwise invisible. It is the equivalent of taking your team with you on your vision quest.

That is where your leadership is needed. Not in predicting the next big thing. But in leading the team in facing uncertainty. Next, you can craft a collective vision that accounts for previously unforeseen possibilities. And, your organization will grow in its capacity to look forward together.

Uncertainty as an Invitation to Create New Meaning

For his first 35 years, Samuel Finley Breese Morse aspired to be a painter, a great one.  

In pursuit of his need for greatness, he studied all the finest institutions: Andover, Yale, the Royal Academy in London. He was fascinated with the masters. How they could bring a human body to life; how the smallest change in hue could alter a viewer’s experience. He fell in love with the way that he could conjure the unimaginable. He could remove the barriers of space and time.  

In the fall of 1825, he was living in Connecticut with his wife, Lucretia, due any day with their third child. One day, a letter arrived from New York with an offer for a sizable commission. The Marquis de LaFayette was traveling to Washington for the 50th anniversary of the start of the revolution. And LaFayette was willing to sit for Morse.  

This seemed like Providence. Morse had only some minor success to this point, so he was looking for a sign, anything that would encourage him in his drive for greatness. And here the heavens had provided. Morse packed his paints, kissed his wife, and left for Washington right away. 

A week later, Morse was in a Washington studio preparing for Lafayette’s arrival. A courier knocked on the door. Breathing heavy from days of riding, he handed Morse a note, “Your dear wife is convalescent.” 

Morse left that night and rode for six straight days and cold nights. When he arrived home, he learned that his wife, Lucretia, his muse, was dead. She was dead before the courier had knocked on his door in Washington. And, at some point, when he was on that torturous road home, they had already buried her. 

You even code, bro? Samuel F. B. Morse Self-Portrait, 1812, Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery

This was the darkest night of his life. The canvas of the cold New England night sky stretched out above. I wonder what he saw that night when he gazed at the stars. How did they cluster? Did he regret his decision to boldly pursue his dream? Did he find comfort when gazing up through ineffable pain? 

Whatever he saw that night, it radically changed our current realities. 

For the next 45 years, he completely changed the script on his destiny. Putting aside his paints and brushes, he wrote in a new language, one of dots and dashes, dits and dahs. He invented the telegraph.  

Morse was not an engineer or a linguist. He was not an authority on electricity. If you knew his past, you would not have predicted his final form. But, after decades with the masters, he was practiced at the art of folding space and time. He could take out the illusion of physical separation and transmit the substance of real lives. Just like he had been trained to do. 

There is no need for an epilogue on the telegraph or Morse code. Everything from the telephone to America Online to Facebook to ChatGPT could be traced to that October night in 1825. We remained connected to others through the course of a global pandemic because of the grief of a 19th century would-be portrait artist. The only need for this epilogue is to recognize the cascading strength of Morse’s inspiration. 

A Collective Staring into the Abyss

A common interpretation of the trajectory of Morse’s is that of the exceptional inventor. He was Silicon Valley tech bro before Silicon Valley tech bro was cool and then subsequently uncool. This narrative is ubiquitous. Here, the visionary was driven to pursue a dream and leverage new tech to get there.  

That reveals, however, only a shallow, TED-talk-like read on an otherwise complex and deeply human story. That is the story of a human’s search for meaning.  

In some ways, we have all been in the position of Morse, especially over the past years. We have had disruptions greater than any of us had predicted. The word, “unprecedented” has been Googled an unprecedented number of times since 2020. There is a kind of grief that comes from the dreams we defer or the loss of potential realities.  

Back in 1970, Alvin Toffler described our current collective cultural phenomenon as Future Shock, a state of distress or disorientation due to rapid social and technological change. And his remedy for the state of shock is a fact-facing accounting of what must be held onto and what we leave behind: 

“To survive, to avert what we have termed future shock, the individual must become infinitely more adaptable and capable than ever before. He must search out totally new ways to anchor himself, for all the old roots—religion, nation, community, family, or profession— are now shaking under the hurricane impact of the accelerative thrust.”

So perhaps the moral or the intention of Samuel Morse’s story is that of the antidote for future shock. It is a lesson in how to think about our future from the past. When the best-laid, linear plans are found wanting and no longer serve us, we must take agency in shaping new futures. A necessary component, however, is the willingness to stare into the abyss — to listen deeply to the natural world and what is presented with an exploratory disposition. 

2023: The Year You Create Your Own Constellation

The passage of another year presents the opportunity for such a reflection. The clichéd versions of this ritual involve making resolutions. However, in twinkling light of Morse’s inspiration, perhaps some time spent in purposeful reflection is of supreme value. And what better metaphor for this activity than looking to the stars?  

Staring into the night sky is a practice in dissolving space and time. It offers the chance to do the thing that only humans can do: make meaning. The images you carry of your career, your dreams, your network, your futures, and your past are much like clusters of stars. And, perhaps, like the collections in the sky, they have been preassigned a meaning.  

We at Bigwidesky have a benediction of sorts for you: We hope that you take this moment to craft your own constellations. Take those images that are perhaps light years apart — work things, childhood things, community things — and find new connections. By taking agency to shape the spaces between our images and ideas, new meaning can emerge.   

Why do this? 

  • It’s something only humans can do. Even though the robot overlords will soon be coming for our jobs, only humans are able to engage in analogical thinking, based on finding relations between things. Morse did it by seeing the thread between painting and removing the barriers of space and time.   
  • It’s the source of cascading innovation and new possibilities. We were created to make meaning. So take agency in shaping the kinds of futures you want. Find the leverage points where you can have the greatest influence.  

A caveat: This is not an invocation of a quote misattributed to Abraham Lincoln or Shaklee or whomever: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” That kind of posture lacks a fundamental humility. Anyone who has stared into the night sky must have seen that there is a vastness to this universe. There is more to this reality than what we think, more than our narcissistic egos, more than just what we want. The practice we hope for you in the new year is one of meaning-making, not predicting.    

We hope the next year holds a meaning beyond what you can easily measure. That you find the balance of using wisdom from the past and seeking new connections and understanding. In the context of ever-changing times, we must find any opportunity to be more human.    

(Background on Samuel Morse from The Memory Palace Podcast)

If there is a “Big Three” of anything, it never feels good to always be number three.

That was Chrysler’s role in the mid-90’s. It had been their position for decades. Even after the unlikely revival in the 80’s with Lee Iacocca, the auto company was the perennial also-ran behind General Motors and Ford. And they were tired of it. So tired.

This exhaustion festered into a kind of restlessness. And that restlessness catalyzed into bold action — a merger in 1998 with Daimler-Benz. At the time, it was the world’s largest ever cross-border deal. Both parties characterized the arrangement as a “merger of equals.” The idea was that the two organizations would be able to leverage a singular global brand (like Toyota), and the sales would follow. The then Daimler-Benz CEO and architect of the deal, Jurgen Schrempp, even hyperbolized this world domination vision as a “marriage made in heaven.”

The result was far from what anyone would characterize as a healthy marriage. Spoiler alert: The 36-billion-dollar merger was dissolved in 2007 for 2.7 billion dollars.

Why Did the “Merger” Fail?

With such lofty visions and so many smart, capable strategists at the helm, how could they have gone wrong? A lot of analysis has been performed post-mortem with everything from deal manipulation to 9/11 cited as a cause.

What most analysis falls short of revealing are the seeds of underlying failure that were present in the deal from the start.

The two organizations were victims of the big three most common blind spots in mergers and acquisitions. They are the same ones we have seen lead organizations of all sizes headlong into failure. These blind spots are pervasive because they are, indeed, hidden from immediate view for even the most seasoned, intelligent, thoughtful executives.

Blind Spot One: Lack of an understood identity

When analyzing a merger, it is necessary look at how each independent company creates value in the marketplace.

We’re not talking about just the sum of your logo and messaging here. We’re talking about the real, fundamental identity of who you are and what problems you solve at a deep, human level. That’s your brand. In merger and acquisition deals, it’s not just business systems that merge to create a new entity. The respective brands also bring positive and negative attributes to the marriage.

Each company’s brand identity represents what problems they solve at a deep, human level. To what degree would the combined companies represent a fundamentally new identity?

The Daimler-Chrysler deal was lacking in an understanding of how the two companies would be understood at a brand identity level. The same organization that brought you the functional Dodge sedan would also be providing the luxury Mercedes Benz coupe. While it is, of course, possible to have an identity that can contain a wide range of product brands, the deal did not make obvious what the new identity would be.

These questions appear to have been unanswered: What is the posture of this new brand we are creating? How do we create experiences that are in alignment with that brand for ourselves and our audiences? What is the level of equity that our entities have with our audiences?

RED FLAG: Any conversation about brand turns into how to shoehorn two logos or names together.

This blind spot may be one of the most challenging and, at the same time, one of the most rewarding to take on. A deep, meaningful brand investigation can create clarity for the culture of the organizations, and for the brand architecture or system that will be used for multiple product or service brands.

Take heart, though. There is a place you can begin, no matter where you are in your merger or acquisition process. Start with these four simple questions.

A deep look at the underlying form or identity of the joint organizations will reveal answers when nothing else can. It can also help to save you time and energy if you find that, at a fundamental brand level, there is a lack of alignment between the two brands.

A deep look at the underlying form or identity of the joint organizations will reveal answers when nothing else can.

Blind Spot Two: Unexamined long-term vision

No one gets into the merger and acquisitions game to lose money. There is an obvious need for business to increase its market advantage and make a profit. Those are table stakes. However, in our experiences with business leaders, that can be where the work of establishing a purpose or vision for the deal ends. Long-term implications, clarity of vision, the deeper purpose the merger serves in the marketplace — those things remain obscure.

That obscurity of vision led, in part, to the demise of the Daimler-Chrysler deal. Both parties saw the need to gain access to overseas markets. However, what does that mean for production? How would the merger serve to solve for those unmet market needs? Answering those questions in an honest and courageous manner were not part of the deal.

RED FLAG: Both parties are overly optimistic and highly single-minded on making the deal happen.

When every executive is overly optimistic and singular in focus, it creates blinders that block out new information. Like Daimler-Chrysler, you can suddenly be blindsided by issues that, in retrospect, were obvious challenges. Through leveraging strategic foresight, you can remain optimistic while revealing the potential challenges of the vision.

An example of this kind of approach is encapsulated in tools like a Futures Wheel. By allowing a diversity of inputs from the stakeholders with the greatest influence, you can foresee potential challenges and bake them into your strategy.

Blind Spot Three: Lack of cultural alignment

The prevailing business wisdom would have you believe you ought to craft vision, create strategies, then “get buy-in.” Often this buy-in is really code for: How can we make this seem like it is in everyone’s best interest this deal goes through? This would work perfectly if humans were cogs. You could plug them into the new organization, and they would behave or else.

Anyone who has spent time in leadership knows the fallacy of this thinking. However, when it comes to mergers and acquisitions, the impact of culture becomes more pronounced. Usually due in part to a lack of an aligned, long-term vision, leaders forget that culture is what drives the governance and systems. Not the other way around.

RED FLAG: Any conversation about the people in your respective organizations centers on how to get them on board or sell them on the idea.

In the case of Daimler-Chrysler, the lack of forethought into the cultural implications of the deal created a trust gap almost immediately. Chrysler’s lack of formality and focus on socializing ideas met Daimler-Benz’s process-oriented, highly deferential culture. As a backstop, the merger team scrambled to create a cultural alignment strategy that was, of course, not fully implemented. It was simply seen as inefficient. The proverbial ship had sailed.

As we have seen with the organizations we have walked through mergers and acquisitions, once the deal-focused narratives about culture are in place (what the implications of the deal will be for employees), they are exceedingly difficult to undo.

The antidote to this situation is to address the cultural implications at the front of the deal. Take the time to examine what values, behaviors, and norms exist within the present-day culture. Having a values basis for understanding the culture will allow for the alignment of any new initiatives. You can start with this model for values exploration.

The work of aligning to values is an ongoing commitment. However, by making culture a priority in the form of well-articulated values, you can create a more resilient organization that is poised for growth opportunities — especially in the form of acquisitions.

Optimism, critical to leadership success, can also lead to unintended narrow vision when there is a merger or acquisition opportunity.

Your eyes are now open, so no more blind-spot failures

Executing on a growth strategy through acquisition is one of the most involved processes in business. Much like any worthwhile change, it can be draining and rewarding. By being on the lookout for these blind spots, you can make sure you are making the most of every investment decision. As a futurist friend of mine, Jake Dunagan says, “It is better to be surprised in a simulation than blindsided by the future.” It’s far better to face challenges in establishing your identity, vision, and culture than it is to contend with an unforeseen crisis like Daimler-Chrysler.

If you read this far and you are curious how you could start to make these blind spots more visible, please send us a request for a free 60-minute consultation on your growth strategy. Together, we can talk about what hard questions you have yet to ask yourself and your executive leadership team, and how we can help you work through the answers.

This morning an extraterrestial landed near your office. It walked past the security desk and drifted to you. In your lunch, you had packed an orange. The being is transfixed by it. To your astonishment, this extraterrestial can speak English, and it asks you, “What is that thing?”

Now, here, you have a few choices. You can tell the extraterrestial it is an orange. That would tell it “what” the orange is. And that description is the most precise to describe what is understood by observing the outside of the orange.

But, since we are not from Earth, we know there is so much more to the orange than what is visible from its exterior. It has a richness. It has an ancient generational history with our species. It is part of a family of citrus fruits. And the inside of the orange are bright flavors, textures and colors. A freshly picked orange can offer a bouquet of tastes before you even peel it or eat it.

So if we want to be honest with the being from outerspace (and not just precise), we would say something like, “This fruit delivers a bright sustenance to my afternoons, and it’s rich in vitamins and natural energy. We call it an orange. Do you want to try it?”

While that could use some wordsmithing, maybe that would help the being to understand better the thing — in its context. From its inside and from its outside.

Branding ought to offer the deepest, most visceral connection to the thing it is describing.

So often, when we are asked to describe ourselves, our ideas or our organizations, we fall into the trap of being precise. We answer “what” very directly. What are you? I am an architect. What is your company? We design homes (insert features and benefits statements or marketing buzzwords).

At some point in the mechanization of marketing, we stopped communicating in a human-to-human manner. We have instead co-opted MBA platforms to describe something. And those platforms have favored precision over honesty. They sound like, “We do x for y.” They are true, but they are not the whole truth.

Branding ought to offer the deepest, most visceral connection to the thing it is describing. It ought to carry the weight of making that connection felt and understood in a way that is profound. And the place where that weight is the heaviest is in the establishment of a new relationship. It is what marketers and sales folks refer to as the elevator pitch.

By now, you have likely encountered Sinek’s work (or at least his quotes on Powerpoint slides) that encourages leaders to “start with why.” Consider this four-question framework as the how-to manual for doing so.

The people who you meet for the first time are aliens to you and your brand. They are in need of a way in which they can establish trust with you. The best way in which to exhibit that trust is through a kind of honesty that redounds to why you exist, how you behave and what impact you want to have on the world. Those elements allow other humans to connect in a way that is more profound and leads to possibility.

Answering these four simple questions reveals the deepest insights about your brand and creates a basis for building trust.

  • Purpose / Why Question: At a gut level, why does our company exist?
  • Position / How Question: What makes us unique in how we express our purpose?
  • Mission / What Question: How do we hope we are perceived by our audiences?
  • Vision / When Question: In decades from now, what will be different about the marketplace because we were successful in living out our vision?

At first, you can just start with a series of bullet points or ideas within these four questions. It is likely you will have a few thoughts or notions that may not seem connected. It is better to err on the side of idea generation for some time before editing. So don’t worry about being too clever or right. Just be honest and thoughtful in your appraisal.

After you dump out the ideas, you can return to the four areas and formulate a set of phrases. These should be as free from marketing and industry jargon as possible. These four phrases then become the basis of your elevator pitch. In taking the architect example from above:

“I create spaces where people fulfill their biggest aspirations <Phrase One>. I do this by applying deep knowledge of user-centered design principles to the built environment <Phrase Two>. So that people can have transformative experiences at work <Phrase Three>. With the hope that, one day, the built environment will be seen as foundational to organizational transformation <Phrase Four>.”

The four statements together offer audiences the connections for building trust.

Here is the thing no one tells you about brand work: It is never done.

The story you reveal with this kind of approach to the role of brand in establishing trust is an evergreen job.

While that may seem a daunting prospect, it is a great thing. Here’s why: You can always do this work, and it will always matter. Economies, Presidential elections, robots taking over human jobs and calamities can and will occur. And this work will always matter.

Courageously Face Uncertainty

As leaders, the past year tested our mettle in reacting to change. With so much that still feels uncertain around us, it is hard to know how to think about what is next. Just getting through the day has been enough.

But now, things are shifting. And with the world opening back up, the expectations on you as a leader have become even higher. You feel like so many people are looking to you for what is next? How do we back to work? What is our strategy for getting back to normal? How will we deal with the ripple effects from a global pandemic?

Fortunately, futurists have been working for decades on how to make sense of change and methodologies for moving toward the futures we want. While no webinar would ever be able to solve all your challenges, this session introduces you to a new mindset that can shift how you can build vision and strategy in the midst of uncertainty.

In this session, you will learn:

  1. What strategic foresight is.
  2. How you can begin using foresight in shaping your strategies.
  3. A collaborative game for thinking like a futurist.

Session Info
Your Future Now
August 12, 2021 at 12:00pm CST
Hosted by Ashley Dodge and Jeremy Nulik
Zoom Webinar
Register Here

In Moving Past Survival, Institutionalizing Imagination is Indispensable  

For this simulation, you can still imagine that you are you. But instead of now, the year is 1916. And, instead of a mobile device, you are holding a rifle with bayonet. Instead of your home office, you are crouched low in a trench in Northern Belgium. About 100 yards to the East, your enemy is doing the same exact thing – hunched over and staring forward. Both you and your enemy dare not leave the seeming safety of the hole.

And so, you sit. And wait.

This posture should be familiar to you. During our recent crises, leadership of our structures, our policies, our companies and communities are prone to a collective survival mode. Survival mode looks like this: everything is urgent; no one can help you; decisions are reactions; everything is risky; good enough is good enough.  

Given the present-day stress on families and communities, this survival mode is understandable. The issue is that, for leaders, there is little hope for change if you are resigned to entrenchment.

A Strategy for Getting Out of Entrenchment

To shift the collective consciousness of your internal or even external stakeholders, you can embrace a common futurist practice. If you can – even for a week – do this for yourself, you can begin to see possibilities that are not so hopeless as a trench. This technique is inspired by the archetypal scenarios of futurist Andy Hines at the University of Houston. 

  1. Write a story about what the future looks like ten years from now. That trench story, the inevitable, is what you are going for here. Based on all of the assumptions and knowledge you have, write the story of your organization / community ten years from now. Then make a note of as many assumptions as you can identify. Examples: Growth of your industry, increase in viral pandemics. This story is your baseline vision. 
  1. Rewrite two assumptions. Take at least two of the assumptions you made about the future and reverse them. The simplest form of this is to convert an increase to a decrease or vice versa. So, if one of your assumptions is a trend such as “housing prices increase,” then reverse it to “housing prices decrease.” 
  1. Rewrite the story. Using your new assumptions, write an alternative future for your organization ten years from now. Make it interesting or resist the urge to jump to outcomes. Think through what could have happened to get you to this state ten years from now.  
  1. Live into that alternative story. In this alternate reality, who is most impacted? How likely does this future seem to you? How plausible does this future state seem to you?  

If you earnestly implement such a practice, you will be actively acknowledging the existence of alternative futures. That event on the horizon that seemed an inevitability is only one of multiple possibilities. It is an academic effort to understand this in abstract. It is a leadership effort to live into alternative scenarios and gather insight. In enfranchising your constituents, you can ask yourselves at least these two questions: 

  1. What must we be doing now to enable the future we would prefer? 
  2. What must we be doing now to reduce the impact of plausible futures we do not prefer? 

On this basis, you can begin an action-oriented strategic plan with other stakeholders. The foundation of your plan will be from a position of very intentional imaginative work about the kinds of worlds we could see. You can begin to institutionalize imagination as a critical competency for facing what will be a world of increased uncertainty. 

If you want to dig deeper and expose greater possiblity space, there are as many techniques for futuring as there are plausible futures.

Note: The headline is a phrase from Harvard Business Review author and futurist Peter Scoblic.

It turns out that we were made for times like these

Remember (what seemed like ten years ago), back in 2019, when Amazon had the April Fool’s Joke of the year? It started with a Japanese Twitter account, Zozi009, who posted a drone-dispatching blimp bearing the Amazon logo. The airship hovered in front of a mountain range and then ominously floated low above a suburban sky. The drones buzzing about like giant bees from a retail hive.

By the afternoon, a spoiler was posted by the same account with computer-generated renderings of a Lockheed Martin hybrid airship. It was a hoax.

But in the hours between, there was a War-of-the-Worlds-like response. Much like the drones, the internet was buzzing with doomsday implications, memetic interpretations that sometimes included the “Imperial March” from Star Wars.

The Imperial March signalled the collective dread indicated at the alternate reality.

In short, people freaked out.

Those last three words should sound familiar. They are the indicator of a term that Alvin Toffler called Future Shock. It is that rare dread that comes from feeling blindsided. This year, many feel like the tide of uncertainty has crashed repeatedly upon us. Disease, plummeting economies, civil unrest. How are we to lead organizations and communities in circumstances that leave little time for oxygen?

The Institute for the Future has studied the way that humans interpret crisis. You can leverage the three stages with your organization as a frame through which you deal with change together. Instead of trying to quickly solve or fight over the correct response, you can be overt about walking through these stage-gates with people.

(Note: These three stages were cited in a recent ABC-affiliate interview with Marina Gorbis, executive director at the Institute for the Future.)

Stage 1: Reaction.

Something disruptive is revealed. It will feel like it is crashing down on you like a mighty retail zeppelin from nowhere, but the truth is that it was always there – like infectious agents, racism, fragile economies. The future was always there and now it is being revealed.

In dealing with reaction, a useful strategy is curiosity. It is having courageous conversations about what is most scary or compelling. Refrain from battling over the correct point of view and remain curious. The more you can do this, the faster you can help people to move to the next phase.

Stage 2: Reset.

Humans start to make meaning of the change. On reflection, there are implications drawn and a narrative begins to form about “how we got here.”

In working through reset, a useful strategy is provoking or inspiring deeper curiosity. The point of the provocation is to reveal where there is agency. If yesterday’s choices got us to this place, what does that mean about today’s choices? If this is our new present-day reality, what could be some potential new realities we could shape? What else could be?

Stage 3: Reinvention.

A plan or design begins to formulate that creates a new basis for reality. It is not like the reality that existed before Stage 1. Action is taken to reshape systems that can better interpret the crisis that led to Stage 1.

In working on this phase, it is most useful to set down new principles for looking forward. What decisions must we make today to support our principles? What would be the signals that we are headed for the kinds of futures we want?

An example of reinvention:

Just this last month, a Stanford lab formulated a way in which drones could hitch a ride on public transportation to save on energy costs and better navigate crowded urban environments. Drone delivery went from the “Imperial March” to the “Are We There Yet?”

Humans were made for crisis and change. Creating capacity for change is making a business more human.

For an example of a leader who creates capacity for change, check out our Webinar with Polly Ruhland, CEO of United Soybean Board:

Polly Ruhland discusses the nuances of human dynamics and change.

If you know of an awesome human who is helping a team / organization / community face the unknown, please send them my way. We are establishing a list of potential guests for a new webinar series.