The preferred future vision becomes the star that you steer by, not a simple map to be followed. I wrote these words for the first time years ago when I was working on what is still one of the best and most intensive preferred future planning projects I’ve ever done. It was with a state Department of Natural Resources, and I was leading them in the development of a 15-year vision and strategic plan, working with a treasured colleague who then directed a program in Organization Systems Renewal. The cool thing about this project, actually never quite matched in my career experience, was that the Department was able to devote the time of a task force of 30 of the best and brightest people from a cross section of the Department to a 2-day retreat at a mountain lodge once each month for six consecutive months, plus additional key stakeholder meetings at the state capital. It was an awesome team experience, and that amount of time allowed for some really in-depth work on future trends research, extensive discussion of organizational values, full exploration of preferred future images for development into an organization 15-year vision, and then for all the strategic planning moves of developing the mission, goals, strategies, initial actions and a change management plan.
The greatest challenge of this project was the group-think tendency to revert to the mean or to become more cautious as final decisions loom. At first, the preferred future images and the resulting vision seemed quite bold, but as consensus was sought, the vision was ratcheted back somewhat. We discovered this for sure, two years later. The original team re-convened for two days to do a qualitative and quantitative assessment of how far they had progressed toward the 15-year vision. The assessment? After two-years they were more than half-way there! So, either their implementation was really extraordinary, or their vision had been too conservative. It was mostly the latter, despite how good the futuring had been. Team projects need to work hard to overcome the group tendency to not want to be seen as crazy, and thus to revert to a more cautious conclusion.
A key discovery or that project was summarized in the image that forms this week’s “future thought”. Plans become obsolete pretty quickly. The vision, though, can endure. Working at its best the preferred vision will become the star that you steer by, not a simple map to be followed.
Where do you want to go?