I made the case for a 20-year horizon for future scanning and vision when I wrote Turning the Future Into Revenue. The 20-year view is important because it is enough time for things to actually change, yet it is possible to see yourself living within that time frame so it is relevant personally. Few organizations take such a long-term view. Yet it is this view that most empowers near-term action, in that the future creates the present.
Such a 20-year (or more) future view is related to the first two of four key perspectives for transformational leaders that I have written about. To be a transformational leader you need to be…
1. Future Oriented
2. Vision Driven
Look Further Ahead
Recently, John Hagel, Co-Chair at the Center for the Edge at Deloitte, presented the case for a long-range perspective in a presentation for Singularity Univeristy. In the video below, John argues that in order to position your enterprise for an exponential future, leaders should adopt three orientations:
1. Look further ahead
2. Look around you
3. Look inward
I encourage you to take time for the full 40-minute video program, but in the first 20 minutes or so John explains the idea of looking further ahead. It reinforces what I have taught for along time. The typical enterprise future view of 3-5 years is a trap. While looking out 3-5 years is not worthless, that view can lock you into incremental change as really not that much is going to be different in 3-5 normal years. To envision and embrace exponential change John argues for a 20-year time horizon, just as I have. This view allows you to anticipate and to envision real transformation.
Your Brain as a Time Traveler
Interestingly, while looking further ahead can seem out of the norm, a case can be made that looking to the future has always defined humanity, as this New York Times piece on the human brain as a time traveler does. It turns out that the brain, when at “rest” is actually engaged in time travel. We have this innate capacity to look ahead, to imagine, to dream, to envision. The surprising thing, perhaps, is how little we do this deliberately.
Becoming Alvin Toffler
Farhad Manjoo argued for longer-range futuring in the New York Times when he memorialized Alvin Toffler upon his death in 2016. Manjoo noted that Toffler had written about future shock 45 years earlier, yet here we live now constantly shocked by the future. Manjoo argued,
In many large ways, it’s almost as if we have collectively stopped planning for the future. Instead, we all just sort of bounce along in the present, caught in the headlights of a tomorrow pushed by a few large corporations and shaped by the inescapable logic of hyper-efficiency — a future heading straight for us. It’s not just future shock; we now have future blindness.
Right now Futurist.com reaches about 28,000 unique visitors each month from all around the world, or over 300,000 people each year. The mission is quite simple really – inspire these people to embrace their human capacity to look ahead, to envision preferred futures, to become more fully free. Freedom means being able to participate in the creation of your own future, and to participate you have to look and dream ahead.
Here is my approach to futuring