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How to Plan in the Midst of Uncertainty

A Foresight-Driven Approach to 2020 Planning

by Jeremy Nulik

By the year 2050, over 40% of Americans believe that Jesus will reappear in human form. This finding comes from a recent Pew Research Center study. Surely 50 million Americans can’t be wrong. However, they are just the latest in our history of predicting this event.

Here are some of the previous attempts at certainty:
- Hippolytus of Rome said it would be 500 AD. This was based on his interpretation of the dimensions of Noah’s Ark. Perhaps not the right data set.
- John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, predicted 1836 based on a passage in Revelation 12.
- Edgar C Whisenant, a NASA engineer and Bible student predicted 1988. He even wrote a book. “88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988.” When his predicted date of the apocalypse passed, he wrote several more books about being on “borrowed time,” none of which sold many copies.

The point is this: We are terrible at predicting the future. We are often wrong. Because, much like the cases above, we tend to predict the futures that would benefit us or coincide with our values, biases and assumptions.

We do it anyway, though, because what we desire is some form of certainty. Our default setting compels us to create images of a future we would prefer. And those images are repeatedly not true.

But there is good news: There exist useful frameworks for getting to know the future and for taking back agency on the shaping of the images you and your organization holds of the future.

It begins by dropping the need to predict a particular future and instead understanding that the future is alive in your present-day decision-making. The future is not a place on the horizon at which we arrive. The future is alive inside of you and your organization at the level of (generally unconscious) images.

To make those images more visible and to create alignment on taking agency and shaping futures is the work of foresight. And, it turns out, that organizations that inspire and cultivate foresight as a mindset and practice are more capable of facing uncertainty.

Here is a set of suggestions for the beginning of your 2020 Planning:
1. Articulate the biggest challenge. In particular, it helps to identify a controversial challenge. One that has the deepest emotional angst.

2. Simulate a future that contains a potential solution to the challenge instead of arguing about how to handle the challenge. Create a scenario in which the challenge has a solution. Maybe the solution is one that is not favored by everyone. Example: We decided to double an investment in a marketing strategy in an effort to solve our recruiting challenge. This gets every stakeholder looking the same direction.

3. Create implications of that future. Allow for your stakeholders to create multiple futures that could happen.

4. Look for patterns or themes that emerge in the implications.
You will begin to have a quality of conversation that revolves around images of the future and emergent themes.

5. Use the themes to create a structure for your strategic planning sessions. This means that the themes that could be most disruptive to your futures could inform the contours of your planning. And your plan can be more capable of meeting uncertainty.

The message you send when you leverage the power of foresight is that this plan is a shared experience. It is something that can be co-created. Also, if you want a Quickstart Guide to a foresight game like this one, visit engage.bigwidesky.com/foresight-guide.

Jeremy Nulik (jeremy@bigwidesky.com) is evangelist prime at bigwidesky, a design futures agency, in St. Louis, Mo.


Submitted 1 years 127 days ago
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