Looking Back to Look Forward Beyond 2020
by Jeremy Nulik
About this time in 2010, you stood at the edge of a lot of hope. You were in complete control of your destiny. And, in reflection some ten years later, I’m certain that if you were to blow the dust off of your 2010 Strategic Plan, you would find that all of your aspirations and ideas have come to fruition just as you imagined.
Actually, strike that. What is much more likely is that this present-day reality here in 2020 is not at all like you imagined it would be.
On January 1, 2010, just ten years ago, Steve Jobs was the CEO of Apple. The best-selling phone was the Motorola Droid. Facebook was still an upstart.
There was no Uber or Spotify. No one on January 1, 2010 was considering Donald Trump as a serious Presidential candidate. Almost no one had heard of Ferguson, Missouri, and Black Lives Matter was not in our national dialogue.
For a moment, imagine that you visited the 2010 you, and you talked about some of these developments. Your 2010 self would likely find you ridiculous. It turns out that, over a ten-year period, an unlikely event or development is actually highly likely. But, for some reason, when we look forward – especially in a business setting – we forget this. We tend to believe that our future will look a lot like our present. The challenge for you here in 2020 is: How can you (and an entire team of humans) hope to shape the future you want when there is so much uncertainty?
Oddly, a place to start is in the past with the Looking Back to Look Forward approach. Created by the Institute for the Future, Looking Back to Look Forward is a tool to get leaders reunited with their inner innovator. At the core of the tool is a single question: How did we get here?
Here is how the tool works (have a whiteboard and sticky notes handy, of course):
1. Describe the Present Day. Make sure there is alignment on what characterizes the themes and contours of what is happening now. Make it visual.
2. Describe the Past Day. Pick a point in the past. For this example, you can pick January 2010. Make that visual.
3. Identify Critical Points. With yourself or with clusters of teams, take some time to think about the critical change events that occurred. They can be new government policies, acquisitions, cultural movements or even changes that you inspired.
4. Create Your Timeline. Cluster the similar notes together. And have a conversation about why people thought those points.
5. From X to Y. For each of the agreed upon critical points, describe the change in the simplest terms. An example of this could be Uber’s launch. You could describe that as “From professional transportation to peer ridesharing.” Or “From career to gig economy.” Use the language that is most poignant to your present day.
6. Talk It Out. What will begin to happen is that you and your team will start to find that you have faced big changes before. Now, you must do the work of applying that mindset to seek out opportunities for the future.
This kind of activity is useful with the folks who carry the “Change is Hard” banner. They will say this as though it is an axiom that is meant to be accepted as true. But it is not wisdom. Change is what it means to be human. When the answers are not clear and when the best next move is not easily predictable, that is the precise moment when humans shine. Those are the decisions that an algorithm cannot easily provide. So, use these first few months of 2020 to reacquaint yourself with your inner disruptor. You have faced change before, and you will do it again. But this time, you can be the agent of change instead of its victim.
Jeremy Nulik (email@example.com) is evangelist prime at bigwidesky, a design futures agency, in St. Louis, Mo.