7 Questions To Help You Get To Know The Future
by Jeremy Nulik
If you were to visit yourself in December 2019, you may find someone much like you staring at a 2020 Strategic Planning document. That person had a vision for the next 12 months. Remember that person? So full of hope and, unlike so many of your colleagues, you actually had a plan for how to achieve your goals. Then 2020 happened. And change tidal waves have seemed to arrive in battalions.
Traveling back 12 months, maybe you would have warned your past self of the pandemic. Maybe you would outline the scale of civil unrest. Maybe you would talk of the local and national political landscape. It follows logic: If I know the future, then I can make better plans.
But I have bad news if that is your tactic: Predictions often do not change behavior (at least according to how we understand our own cognition). Oh, and, as of yet, DARPA has not made the time machine accessible for mere mortals like us.
However, maybe you are the sort of leader who has not lost all hope. Maybe, right now, as you plan your 2021 strategy, you sense a streak of optimism. Despite our present-day volatility, you believe things will get better.
If you fall into this category of leader, then I have good news: You can get to know the future. And it need not be because of a visit from your 2021 self. It can begin with foresight-infused conversations with the people who have the greatest insight and investment in making your preferred future a reality.
One of the seminal techniques used by futurists and foresight practitioners is that of the 7 Questions. Developed by the Rand Corporation during the Cold War, its name states precisely what it is, an investigative technique designed to uncover drivers of change. The reason for this investigation is ultimately the creation of scenarios, potential futures that we could conceivably forecast.
You can use yourself as your first subject of your interview. But, ultimately, to do this well, you would want to find at least a handful of compelling thinkers who are stakeholders in your future. You would then record the interviews and look for patterns in the responses. Those patterns are your clues to the future. They are not predictions. But they can help you in planning your next phase.
If nothing else, short of the time machine scenario, this investigation is designed to help you get to know plausible futures.
Here are the 7 Questions:
1. What would you identify as the critical issue for the future?
2. If things went well, being optimistic but realistic, talk about what you would see as a desirable outcome.
3. If things went wrong, what factors would you worry about?
4. Looking at internal systems, how might these need to be changed to help bring about the desired outcome?
5. Looking back, what would you identify as the significant events which have produced the current situation?
6. Looking forward, what do you see as priority actions which should be carried out soon?
7. If all constraints were removed and you could direct what is done, what more would you wish to include?
Which answers surprised you? What patterns do you see emerging? Can you imagine a future in which at least two or three of these drivers has influenced the future?
Jeremy Nulik (firstname.lastname@example.org) is evangelist prime at bigwidesky, a human business consultancy, in St. Louis, Mo.