I love a good strategy: I love clarity, I love ambition, I love thinking about what we want to be. But the way we used to do strategy has died a death. We can’t do A-B anymore. Not if we’re honest about what ends up on shelves, nor our capacity to predict anything much these days.
But what’s the alternative? Constant uncertainty is unsettling. We all need points of reference, with which to ‘read the compass’. We know this from research on trauma and development, and thinking ahead.
So what do those points of reference look like? For people leading change? How do they help us ‘read the compass’ with others? If we’re leading the type of change that requires collective action. What helps?
In the last few months I’ve run a series of ‘Everyday Futures’ workshops, to bring people leading change together. To practice using some of the tools and frameworks that have credibility amongst Futures and Foresight academics.
Here are 4 insights from these workshops, that I think help in navigating the uncertain, difficult, collective change work that often feels like we’re treading and looking amidst the fog:
- Embodying the principle that diversity is natural, and not a fault to smooth out
We can know it in theory, that we need diversity for innovation. But the conversation we had around the ‘Futures Triangle’ method got us talking about embodying this and why. We tend to want to smooth it out, control it. Reinforced by tending to devalue positions that are different from ours. Instead, for sustained action, we need to understand and value the range of different behavioural forces in play. Where we can bring the people that embody those forces into the room, we can begin to understand what’s occurring, the terrain we’re in. Without that mix, we are stymied by forces we haven’t allowed ourselves to consider.
- Understanding what’s beneath those conversations expressing disagreement
In working with difference, we have to be open to working with conflict. Our session on ‘Casual Layered Analysis’ gave us a framework for understanding points of contention in our everyday. All too often we see innovations fail because the values that inform our systems are in tension. We don’t really understand why.
One of our insights from this session was articulating our ‘why’. What is it about our values that’s sustaining the current system? What is it about our ‘givens’ that’s sustaining our values? Unless we work through these middle layers of understanding, it’s really hard to identify why we disagree, and where there are opportunities for collaboration. But revealing what’s underneath can’t be entered into lightly.
- Decoupling ourselves from the ‘failure’ in transition phases
Our ‘Three Horizons’ conversation got us talking about change work that continues the current system, and that which builds the new system. That we’re constantly treading the line with work that has to happen, even if we know it means continuing to put reinforce systems that need to change. Whilst we’re leading change, we’re constantly walking that line. What’s brave, what’s pragmatic, what’s possible, what’s plausible. The ‘Three Horizons’ model frames this work in terms of transition phases, where most of our change work will fail. One of our insights was using that perspective: keeping our sense of our selves, as separate from the failures of the changes we’re working on.
- Elevating stories of present problems as a gift for future change
The collective process of telling, of listening and noticing what’s occurring as patterns in the system instead of individualised problems, has been really enlightening. It’s possible with a group of considerate peers who are able to do the thinking out loud. Who can work with different perspectives and see the value in the people holding each.
In the ‘Three Horizons’ session we dug deep into what’s occurring that shows the current system is in decline, and who are the people or innovations that are inspiring us for the future. Making sense of these stories together, we began to see them as not individualised problems to be solved per se but gifts capable of informing better futures.
I set out at the start of this series of workshops to expose my ‘Futures’ practice more explicitly. For all that I practice the art of dialogue, it still surprised me how much insight emerged from the group endeavour. We all need to learn with people. Let’s make this more possible, everyday.
Next Series of ‘Everyday Futures’ runs from May to July on Wednesdays 1245 to 1345.
Session 1: Noticing changes around us, working with VERGE – a general futures framework developed by Richard Lum and Michele Bowman. – 24 May
Session 2: Visioning, working with Futures Wheels to imagine future data from patterns occurring now, developed by Wendy Schultz. – 21 June
Session 3: Scenario Building, to build out our understanding of alternative futures, from the scanning and visioning in sessions 1 and 2. – 19 July
The Autumn series will run on Tuesdays at 1245 to 1345: 19 September, 17 October, 21 November.