I’ve been teaching more foresight recently, and noticing how easy it is to get out of practice in using our imagination. Being able to describe a different future from now is critical in our practice of change. But in our efforts to be productive and use robust data in our work, I think we’ve got a little rusty.
The good news is there are plenty of resources that can help. You can do it in a really structured processey kind of way. You don’t have to be one of life’s artists, although making friends with them won’t hurt.
What you do have to work out though, is what happens when you start doing it? Noticeably. When the bump into cultural norms happens.
So how do you signal you are doing it? What do you tell people about the ‘why’?
The pitch from me is that we need to be intentional about our future if we’re going to have agency in it. And the hard work of making it happen can’t be left to outside experts. It has to be held by the people, in our organisation, who need and want to make it happen.
Done well, descriptions of the future are imaginative about possible transformations, and help us work out what is important, what matters most, what pulls our efforts together for this future. They can iterate and evolve as events occur. But there have to be meaningful draws to that future that continue to matter to us.
So this change work does require some of us to be imaginative. Not all of us, we all have roles to play. But that imagination function needs to be part of the everyday.
So how does it start to be more normal? We need to practice it; we need to know why we’re doing it; and we need to tell people that we are.
Here’s 3 ways to start:
- Be intentional about it and put a boundary around it, play the role of ‘imaginative transformer’, signal that you are doing this in your words and actions, and stay in that role just a bit longer than is comfortable. Ask a friend to keep you in that role, win a prize for not defaulting to what is safe.
- Switch off the attention grabbers and go do something with your body that’s not a slave to the desk. Use the time to imagine your system of work/challenge/issue in 5 years time. What matters most to you? Tell people that you are taking the time to think. Prioritise the thinking time at your most productive time of the day, before you’ve done the 30 demanding tasks. See how you feel at the end of the week.
- Talk to someone who has a different job role to you, and see how they describe your system of work/challenge/issue. Put the boundary around describing it (not solving it). See how it looks from a different vantage point. Notice what else is occurring.
Foresight work has tools and structures that build on this skill in imagination. Making use of our analytical capacity and our ability to work with the behavioural aspects of change. I will write on these soon. But for now, as the year starts to unfold, let’s be intentional with our capacity to imagine.