What’s your Futures Preference, and why does it matter?

Cogs describing elements of an interconnected care system

Insights from a guest lecture at Goldsmiths’ MA Social Entrepreneurship

This week I had the delight of talking to a room full of open-minded social entrepreneurship students.   A reminder of how important Further Education is in shaping the agency that we have over the world we want to live in.  In two short hours we were wrestling with our experience and practice of how to influence wicked issues.  With a room full of socially ambitious practitioners, how might we go beyond the challenge of running a social enterprise to changing the conditions in which these problems sit?

We talked through the paradox of feeling unable to influence the system, whilst knowing that wicked issues can’t be changed from the current ways of viewing them.  We talked through the psychology of optimistically thinking there’s an answer in sight, and the temporal nature of wicked problems that makes you feel like you never get to solve them.  We looked at how difficult it is for institutions that are present oriented to engage in recognising and personalising changes to the mode of problem solving.

Towards the end we started to surface some of the advantages that social entrepreneurs can make use of.  Not least an explicit focus on values and behaviours in the way that they organise themselves to solve problems collaboratively and for wide social benefit.  Unbeknownst to us, 4 miles west the RSA’s new report on Radical Home Care was being launched.  We were talking about the theory of self-organising in complex biological systems, and the practice of self-managing that – as this report highlights – is demonstrating practice of positive system change in healthcare.

It’s hard to gauge when it’s all going to come together with a room full of strangers.  We got our ‘aha’ moment when I started using the ‘Three Horizons’ model to talk about stepping into transitional (Horizon 2) and visionary (Horizon 3) futures spaces.   What’s value of present oriented (Horizon 1) systems alongside these more entrepreneurial spaces? Crucially, how do we experience people in a different space to us, and how might we use this to understand our motivations, our behaviours, and the potential to create alliances?

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the scale of change required to solve wicked problems.  So we ended with a conversation about how we can use this ‘new knowing’ to our advantage, should we choose.  The visionaries amongst us that can help orient us towards our preferred future, and be opportunistic whilst we live with unpredictability.  The transitionaries that can build alliances and manage the resilience much needed over all of the time it takes. The present-day enablers that can speak to the reality of today to land the movement towards the future.

I left feeling tired, challenged, and inspired – all good signs!  Reflecting three days later, now I want to know – who wants to join us?