Yesterday I had lunch with my wife…not an unusual occurrence in and of itself, but indeed a special and significant one, as we do not get many opportunities to engage around the table of life during a work week. As is my wife’s way, she was full of questions…which is always delightful.

In November I became a father…this too was both a special and significant occurrence, as you can well imagine. My son has not yet learnt to verbalize his questions…which is also delightful.

Yesterday my wife asked me if becoming a father had lived up to my expectation. My response, in one of my more enlightened moments, was to use the following analogy…”Becoming a Father was a lot like going to the Maldives for the first time. You look forward to every moment of it, but because you have no previous frame of reference, when you arrive, it is so much more than what you expected, precisely because you have no frame of reference for it. The same applies to my journey with fatherhood.”

Today, I am increasingly convinced that the same principle applies to a new world at work in a post recession organizational reality. As Otto Scharmer states, “we must deepen our attention to the organizational reality that we find ourselves in, if for no other reason that we find ourselves in an ever evolving new organizational reality.” The greater the emerging complexity of our current organizational world, the less we are able to rely on the past to inform our organizational strategies, structures and well being. Indeed the past helps us to understand our current context, but does not necessarily help to inform our present context, in order to embrace a necessary future reality.

As people and organization continue to navigate the turbulent and triumphant potentials of a future reality, conventional wisdom teaches that there are essentially two sources for both individual and organizational learning, namely the past and the emerging future.
Learning from the past is well documented, the sequence essentially follows as: ACTION – OBSERVATION – REFLECTION – DESIGN – ACTION.
Learning from the future however is not as easy to systemize or define, if for no other reason, because of its emerging complexity. In simpler terms, it is difficult to predict. Emerging complexity is inevitably characterized by disruptive, ongoing change, both positive and negative. When the future cannot be predicted and prepared for by the forecasts of the past, the challenge is to deal with reality as it evolves. In this organizational landscape, a new approach is needed, one that considers building on the practices of sensing, presencing and prototyping emerging opportunities. In this regard,
Sensing can be described as, ‘the view from within – a perception that begins to take shape when we begin to feel and sense a whole preferred big picture reality.” Presencing is the practice of viewing things from the source from which they come. Prototyping means to explore the future by doing, and builds on an integration of head, heart and hand…what we know, what we feel and what we can do.

In my world of dining, parenting and consulting to organizations, I am learning that the past, and what it teaches is, at times, overrated…if for no other reason that it can never fully prepare us for, or provide for us a frame of reference for an increasingly complex, unfolding future reality.

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