Today’s insights are brought to you by my colleague and futurist, Keith Coats.
Being a ‘Futurist’ is not without its drawbacks! For one, it often means having to explain exactly what it is that you do. I once had a grumpy immigration official at Heathrow say to me, “what is this nonsense…what do you do?” on reading ‘Futurist’ on my landing card under ‘occupation’. As I started to enlighten him, he impatiently interrupted me with, “You’re a consultant. Next time just write ‘consultant’ and make my life simpler and yours a lot easier”. Having thanked him for this insight I then asked, “But if I write ‘consultant’ and you do your job, what will be your first question? … what do you consult on?” I will then reply, ‘futures’ – and we’re back to square one!” There was an uncomfortable (but I would like to believe insightful) pause before he impatiently waived me on my way.
When it comes to being a futurist let me pose and engage with three obvious questions:
- What is it?
- Why is it important?
- How do you do it?
What is it?
A futurist is simply someone who intentionally builds the capacity to see and understand the implications and meaning of change.
However, each of those key words…what it means to see; how one builds understanding; how one articulates the implications, and how one ascribes meaning…are where the real work sits.
All this rests on the building block which is to ‘intentionally build the capacity’. It is an assumption of life-long learning; it implies a never-ending task and hints at the realisation that there is always ‘more’ that can and should be done.
Why is it important?
When you look at the simple explanation offered as to what is a futurist, I think you will readily agree that much of any leader’s responsibility ought to enfold this definition. Smart leaders understand the need to be able to ‘see and understand the implications and meaning of change’. They ensure that they not only develop this capacity in themselves
but that they also ensure it is something that becomes part of their organisation’s DNA and culture.
Of course, I would argue that whilst this is obvious in its application to leaders, it really ought to have a broader appeal. For example, as any parent of young children, I would think that ‘thinking like a futurist’ ought to be a key component of a parenting mindset and skillset as you shepherd your children into their future.
How do you ‘do it’?
This is the fun part! There are numerous ways in which you can ‘intentionally develop the capacity’ to think like a futurist. In TomorrowToday, we refer to this as the ‘FutureFit Toolkit’.
Let me briefly share just four of these tools with you and invite you to experiment with any that might resonate with you. In fact, when it comes to these tools, you might even challenge your team to undertake some experimentation of their own.
# 1 Look out the window
To what extent are you ‘scanning the horizon’? I saw a billboard in London recently that said, ‘By the time you see it, it is too late’. For numerous reasons we often fail to spot disruption, something that can prove fatal.
In TomorrowToday we use a framework we developed many years ago called ‘TIDES’ to do this work. TIDES is an acronym for what we believe are five major (disruptive) change drivers, namely:
- Intuitional Shift:
- Environment and
- Shifting Societal Values.
TIDES helps ‘order’ the cacophony of noise we find ourselves immersed in and although these five things intersect, putting each in its own lane can help with sense-making.
I know of a CEO who divided the responsibility to ‘look out the window’ amongst his team, giving each team member one aspect of TIDES on which to focus. The more eyes you have looking out the window, the better the chance of seeing whatever it is you need to see!
#2 Get off the dancefloor and onto the balcony
Credit for his powerful analogy belongs to Ron Heifetz and is integral to his wonderful ‘Adaptive Leadership’ framework. Most senior leaders I meet are on at least one dancefloor that they shouldn’t be on. There are many possible reasons for this including; they simply like being there – it is what they know and what they are good at; being there has brought them recognition and success or, they are reluctant to trust the dance to others on the dancefloor.
The thing is that when you are on the dancefloor, you don’t see the changes taking place on the periphery of the dancefloor. From the balcony you do. Being on the balcony provides you with the perspective you need to better see and anticipate the disruptors. Of course, leaders do need to spend some of their time on the dancefloor, but I have found that those ‘balcony conversations’ and perspectives are all too rare within many executive team meetings!
Can you think of a dancefloor you need to get off? If so, how best can you extract yourself from the dance? (Anticipate the consequences your absence from the dancefloor will create; you might need to tolerate a period of readjustment for both you and those left dancing.)
#3 Ask (better) questions
For too long leaders have felt that they need to have all the answers. It is obvious that this is bad thinking! Smart leaders understand the need to ask provocative and clarifying questions; they understand the power and importance of ‘open ended ‘questions’; a question where there is no immediate apparent answer. The mind works best in the presence of a question. At your next team meeting track the number of questions asked. The result might surprise you!
I keep a ‘little book of questions’ and it accompanies me wherever I go for work. I train myself to both hear and ask questions and of course, as those who know me will attest to, there is much room for improvement!
#4 Host curiosity conversations
The idea here is to intentionally approach people ‘from whom you want to learn something specific’ and tee-up dedicated time with them for a conversation. It is a wonderful tool to invigorate learning and should you feel that your team has become
somewhat arthritic when it comes to their own learning, Curiosity Conversations could be the way to reignite their learning.
I was asked to write up the methodology to Curiosity Conversations for the book Mavericks – how bold leadership can change the world (co-authored by TomorrowToday’s associate psychologist Tamryn Batcheller-Adams)
There you can find a more detailed explanation of what is a fun way to unlock learning and build the capacity for how to ‘think like a futurist’. If you believe that ‘curiosity killed the cat ‘(you shouldn’t) then just remember that cats have nine lives!
There are of course several other ‘tools’ in the toolkit. Perhaps you would like to know more about how to ‘think like a futurist’ and how to ensure your team are also thinking this way?
If so, we would be delighted for you to contact us and have that conversation with you.
The world needs a new leadership response to a global context of change, complexity, and uncertainty. Leadership Thinker (and author of today’s Tuesday Tip), Keith Coats is passionate about helping audiences around the world to understand what this response looks like and to equip leaders with the tools needed to respond to this changing context.
Keith’s research and global experience of over 20 years has helped him identify the key-defining factors of a successful leader in the 21st century as the ability to learn, grow and be adaptable. It is his great privilege to help leaders access new frameworks and thinking in order to successfully lead into the future. Chat with us if you’d like to explore how he could help your team prepare for the future.