Ever since last June’s vote for the UK to leave the EU and the newly minted US President Trump, we are in a place of great uncertainty. It is clear that no one knows what will happen next and that this uncertainty will continue for some time. However, as a leader there are things that you can do to manage your response uncertainty. Understanding the choices you may face; how you will make decisions around what you can control; how you will remain true to your purpose and consistent with your own personal and corporate values, will help you weather a storm of events and repercussions over which you can have no control.
There is one thing that is clear: hope – and a vision of a positive future – is needed. This is the responsibility of everyone, especially those in a leadership role. We have a unique opportunity in this time of uncertainty, to create a hopeful future and make it real.
Uncertainty is a feeling we have about the ambiguity we face ‘out there.’ Managing uncertainty is something that we all do, although most of the time, we are unaware of it. For instance, you book a flight and will usually consider what to do if there are delays – you create a plan B which may include driving or taking a train.
In business, you may consider different perspectives on the events unfolding in front of you, anticipate and explore how things might play out, and then make plans (A, B, and C) for the different possible futures which may unfold. This is using foresight by exploring different possible futures and monitoring where you are with regards to your plans. This is where understanding the choices available to you, and how you will make them, in response to the unfolding of particular futures which will enable you to move rapidly to action with a clear sense of purpose, creating hope for those who depend on you. Foresight only helps you if you can choose and act with confidence.
In developing views of several possible future scenarios (hopefully with your team), you explore options that build on your purpose and strengths. In any future, positive or negative, you explore how best to take advantage or mitigate the risks arising from the events that created that future. Together you figure out what you can influence to build a positive and sustainable future for your organisation. Sharing these future scenarios and what needs doing to prosper, is what leaders do when sharing a vision.
Positive visions of the future
From reading the press and social media streams after Brexit and then the Trump presidency, there has not been much of a positive, inspiring future vision shared (if any) regarding either of the big upsets of 2016, both before and after they occurred. Perhaps now is the time to start exploring (and sharing widely) how different potential futures may play out – even if only in the short term – and the choices that will give you and your team the most hope. This is a time for each of us as leaders to explore how we can make a difference, starting at the local level. Our scanning is telling us that small and specific choices and actions by leaders are working but frequently falling under the radar so that most people are not aware of it. In addition, fear and uncertainty tend to close us down so that we do not see the positive things that are happening around us.
Technology allows us to connect in ways we never have before and makes it easier to create benefits at a local level. Yet most people in communities are passive; few stand up to champion changes. We need to disrupt ourselves – and imagine how our communities (and businesses) could be in a hopeful future. And we need to find ways to involve everyone.
Case Study: Imagine Aruba
A wonderful example is Imagine Aruba (Nos Aruba 2025), a process where 60,000 people (out of a population of just over 100,00) participated in developing a vision of a preferred future and making it happen. Within the framework of an Appreciative Inquiry into the future of the Island, we ran a series of open courses in foresight and scenario planning which engaged people in thinking not only about their aspirations, but also about them in the context of different unfolding future environments, and how these might provide opportunities for the sustainable development of their Island home. These courses not only produced some amazing insights but also spurred attendees to take what they had learned and repeat the process in their communities, workplaces and schools, engaging all ages from primary school to pensioners in a new conversation about the future of their Island, and how to improve it for themselves and the lives of their children and grandchildren. Visions of the future were played out, literally, as powerful and emotionally charged plays, music, poetry and art as a means of further engaging others in co-creating their own future. Additionally, a number of scenarios created from external forces on the Island economy were developed so that the robustness of plans as they emerged could be tested, further generating ways that the strengths of the people can be applied in creating a future in which the people thrive, even against adverse external circumstances. The implantation of the plans generated by this process are now well in hand. Most importantly, public participation in policy making is now a well-established process on the island, involving all stakeholders. Nos Aruba 2025 illustrates how looking for the positives in an uncertain future can lead to results that exceed the expectations of all at the start – a real lesson/inspiration and aspiration for our uncertain world.
About the Authors
Patricia Lustig works with organisations to help them make sense of the emerging future and develop and implement strategies to create positive futures. She sees a growing need for more people and organisations to use foresight. She works with leaders to develop their foresight muscles and build foresight capability into their organisations. Latest book: Strategic Foresight: learning from the future. Triarchy Press, 2015.
Martin Hazell has over 35 years’ international experience in strategy, culture, and change leadership, working with governments, major corporations and non-profit organisations around the world. He is passionate about supporting people in adapting to a rapidly changing world.
To be published in April 2017 in The Huffington Post