Future proof is not future ready

Adapting to change

The future is always changing. Whether you like it or not: change is a constant. As the future can not be predicted, the best way to prepare for a future is to embrace the possibilities that lie ahead of you. In our work at Minkowski we help organizations map these possibilities in a so-called ‘cone of possibilities’. The basic idea behind this, is that you explore what is possible for your organization in the near future and identify what these possibilities could mean for your company. By doing this you’ll be able to identify the (weak) signals of a possible future, so that when these signals show up, you know how to respond to them (or how to use them to accelerate on your strategic path forward). There’s one crucial factor in doing this successfully: you really have to believe that these possibilities could occur and you really have to believe that you are able to react to them with your organization. Or in other words: you have to embrace these possibilities: you have to embrace the future.

From future proof to future ready

What does this mean? Let’s look back at that last sentence: ’embrace the future’. And let’s use the analogy of something that is ‘waterproof’ and replace the word future for the word water. Embracing the future then becomes: embracing the water. For something that should be waterproof that is the last thing you want. Instead of embracing the water you would want to keep the water out. Now ask yourself: if you want to prepare your organization for the future do you want to keep the future out?

I’m assuming that your answer to that question is ‘no’. You don’t want to keep the future out, on the contrary, you would want to get the future in. As I’ve described above, the way we get the future in with our work at Minkowski is by starting from the future and then reasoning our way back to today. This way ‘the future’ is ingrained in all the things you do afterward. As soon as you’ve seen something, you can never not see it anymore (at least if you really believe in the possibility) and this also goes for your thoughts about the future.

If it’s not future proof, then what should it be? Arjan suggested ‘future ready’. If you phrase it like that futures thinking becomes an activity to make yourself ready for when that future emerges. Just like you get ready for the final of a big tournament you can then train yourself for it.

We believe that is a much better way to make your organization sensitive for the changes that lie ahead, because the question is not: will it change, but when will it change?

Get in touch with us to discuss how we can help you to get ready for the future here.

The End of the Fairytale

Cultural Change

Some fundamental challenges in our world have not been solved during the lock-down. As we are in the midst of protests around the world on racism we realize that life is not ‘back to normal’ again. Or perhaps I should say: it shouldn’t go back to normal again as for some many people around the world this ‘normal’ is far from a life they long to go back to. This challenge, if you can even call it that, has been a pandemic that has been raging around the world for centuries and it is not a challenge that we can easily cure by staying inside. The transformation that is needed for this is so fundamental that its wickedly difficult to make steps to a better future for all. It’s a cultural change that will be with us for a long time and that will demand our attention in all levels and sectors of society. Or so I hope…

Economic Change

Then there is the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis. The virus might lay low for a bit, but the real impact of it is yet to be felt for many people. Financial support and economic relief programs have thus far eased some of the pain for a lot of people. Now that the world is restarting, it may seem as if it can recover, but this is also the time where some of the support will fall away. Economically, many businesses and its employees will not have recovered for quite a some time. We are still up for a huge challenge.

We’ve come to the end of the COVID-19 fairy tale. I hear some people around me already saying that they had hoped it would last a little longer as the world out there seems brutal. The question is: what do you do? If you are feeling a bit of relief (even though it might be temporary) this is the time to reset yourself. This is the time to prepare yourself for what is yet to come.

Reset, restart, reboot

 

 

How to: moonshot thinking in a crisis

Many organizations are in survival mode after the corona-crisis has almost put the entire world to a stop. During such times of uncertainty and extreme volatility it gets very hard to focus on the long term. The present is for most organizations most pressing at this moment in order to stay alive and to try to control the damage. ‘Moonshot thinking’ as a business practice to identify where you want to be in the future seems to be irrelevant right now. But during the Apollo-program many challenging moments were part of the path to the moon. And most of the biggest problems were overcome. In times of crisis you can find inspiration not from the Apollo-11 mission that got humanity to the moon, but from the Apollo-13 mission that got a crew safely back to home base in a life threatening crisis. Here are some take-aways from that historic moment that you might be able to apply to your business today.

Moonshot thinking: from Apollo 11 to Apollo 13

Could it be a coincidence that exactly 50 years ago (on April 13) the third mission to land on the moon ran into a major problem when one of the oxygen tanks blew up? Things unraveled fast after that. If you want to get into the details of everything that went wrong and how it was solved, then I can greatly recommend Gene Kranz‘s recount of the events in his book ‘Failure is not an Option‘. Kranz was the flight director in mission control during the Apollo 13 mission.

This is what I have taken from his account, translated to making better business decisions in a time of crisis. It’s a long list of ingredients that work, but it can all be summarized in three words: courage, resourcefulness and experience.

Courage

  • trust your intuition (it comes from your experience and what worked in previous crises).
  • trust your team, and your team trusting you is of the utmost importance, because you don’t have time to brief everyone in detail.
  • don’t second guess each others decisions: you’re in it together, everyone is responsible for every decision.
  • make sure everyone can voice their opinions freely and that no one is worried about hurting someone’s feelings (it saves a lot of time).
  • believe that you are going to get through it: believe in a positive outcome (and then your teams will too) and operate from it.

Resourcefulness

  • build a plan on every decision that needs to be made and when it needs to be made.
  • make everyone part of the solution.
  • a 100% correct answer on most challenges doesn’t exist: rely on best judgments.
  • avoid chatter and communicate clearly in smaller (sub) teams, so you can stay away from too many distractions.
  • focus on what is still working/going well, because those are most likely the things that you can use as a lifeline to the future.
  • take good care of the ‘resources’ you have, they are the ones that are crucial. So don’t let them get distracted by guessing what they have to do.
  • make sure to have fresh eyes look at your situation too, either from outside or from a separate team so you don’t miss any opportunities because you are operating from your own tunnel vision.
  • work on multiple options (all possible options) first and then make a swift decision which one to follow. Get there through brief, intense and conclusive conversation together.
  • always think in options.
  • and remember to believe in a positive outcome: failure is not an option!

Experience

  • the most difficult of all, because you should have already done this before a crisis. During the Apollo-program the SimSup-team imagined every conceivable spacecraft failure and they then developed workarounds and procedures based on simulating these failures and the solutions that were found. This gave everyone a ton of experience to build upon in times of crisis.
  • make sure that you reflect and learn from what you’ve done after this crisis is over.

Safely back on earth

Today, exactly 50 years ago, on April 17th the Apollo 13 crew safely returned back on earth landing in the South Pacific. I hope that for all of you out there, that are trying to safely return to some kind of ‘home base’, you will find the courage, the resourcefulness and the ability to guide your organizations to a new dynamic equilibrium. Failure is not an option and adversity can be overcome.

For the years of pandemic crisis to come the new moonshot thinking will be about returning home safely, not about getting to the moon. And so we shift from the Apollo 11 thinking that got us to the moon, tot the Apollo 13 thinking that brought us back.

If you want to chat about what you could do and how you can apply these ingredients to design a sustainable path out of this for your organization, let me know and we’ll jump on a call to discuss the possibilities for your future.

The effects of virtual closeness and physical distancing

A fascinating thing is taking root in our societies these days. For years we’ve heard complaints about people loosing touch with the localities they live in while taking refuge in (sometimes extreme) online environments. It was often said that nobody knows their neighbor anymore, but that everyone could find like minded people online creating these virtual echo-chambers of opinion and populism. I think that the corona-virus will eventually have a bigger impact on shifts in society than it will have on public health, because: the physical distancing rules that are in place are pushing more people online to experience virtual closeness.

From social distancing to psychological nearing

Many of you will have worked from home and will have used various online conferencing tools (maybe for the first time). At first that might have felt awkward and strange, but I bet that after a few times it is already beginning to feel more natural. I’m beginning to hear remarks around me that people actually enjoy the fact that they don’t have to travel for meetings anymore and that an online meeting can be just as effective. In some instances (when you are in a one-on-one video conference) it might even feel more intimate than when you would have met the person in the physical world. Even psychiatrists are pushing their practice online.

For many of us, this time of social distancing will begin to feel more and more like an emotional nearing to the other (be it online). By the time we reach the end of this pandemic many organizations will question their old ways of doing things and wonder whether they should keep up with part of the online practice as it saves time and money. This experience of meaningful connection is spreading throughout all layers of society and age cohorts just as fast as the corona-virus is spreading around the world. A big societal shift is thus already under way.

Distancing in the physical world

At the same time, when you are walking outside, the distance you feel to the people that you live in close proximity to is growing each day. You literally take a step back, to get out of someone’s (private) space. Cashiers have glass windows in front of them to separate them from their customers (everywhere now); massive gatherings are prohibited; children don’t meet and connect in their schools anymore. All these signals in the physical world are shouting at us: keep away from the people close to you.

It is fascinating to see and at the same time worrying if it is going to last too long. I hope that in the near future we will forget the distance we kept to our neighbors and that every community will throw the biggest party ever to celebrate that we’ve lived through this. But more importantly to celebrate being able to hold on to each other again.

Yes, we should learn from the effectiveness of online collaboration for the future, but let’s also not forget to hold on to some things from the past that are worth to cherish for the future.

The beauty of this pandemic

I’m writing this from Amsterdam, the Netherlands, where the schools have been closed for at least three weeks and almost everyone is working from home. Only the most vital functions in society are still fully operational: people in healthcare, educators, law enforcement, fire brigades, government, etc. I’m sure most of you across the globe are experiencing something similar or will soon. We can still go outside on the streets here and when you do, you see a new kind of society. I see parents with their kids playing, educating, shopping. The rat race has come to a full stop. Everyone nods at each other in mutual understanding. I wondered: can you imagine when society stays like this, what it would feel like? Of course, we have to beat that virus (it’s horrible, no question about that), but can you imagine a society in which the truly important functions are really valued for what they do? Can you imagine a society in which the rest of us are just taking a step back and have come to terms with ‘less’?

Striking educators, healthcare professionals and law enforcement

In the Netherlands we’ve seen strike after strike in the last few months. Educators demanded less pressure on their jobs and better payments to keep the system up. Healthcare professionals demanded more as well, as what they are paid is ridiculous in comparison to the meaningful work they are doing. Law enforcement, fire brigade people etc. demanded just a little bit more safety from civilians that attack them while they work. And farmers wanted to be able to produce food for our society without being limited in their work because the rest of us prefer to sit in our cars to work every day. But they got nowhere with their demands. However, right now it almost seems as if the universe has aligned with them. All of a sudden we have this immediate threat to what matters most to us: our lives. And now we shut up and shut everything down that doesn’t really matter all that much. And everyone is in full support of these people that do make a difference. Now we value them, now we need them. Maybe we should keep that up after this pandemic starts to slow down.

The rest of us are in the backseat now

And the rest of us are slowing down. I have people around me, that are wondering what they’ve been doing up until this point. Was the work, and the stress related to that work, so important that they had to push everything to its boundaries? At the start of the year I wrote a post about entering a new decade: an era of less. I’ve called it the lessera. I have been struggling myself to find solutions for how I could do with less. The moment we are going through right now is showing us how it is possible to do with less. We can travel less to work and do things from home. We can work less and be home for our kids, just to name a few things.

At least at this short moment (who knows what tomorrow and the weeks after will look like), the world looks a whole lot better when we organize ourselves that way. There were no traffic jams today, there’s a calmness in the city and I see a whole lot more (emotional) connection than ever before. A friend who’s view on life I value tremendously, rabbi Irwin Kula from New York said it beautifully yesterday: “physical distancing invites us to develop new ways and opportunities to innovate emotional and psychological nearing”. I agree so much with that: we shouldn’t let this momentum go down in history as a pause of society after which we all jumped right back at it. I think we should see this moment as a reset and understand what is important and valuable and see if we can identify new principles for a more sustainable future for all (after we’ve beaten this virus). We are all in this together and the power of community that that generates makes the world so much better. Let’s embrace that and figure out for yourself these days: how can I do with less? How can I organize in ways that are more sustainable for the world, but more importantly for yourself?

Stay safe and take care…of each other.

What the corona virus can teach you about your future

Although the corona virus (COVID-19) that has been raging around the world has serious consequences for some that get infected, for most of us it’s a potential fear for what might happen to us in the future. It’s not an immediate threat either, which is why this is so interesting when you’re in the line of work that we operate in. We help organizations map possibilities in the future and identify with them what they might have to do to prepare and adapt to that future. Those changes are never immediate either. From that perspective there’s a lot to learn from your reaction to the spread of the corona virus, that might be valuable for your future (personal and professional). In this post I’ll describe what the possible reactions are and how they can be indicative for any path you pave into the future.

How you see the world, determines what your future is: a model

In our work we design possible paths into the future with organizations. What those future directions eventually look like is determined by what is possible, but more importantly it is determined by how people inside and outside those organizations will react to it. Thankfully there are only four possible ways that people deal with the world around them. To map this out we use a model that was developed by the great Dutch philosopher René Gude and described in his book ‘The Agora Model‘ (there’s only a Dutch version available). In this book René explains that there are only 4 basic ways that people give meaning to the world around them and extrapolating on that: 4 ways that they react to change. You have the rationalist that always tries to understand the world and is searching for models to explain the world to him. Then there is the empirist that finds meaning in what he can see, feel, hear, etc. This person uses his senses to give meaning. Then there is the affectionist that acts upon his gut feeling and instincts. Finally, René describes the voluntarist: a person that is driven by will power. These insights all stem from thousands of years of philosophy. And although they are extreme positions and every person is a mix of these drivers it is a great navigating tool for finding possible directions for the future. Do read René’s book if you want to gain a much better understanding of these dynamics than what I painted here.

What was your reaction to the corona virus?

So, as I said in the beginning of this post, how you typically react to change is indicative for how you see the future. Even organizations as a whole have a tendency to either of the 4 basic motivations in they way they are organized and in the way they operate, but we’ll leave that for now. Reflect back on the past couple of weeks and ask yourself: how did I react to this potential threat in the future when the corona virus hits your locality?

The Rationalists: are you a person that reads everything about? Are you a person that tries to understand what is going on, follows the news, reads up on all the inside knowledge of scientists or authorities and then acts upon what they say you should do? Then you are a rationalist in the Agora-model. The future for you has to make sense and you want to be able to logically construct steps forward. Without evidence, data, proof of something happening, you won’t accept any change.

The Empirists: are you a person that bases action on what you see other people do, especially people you trust? Do you look around you and when you see others wearing masks, you might consider getting one too? Are you a person that has stopped shaking hands or kissing? Then you are probably an empirist in René’s model. The future for you has to be tangible. You can’t relate to any plan for the future if you can not see it clearly. You need some tangible concepts and ideas that you can ‘put your hands on’ and then you get into action.

The Affectionists: are you a person that has reacted based on what feels right to do? Does your gut instinct tell you to stay calm, or to prepare? Are you a person that doesn’t really need too much evidence, but you can jump into action as soon as you feel you have to? Then you are an affectionst. The future direction you (or your organization) should take, just has to feel right for you ánd your family. As soon as you feel that energy that something is about to happen or change, you get going.

The Voluntarists: are you a person that has immediately jumped to action? Did you already get your masks, stocked up on food, have your hand washing routine practiced and executed properly? Are you convinced that this thing is not getting you down, and whatever terrible things might happen, you are going to beat it? The you are a typical voluntarist in the Agora-model. Your future is a future that you creating. You’ll try and do anything to stay ahead of the game. Change for you is hardly ever a threat, you enjoy the waves of change and you’ll ride them proudly.

What does it tell you about the future?

Now that you’ve identified your initial reaction to the potential threat to the corona virus you have identified how you see the world. And that determines how you see your future. The pathways forward that you will prefer or that you most believe in will have characteristics of the same dynamics.

And you can also ask similar questions of your organization? What happened in your company? What measures and actions were taken and why? Do they fall in either of the categories described above? If you can, then you have a wealth of insight on how your organization will see the future and what makes sense for your organization to do or not to do. Not because that is the way it is, but because those actions fall within what is realistic for your organization to start doing.

The eruption of the corona virus is a unique circumstance to identify the dynamics described above, because usually, when things are ‘business as usual’, your reactions to change are more nuanced. So, as Winston Churchill once said: never let a good crisis go to waste. Learn from your reaction to this potential crisis in the future as it can help you later on, when things get back to normal again and you want to work on you vision or strategy.

Minkowski uses the Agora model when we help organizations develop scenarios and strategies for the future (it’s part of the Awakening step of our approach), if you want to learn more, let us know.

What is Applied Futures (Thinking)?

The approach we use in our work is called ‘applied futures’. The result of this approach is that organizations are able to act now upon what is possible for them in the future. But many of our clients ask us, what ‘applied futures’ actually is, as they can not find a lot about it on the web. And some even ask us if they can study it somewhere at a university. Who knows, one day we might be able to point you to the study of Applied Futures, but for now you’ll have to do with the following explanation of how we have developed this uncharted territory. And as promised, I’ll dive into many more aspects of it in posts to come…

From thinking to doing

First off, I put the word ‘thinking’ in the title of this post in brackets. Applying the future to your present does of course mean that you have to do something, rather than just thinking about it. Only when you are eventually acting upon the ideas and inspiration you got from the future, can you say you’ve actually applied the future in your practice today. I can’t stress often enough that this crucial last step in our process is one that our clients have to take responsibility for. We won’t step away from it at that time, but without a client’s full commitment to it, the future will never successfully be implemented (even when we put all the effort in trying to make it work). But I’m getting ahead of myself here. I just made this point to emphasize that applied futures is as much about doing as it is about thinking.

So, yes, there is a great deal of thinking involved as well. If you start implementing ideas without thinking about them carefully then the risk of stepping in directions that fall outside of your ‘cone of possibility‘ are as big as taking the right steps. Applied futures is an approach that enables organization to not gamble on a future direction, but rather to take deliberate action towards the direction they want to go in the future and that is possible for them to accomplish. This thinking process is preceded by other steps that are described in a bit more detail in this post.

The basic theories behind applied futures

Applied Futures Thinking is a construct of several theories and approaches that allow us to help organizations in making future perspectives actionable. Most notably, applied futures thinking is a form of futures studies: the study of possible, probable and preferable futures. When it comes to applied futures we always (only) focus on the possible and preferable future perspectives as the probable states also include non-preferable states and are therefore hardly ever translated in a plan for action (avoiding those scenarios then usually becomes the plan). Our approach to futures studies thus differs somewhat from regular approaches.

One of the fundamental methodologies that underpin applied futures thinking is scenario planning. We use abductive reasoning (also see design thinking further down) to construct future alternatives by starting from a future ‘observation’ and then reasoning how that future might come to be. We do this using a backcasting tool called the ‘Wheel of Reasoning’. The additional ‘s’ in applied futureS is there on purpose, because we don’t believe you can predict the future (hence forecasting is not our preferred planning method). Instead there are multiple possible positions and paths to the future for any organization. The future observations that are mentioned here are made in various ways. We very often collaborate with domain specific experts to do this, but other inputs can be used as well.

For the application part of applied futures we build on Otto Scharmer’s work on Theory U and use design thinking methodologies to enable organizations to design solutions and paths to the future. There are many different kinds of tools that we use for this roughly following a process called E.D.I.T. (stemming from Stanford d.School’s approach) to help organizations edit the future.

I’ll leave it here for now and will dive into elements of the above mentioned methodologies in future posts to explain how we have appropriated them to fit our approach of applied futures (thinking/doing).

Get in touch with us if you want to make history by changing the future using the applied futures approach.

Strategy = a design process

An important element in our approach to help organizations map their possibilities in the future is a process in which the organization designs a strategy. We facilitate this process of strategy design as part of a step to accelerate towards the present (see this previous post about the 4 steps to apply the future). It is not a process of logic reasoning (as is custom in many strategic planning approaches) it’s a design process in itself. Because we approach strategy from a different perspective, new paths to the future present themselves to the organization that would never have been discovered in a rational process. This is how it works.

You start form the future

Although we think it is obvious, many organizations don’t approach their strategic planning with the end in mind. They analyze their current situation, map what they are good at (and what not) and then figure out a way to grow. We start from the future and try to find a horizon that is broad enough so that it opens your cone of possibilities, but at the same time is narrow enough that it stays realistic and doesn’t end up in science fiction. The trick then is to formulate a strategic goal (or a moonshot) based on what you want to accomplish in your future (that what you believe in) and what you are capable of with what you’ve got today (the limits of your belief). More and how to do that in another post, for now it suffices to say that when you’ve got such a goal it is crucial to keep your process reflecting back from the future (as is depicted in the image accompanying this post at step 3).

From top down, to bottom up

It is very tempting to reason logically as soon as you have found your strategic goal, but when you do, your top down reasoning will blind you from the things that really will make impact in your future. We therefor apply some principles of design thinking to the process of strategic planning. This means that you formulate all the questions that need to be answered in order to accomplish your goals and ambitions. Translating those questions to design questions then sets you up for a (strategic) design sprint that will generate numerous (possible) tactics (read: potential answers to your questions). These answers work bottom up to form clusters of strategic doing. These clusters can then finally be translated into strategic steps of your strategy outline (we use Hoshin Kanri as the template for this).

When you approach strategy design this way, in our experience, the strategic steps become much more engaging and are a much clearer translation of the future you want to create. Moreover it facilitates the strategic process to become a continuous dialogue with the entire organization as I wrote about before here.

If you want to know more about this, I’d love to get on the phone and discuss how this approach could be of value to you as well. Get in touch with us to learn more.