We know that the world is increasingly subject to significant change and while the focus is often on exponential technology developments like artificial intelligence, robotics, adaptive manufacturing, and augmented and virtual reality for example, political, economic, and social change are also happening at break-neck speed. The pandemic has added another dimension to an already fluid change environment, adding to our personal and organisational sense of complexity and uncertainty.
In the past we have been confident in our predictions about how the external environment is changing and been able to come to consensus about the way ahead. Increasingly we are far from certain about how the external environment is changing and are less able to reach consensus about the way ahead. It's this situation that often calls for a collaborative effort.
I am increasingly convinced that foresight can, and should, be more widely used to help individuals and organisations think about building flexibility and resilience into everything they do, by exploring plausible scenarios. It is in this context that I have been connecting with Organisational Development, Learning and Development, Human Resources, Strategy, and Change Management professionals to explore the overlap between these domains and foresight.
These are some of the questions that come to my mind:
- What might never be the same again after Covid-19?
- How do we develop organisations in a post-pandemic world?
- What might the learning challenges be in a post-pandemic workplace?
- What changes might the pandemic accelerate in the future of work?
- How does the pandemic impact executive mind-sets about the near future?
I wondered if other professionals saw the same potential as me in exploring the role foresight might play across these other professional domains, and set about finding out. On Tuesday 25th August, seven of us met on Zoom to start the exploration. Who knows where this might go in the future, but the initial connecting conversation was so interesting; and all we really did was share the nature of our interest in coming together to collaborate.
A common thread for all of us was a desire to understand how an emerging and potentially radically different future might look and feel to people. We felt a need to pose real and tangible questions in the knowledge that understanding and answering them can lead to complex and uncertain solutions. We felt the need to ground our thinking on what’s around us, value and explore our similarities and differences in our observations, and understanding of potential implications of plausible solutions for a human focused future.
The discussion focused on three broad themes: Optimising our Humanity, The Context for Exponential Change, and Characteristics of Plausible Futures.
Optimising our Humanity – Looking at enabling a more human future and the critical importance of relationships, relating to each other, and considering organisations as patterns of relating. The development of new skill sets and capabilities will be required to facilitate the development of new mind-sets, new perspectives on leadership, and ultimately personal flourishing.
The Context for Exponential Change – At its core, already increasing complexity and uncertainty has been exacerbated by the Covid pandemic, which in turn has caused us to look more critically at environmental, economic, and social sustainability. We can see that the future is being made in the present – in front of our very eyes. Making sense of exponential change requires new approaches and challenges existing academic models and their real-world application in areas such as evolving working practices.
Characteristics of Plausible Futures – The combination of political, economic, social, and technology forces for future change—accelerated by our experiences of, and responses to the pandemic—are enabling us to question economic norms, urgently explore matching technology developments with human need, consider how smart urban centres could enhance the way we live our lives, consider the benefits (and risks) of radical science and its role in our future, and profound change in education.
In this one collaborative session, we uncovered a sense of both similarity and complimentary difference in how we view the current and future worlds. We saw different emphasis across different domains from understanding technology, the role of women and family in the future economy, how thinking the same way will not help us deliver different solutions to new challenges and opportunities in the future, and how sustainability across the environment, economic, and social domains will be critical in putting people at the centre of our future.
Needless to say, this is not the end, but the beginning of a journey. I am very curious about where and how this network of like-minded people will take the conversation.
Image Credit: Gerd Altmann / https://pixabay.com/illustrations/system-web-news-personal-figures-927147/