‘The future always comes too fast and in the wrong order’ — Alvin Toffler (1928-2016)
We are rarely prepared for what the future might bring and it rarely plays out in the way ‘experts’ predict. We are entering a time of exponential change. What does this really mean? What challenges and opportunities might we face and how might we navigate these to enable our school communities to have a sense of confidence?
Exponential change is deceptive, then explosive
The phrase ‘exponential change’ is increasingly being used and heard in a wide range of contexts but what does it actually mean? Unlike linear change, which results from repeatedly adding a constant, exponential change is the repeated multiplication of a constant. If you were graphing linear change it would produce a stable straight line over time; exponential change on the other hand produces a line that skyrockets.
David B. Petersen, Director at the Center of Expertise, Leadership Development & Executive Coaching, Google said recently, “…things are changing faster. We need to learn faster and better. We need to help leaders learn and adopt faster. Different kinds of things are changing in different ways. We need to learn different kinds of things faster, in different ways. We need to help leaders adapt and innovate in new ways, faster.”
‘The best way to predict your future is to create it’ — credited to both Abraham Lincoln and Peter Drucker
Many in the field deliberately prefer the term ‘futures’ as opposed to ‘future’. Futurists use the plural of ‘futures’ because the master concept of the futures field is that of the existence of many potential alternative futures, rather than simply a single future (Voros, 2001).
Futurists work is based on the following premises
- The future is not predetermined At the most fundamental level of nature, the physical processes of the universe are inherently indeterminate. Given this, how could any future stemming out of present physical processes be anything other than indeterminate also? Therefore, there is no, and cannot be, any single predetermined future; rather there are considered to be infinitely many potential alternative futures.
- The future is not predictable
Although this sounds similar to the previous premise, it is quite different, for the following reason. Even if the future were predetermined, we could never collect enough information about it to an arbitrary degree of accuracy to construct a complete model of how it would develop. And because the future is not predetermined, predictability is doubly impossible; we are therefore able, and forced, to make choices among the many potential alternative futures.
- Future outcomes can be influenced by our choices in the present
Even though we can’t determine which future of an infinite possible variety will eventuate, nevertheless we can influence by the shape of the future which does eventuate by the choices we make regarding our actions (or inaction) in the present (inaction is also a choice). These choices have consequences and so they need to be made as wisely as we know how(Voros, 2001).
Therefore, in light of these premises, there is a need for us to take responsibility for our futures.
Final words: A note of caution
The UNDP Global Centre for Public Service Excellence (2018) offer some useful cautions around futures thinking:
- Futures thinking is not a universal cure to all planning ills
- Futures thinking is not a substitute for traditional planning
- Futures thinking is not an excuse to skip the hard work necessary to realise the desired future
- Futures thinking does not provide an alternative to tough structural choices for organisations to become more adaptable.
School are extremely complex. QELi’s new masterclass, Leading into the Future(s), has been designed to introduce leaders to a range of futures thinking frameworks and to provide educators with increased tools and frameworks to navigate the future.
Leading into the Future(s) Masterclass with Nick Burnett
Tuesday 26 March 2019
8.30am to 4.00pm
QELi, Level 14, 201 Charlotte Street, Brisbane
Book to attend
UNDP Global Centre for Public Service Excellent (2018). Foresight Manual: Empowered Futures for the 2030 Agenda. Singapore
Voros, J (2003). A generic foresight process framework. Foresight, 5(3), pp. 10-21