“The directions of transformation are clear: the future lies in micro contributions by large networks of people creating value on a scale previously unthinkable, bringing sociality and social connectivity back into our economic transactions, in the process of redefining notions of rewards, incentives, growth, and currencies.” -Marina Gorbis via The Nature of the Future: Dispatches from the Socialstructed World
The problem is that, in many ways, the directions of transformation are not clear. We are still struggling to determine, in the midst of the chaos and confusion brought on by the current pace and expanse of change, to see the future that is emerging. It is no longer as clear as it was before. We are struggling to connect the systems of our past, with those of the present. When, all the while, we know that we are inevitably going to need to begin creating new systems for the future. In many ways, our inability to disrupt current mental models of those systems, locks us into incremental approaches to change, making it more and more difficult to engage the necessary cognitive shifts that will allow for the transformation needed to move forward into the future in a more fluid, dynamic and divergent manner.
In many ways, we are going to have to create new visions, new narratives, even new scenarios that allow us to transform our own thinking in ways that help us approach, even embrace the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity of the future.
One of the ways to approach this cognitive shift, is through what Adam Kahane refers to as Transformative Scenario Planning, in which he puts forth in the Stanford Social Innovation Review as being a process to transform a complex or problematic situation by first transforming themselves, which occurs in four ways:
- First, they transform their understandings.
- Second, they transform their relationships.
- Third, they transform their intentions.
- Fourth, the transformations of their understandings, relationships, and intentions enable them to transform their actions and thereby transform their situation.
For which Kahane adds, “The key difference between adaptive and transformative scenario planning is, then, one of purpose. Adaptive scenario planning uses stories about possible futures to study what could happen, whereas transformative scenario planning assumes that studying the future is insufficient, and so it also uses stories about possible futures to influence what could happen.”
Or as Marina Gorbis shares in The Nature of the Future, “Scenarios let us construct plausible, internally consistent vision that help us frame the range of possibilities and the kinds of issues we are likely to confront along the way.” For which she continues, “Scenarios are useful tools for uncovering underlying trends and forcing us to ask important questions as we speed toward the future.”
In a world that is becoming, both personally and organizationally much less certain and known, engaging strategies that allow us to discover new foresights to determine our way forward, to develop advanced visions and future narratives, and structure our systems in ways that allow us to personally and organizationally adapt, will provide some semblance of equilibrium to the current and future disequilibrium we currently are and will be facing in the future.
Finding strategies to face our current disequilibriums more effectively will eventually lead us into new equilibriums, even though we will still need to overcome periods of both moderate and accelerated disruption. Especially as growing levels of upheaval and obsolescence continue to invade upon many of our stalwart institutions and societal pillars that have currently been able to withstand the test of time. Institutions and pillars that are no longer just bending, but very often breaking under the weight of change as the digital disruptions and shifts continue to bear down upon them.
As Marina Gorbis puts forth in The Nature of the Future, “That is why, when developing scenarios, it is helpful to focus on larger transformations that underlie them and that are irrefutable, the ones we truly believe will inevitably come about. These larger transformations point to a direction rather than pinpoint a final destination. How they manifest and in what time frame, however, are where the uncertainties lie. The more we can foresee the directions and shapes of such transformations, the better we can prepare for the future.”
Too often, the comfort and safety of the known past keeps us mentally entrenched, stuck, embedded in the present, restraining us from becoming more open in confronting the uncertainty of an unknown future. In many ways, we find ourselves recoiling back to that past. We find ourselves trying to think of how we can bring back those jobs that no longer exist, rather than finding ways to better prepare for a world of work that is drastically changing and bringing forth new types and ways of working. Or we get caught up in continuing to amplify skills (both in education and the workforce) that are no longer or soon to be irrelevant, rather than focusing on the awareness and learning necessary to learn new skills and new skillsets.
In many ways, the prospect of an uncertain and unwritten future has us mentally recoiling back to false narratives of the past.
Constructing future narratives, engaging in transformative scenarios of the future, allows us the space and opportunity to make the cognitive adjustments necessary to see through the complexity, confusion and chaos of our current circumstances in ways that allow us to personally and organizationally prepare for the future in a more dynamic and positive manner. Reframing our mental models provides us the cognitive space to begin to move from ideas of incremental change to visions of transformational shifts.
Which will be vital, in a time when we will need leaders, at all levels of our organizations and institutions, who can effectively learn to connect the disconnected, especially as many of the systems that have stood mightily for so long become more and more frayed and disjointed.
We need leaders who can find the coherence in the midst of incoherence.
In this precarious place we find ourselves in, learning is no longer an event, as much as it is an everyday necessity. We now, more than ever, need those at every level of the organization who can create more diverse and expansive networks and idea flows, who can connect disparate dots in more creative and innovative ways, who can think in systems, who can engage divergently and convergently, who can reflect upon and even disrupt their own mental models…
In order that they can engage more mental moonshots and better serve our organizations and institutions as cognitive pioneers, creating the narratives and scenarios that lead us into a much more positive and inclusive future.
“We will no longer need to worry so much about the digital divide as about a cognitive divide. Those who are self-driven or whose social networks drive them to acquire more and more knowledge and to consume more and more rich content will be able to increase their cognitive capital, while those who do not possess such drive or whose social settings do not encourage such accumulation of knowledge will be left farther and farther behind. We urgently need to rethink our educational priorities and the kinds of skills we will need in the world of abundant content and rich ecologies of knowledge and information.”-Marina Gorbis via The Nature of the Future: Dispatches from the Socialstructed World