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Foresight is 20/20: discovering our past by remembering our future

“Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.” – Albert Einstein

I want you to take everything you think you know about the future and throw it out. Throw it out like a loaf of moldy bread. Moldy bread cannot provide sustenance; rather, it will make you sick. Unfortunately this is what happens to our hopes, dreams, and aspirations all too often. When you buy a loaf of bread you do not buy it with the hope that it will one day mold. Rather, you buy it with the purpose of eating it, fueling your body to achieve basic functionality.

So, let’s use our imagination for a moment. I want you to recall the last time you threw out a loaf of moldy bread. It may have been last week, maybe last month, or, maybe this morning. Either way, take a second, close your eyes if you must, and try to remember everything in that moment. What is the first thought that comes to your mind when you recall that image? Is it the bread itself? Or is it the impact that discovery had on the rest of your day? Maybe you recall something seemingly unrelated such as a child’s soccer game, an incident at work, or a loved one recently admitted to the hospital. More importantly, what happened that you were unable or unwilling to use this bread before it expired? Were you too busy? Was there an “easier and faster” option? If so, did the immediate gratification outweigh the long-term benefits to your original intent?

The point here is that we all have aspirations, dreams, and future desires. But we have allowed these aspirations, intentions, and dreams to “expire.” We allow trivial matters, circumstance, and “easier and faster” options to weigh us down, slow us down, and ultimately, shut us down. When this happens we end up with the proverbial moldy loaf of bread.

Hindsight is 20/20

“If we only knew then, what we know now, we would have __________” (fill in the blank). When you reflect on past decisions, events, relationships, employment, etc., what stands out in your mind as defining those periods in your life? Was it the day-to-day stress of surmounting obstacles, or was it the end result, whether victorious or tragic? We tend to remember pivotal moments of victory and defeat but even more than that, we remember the lasting impact the outcome of these moments have had on our lives. We tend to forget the day-to-day specifics that weighed us down and the reason is because in hindsight, they weren’t that important. This same principle applies to us today. We let the day-to-day stress rob us of our vision and hope for our individual futures, our organizations, our communities, and our world. Although we have to deal with the day-to-day stress, we do not have to accept its version of the future. Answer the following questions and pay particular attention to where your mind goes and the steps it takes to arrive at each answer.

Foresight is 20/20

The year is 2013.

  1. Where do you see your company in 10 years and what are the top 3 challenges your organization will have to face?

Now, let’s reframe the question in a different context.

The year is 2023.

  1. As we look back over the past 10 years, what pivotal events do you recall that transformed your company into the thriving and successful organization it is today?

Question #1 provokes a linear response where we project our immediate obstacles out into the future. Because the future is out there somewhere, we lack the experiential context to remember, recall, and recreate it. So our vision of the future is really an enlargement of the present.

Question #2 provokes a more complex response, much like how we remember the past, with the smells, the emotions, the weather, and the people we were with. There is a context or framework we use to recall and recreate those events. Is it the same thing as being there at that moment? Of course not. Rather, our memory of events allows us to experience those pivotal outcomes as they now relate to our present day context. I continue to learn new things from past events in my life as those lessons, insights, and obstacles resurface in the present moment.

So how do we uncover aspirational futures in our businesses, organizations, and communities?

In our information heavy environment It is virtually impossible to uncover the true hopes, dreams, and aspirations of any person through traditional methods. In fact, It is difficult for people to give specific answers when asked about how and where they see themselves in ten years. Most will give vague answers such as, “to be happy, to be successful, to be more wealthy.” In order to truly uncover our own aspirations and the aspirations of those in our organizations we must first learn to ask the right questions in the right context. This allows you to begin creating extraordinary working environments both for yourself and your organization, that foster creativity, imagination, possibility, and most of all, co-operation.

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