“You cannot escape the
responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today." Abraham
often fool ourselves into thinking that we have a good handle
on the future impact of current actions. It’s logical, isn’t it?
voices in our heads continually comfort us by saying that the
world runs on common sense and we are in control. We assume we
know the logical connection between present and future without
even thinking about it. But when we try to describe the intervening
steps, we discover that most of the middle ground from now to
then is illusory. We don’t invent the pathway to the future until
called upon, much as we make up stories off-the-cuff when recounting
fragments of ideas that haven’t quite yet jelled.
gap helps explain self-destructive behavior: the failure to connect
present and future. The smoker keeps on puffing, denying that
cigarettes cause cancer. The business leader keeps doing what
worked last quarter, denying that conditions always change.
the future catches short-term thinkers by surprise.
happens. It doesn’t need to.
word sums up probably the responsibility of any vice president,
and that one word is 'to be prepared'." Dan Quayle
a Boy Scout, I carried waterproof matches, a hunting knife, and
a flashlight on hikes so I would Be Prepared. This gave me a sense
of security for the day but did nothing to prepare me for life
beyond. I didn’t think about the future much and didn’t do much
to prepare for it.
was I so shortsighted?
the fact that I was young, my brain, like yours, evolved when
our ancestors were the naked hunters (and the hunted) who survived
on the savannah by living in the moment. In a world of eat-or-be-eaten,
“long term” was not a concept.
me, the future seemed so far away. I had no appreciation of consequences.
I didn’t think about what tomorrow would bring. I didn’t know
what to prepare for. These are not valid reasons to put off preparing
for the future.
the future has changed. Sanitation and health care have tripled
the human life span, and corporations outlive their founders.
Most of us will live into what we now think of as the long term.
is accelerating, and we’ll get there even sooner than we
expect. The past was leisurely. Today the future is rushing
as it feels, we must project ourselves months and years
ahead to start getting ready. Snap judgments are not sufficient
to see us through. The world’s getting too complicated.
to his general: “We must plant trees bordering the major roads
of France to provide shade for marching soldiers.”
“But, mon empereur, they will take decades to grow.”
“Right. There’s not a moment to waste.”
the macro level, the future is clear. Every individual and every
organization that has a life has a life cycle.
must know where you are in the cycle to take advantage of your
position e. This frees you to think about what you are becoming.
antiquated routines before they break you. Cut the clutter. Focus
on the core; outsource everything else. Strengthen the signal
by turning down the noise. Dump things that have outlived their
usefulness. Put a kill-date on everything in your personal knowledgebase.
Appoint a manager of unlearning for your group. Clear the underbrush
ten years out. What driving forces in your industry will take
you there? What is most likely to impact your life? You can work
on these areas. Assemble a small group and brainstorm your vision
of the future(s). Throw off all constraints—you can edit later.
Make your visions feel real by describing them in mock newspaper
stories, news broadcasts, annual reports, and video reports. Share
these with others; broadcast them. Scenario learning is the catalyst
for getting others to join you in thinking about potential future
consequences of today’s decisions.
would you describe an elementary school principal who didn’t conduct
fire drills? Irresponsible. And how would you describe a chief
operating officer who didn’t prepare for crises? Typical. Sure,
it’s easier to ring the bell for the fire drill than to field
a corporate emergency-response team. Nonetheless, corporations
should practice putting out fires. Name the fire marshals. Set
up an in-house “Emergency Broadcast Network.” Decentralize decision-making.
not easy to live out what-if situations when consumed by the present.
Since necessity is the mother of invention, you’ll probably have
to invent some necessities. Come to grips with what would happen
if you had to evacuate the building, evacuate the building.
for the future was not that important when the world changed
only gradually. The future was about the same as the present.
took 15,000 years for people to discover farming. Writing was
invented 2,500 years before the Greeks started using an
contrast, the computer was invented in my lifetime. The
first computers filled rooms, contained tens of thousands
of vacuum tubes, cost unimaginable sums of money, and were
programmed by flipping switches. They had but a tiny fraction
of the power in my PDA. And my state-of-the-art PDA will
soon be obsolete.
the future’s rushing at us at terrific speed. The next three
years will see more change than the first three thousand years
people lived in America. Thoughtful citizens in our era must
focus an increasing proportion of their time on the future,
because dramatic changes will take place during their lifetimes.
Here’s the real innovator’s dilemma. Teachers, mentors, and authority
figures taught us how the world works. Their vision won’t cut it
any more. Their world vanished by the time we had to start making
decisions for ourselves. That’s just the beginning.
do you fix a computer or program a VCR?” “Ask any twelve-year-old.”
are now moving so fast in some fields that the young know more
than the old. The young people are the authorities, not their
no one before us, our challenge is to seize responsibility for
unlearning obsolete rules of thumb, We need to think fresh thoughts
and seek new perspectives.
not a moment to waste.
Cross founded Internet Time
Group to help organizations get the most out of elearning
and collaboration. Check out the eLearning Jump Page or the new
report, Beyond eLearning, at www.internettime.com.
Contact Jay directly at Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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