Future-Back Thinking

I am a big believer in storytelling. Stories about the future and how it may unfold help us create a future that is both prosperous and sustainable. I have talked about stories in the context of Future Thinking and used a visual to tell these stories and provide a Future Thinking Canvas. A recent Article describes this approach as future-back thinking. The article explores the work of Mark W. Johnson and Josh Suskewicz, co-authors of Lead from the Future: How to Turn Visionary Thinking into Breakthrough Growth.

Future-back thinking is defined as an innovative approach to strategy development that empowers leaders to envision the breakthrough opportunities that drive long-term growth – and then implement the initiatives that are needed to bring them to life. This approach – also called Backcasting – was recently used by Futurist Gerd Leonhard to explore a Post-Pandemic World. The best success story provided by the article is Steve Jobs and his ability to envision the world of computers ten years out, and then systematically created that future.

Many organizations today however employ a present-forward approach to visioning. As defined by the book authors, the present forward fallacy is the seductive notion that an existing business can be extended out in time indefinitely simply by making incremental improvements to it. More leaders are learning that such improvements are not sufficient to ensure topline growth and sustainability over time. The pace of change was already making the present-forward approach less effective. Now, the global pandemic is making a change in thinking more imperative. The authors state that a disruption of this magnitude accelerates trends. Inflections that you might have had five years to anticipate in a normal environment are reaching critical mass in months and weeks.

Acceleration as a phenomenon is a great societal challenge. The world grows more unrecognizable every day – and the pandemic makes what we find on the other side even more unrecognizable. As we stare into this different future, we need context. What future are we trying to create, and how will we innovate to create it? Tell a story about the world that is emerging, and then much like Apple did, create that future. Along the way, ensure that this emerging future is one filled with purpose, a focus on well-being, and the balance required to avoid Unintended Consequences.


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