Using Futures Methods to Enhance Clarity For Your Direction. 

There are a number of futures methodologies that are used but our observation is that the most common methodology is that of scenario planning.  Whilst scenario planning is an effective methodology for creating a strategy document or intention, and are often readily accepted by CEOs and their Boards as effective strategy, from our experience, we find it too mechanistic a methodology when it is used solely on its own, which is most often the case.  There is little room for an outlier scenario particularly when the most popular ‘double-sword’ traditional matrix scenario planning method is used.

 Our experience, with numerous organisations, has been that because futures methodologies effectively enhance clarity around an organisations direction, the visioning process tends to produce more tangible results. Through scanning methods, such as emerging issues analysis our current maps of past, present and future are disturbed by having the external threats and/or opportunities more rigorously examined.  The insights derived from this disturbance improve organisational stability because of the real evidence to the organisations stakeholders that the future has been rigorously previewed and researched. 


Parallel Streams of Management and Leadership

There are two parallel streams, as I see it, one that is the role of management to focus on the issues of today, based on their knowledge from the past (programmed learning).  Learning from the past involves reflecting on our experiences from the past and is often described as act-observe-reflect-plan-act.  Two, the role of leadership which is inherently focused on creating a future that has yet to be realized, which often requires ‘constructive destruction’, the ability to self destruct in order to innovate and reposition successfully.  The futures thinking methodology will help organisations innovate and create preferred futures through the gift of insight - a leadership capability.

These two streams are both essential, but fundamentally different.  Stream one, the management stream, attempts to ‘control’ change within the current paradigm, whereas stream two, the leadership stream, attempts to ‘initiate’ change for the better by shifting the paradigm.


Futures Methodology to help shape Strategy

There is a lot more thinking that needs to be done before an organisation embarks on creating its strategy otherwise they usually get results that are consistent with current paradigms, ideologies etc., or what Arygris (1991) calls single loop learning outcomes, i.e. learning within the current paradigm.  It is this new thinking that needs to be encouraged, as a responsibility of leaders, before they engage in creating a strategic plan for their organisations. Organisations appear not to engage deeply enough in what the future holds by challenging the worldviews of its members before they even commit to a strategy.  This is a leadership challenge as it requires that decisions are often made that may alter the organisations direction and culture.  This creates enormous anxiety and is one reason that to practice effective leadership can be dangerous as Heifetz and Linsky suggest (2002) and arguably a reason why CEO tenures are so short.  They are short not because the CEO was trying to implement change, but because of it.  Many CEOs, and many management executives have not been taught futures methodologies in their executive education, and therefore do not have the navigational tools and methods to help guide them to instigate profound organisational transformation.


Shaping the future and leadership

Part of the work of leadership is to shape the future, which is tricky given that it doesn’t really exist! As my colleague Robert Burke writes the only way we can relate to the future is by creating compelling images in the present of our preferred future. At the same time we need to understand the present “weights” and “pushes” which will condition that future.

Otto Scharmer argues that part of leadership work individually and collectively is to sense and make present the future (his word is “presencing”). My view is that for us leaders the future can often look like a brick wall or a confined tunnel – you are a football player heading towards goal but on the playing field all you can see ahead of you is a wall of opposition players. Here the leadership act is to sense a small crack in the wall and to apply maximum leverage to open it up further.

How can individuals and collectives sense these present openings into the future and bring that future into present reality?


Change and leadership

If you ever hear words such as "Change is good" or "Your leadership is welcome" my advice is to be very worried.

Change, or adaptive challenges as Harvard's Ron Heifetz coins it, is central to the work of leadership and it is often hard and risky rather than welcome and easy. Robert Kegan has argued that it is no mystery why New Year’s Eve resolutions and many leadership changes are not sustained. He believes that individuals and collectives have an "immunity" to certain changes because they are highly threatening and involve pain and loss.

To exercise leadership often involves asking ourselves and others to change, to learn something new or to take responsibility for something and this can cause a lot of anxiety. People often resist our leadership efforts because of fear and anxiety. In the face of this resistance to our leadership we often try to avoid the anxiety or we revert to "command and control" measures.

How might manager leaders overcome the immunity to change trap and be successful at leading sustainable change?