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10 August 2015

“Futuring”: Anticipating and Building Futures in Organizations

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Business organizations and their senior management need a new and powerful relationship with the future if they want to build companies as agile as the change they undergo, and thus achieve success.

We have the ability to change our genetic future. The latest advances in epigenetics, a science that studies how our genetic activity is controlled by the environment, are demonstrating that we can tell our genes to write a new future.

Epigenetics challenges the genetic model we have known so far, which claims that DNA controls our lives. This condemned us to a predetermined future and a fate linked to our heredity. The new perspective gives us the opportunity to change our genetic fate, changing our feelings, thoughts and reactions, and sending these new signals to the cells, which express themselves by creating new proteins without changing the genetic map.

The memory of the future

Some years before, the Swedish neurobiologist David Ingvar discovered that the more uncertainly we experience a situation, the more we activate what he decided to call our memory of the future.

According to Ingvar, we instinctively create in our daily lives action plans and programs for the future by building different hypotheses. These plans are kept as if they were logical sequences because our brain continually seeks to interpret the future.

We anticipate the future based on our past experiences and act according to our anticipations. Our memory enables us to remember our past and at the same time give an interpretation of our life that also allows us to design and anticipate what our future will be. We can thus better deal with uncertainty, anticipate different future possibilities and be ready to give the best possible answer.

Epigenetics and the memory of the future, together with the advances in neurosciences, quantum physics, future studies and other fields of knowledge, challenge and knock down the paradigms on the future that mankind has maintained for thousands of years. And, of course, these new perspectives also have an impact on companies and organizations.

The key is not to predict, but to build the futures we want. There is no single future, but alternative futures

Futuring and its impact on the new position toward the future

Futuring is the art of exploring and anticipating the organizational and personal future. It is the ability to anticipate and build the futures that people and organizations want. It transforms passive, reactive and retrospective positions (bringing the past to the present to explain it) into proactive (bringing about the changes) and preactive (anticipating the changes) attitudes. This methodology is a result of the merging of 3 methods: Future Studies, Theory U and the Great Dynamics of the Future.

  • Future Studies research the systematic study of the futures that are possible, likely and preferable. They include the world views and the underlying myths of each future.
  • Theory U, by Otto Scharmer, is an organizational and leadership transformation process based on what he calls “the social technology of presencing”, a powerful and high state of attention and intention that enables both individuals and groups to change the interior space from which they operate. In this transformation, people begin to act from an interior space of future full of possibilities, that people feel will emerge.
  • The Great Dynamics of the Future are methodologies that involve all the stakeholders in the taking of decisions about any change to the system. Organizations often focus on people and groups as “the problem”, when in fact the problem is systemic.

These great dynamics of the future, such as the Future Search or The Search Conference, emerged in the 1980s, developed in the 1990s and began their expansion at the end of the last century based on 2 characteristics: placing the emphasis on the system and focusing on the future.

Anticipation is a combination of knowledge, beliefs, hopes, fears, wishes, aspirations and imaginations: “tell me how you anticipate future events and I’ll tell you how you behave”. People who anticipate leave the present and move to a near or distant future from where they direct their lives, making that future their own.

Does all this happen in our organizations? What is tomorrow’s problem on which companies need to work today? What are the challenges that the future holds for your company?

Kodak, the legendary photograph company, was a pioneer in the technical development of cameras, becoming a world benchmark. Despite the fact that it also took the lead in manufacturing digital cameras, it took too long to adopt this format because it feared that the lack of film in these cameras would hurt its business. Canon, Nikon and other companies took advantage of this delay, taking control of the digital market and destroying Kodak, which never recovered. The company was unable to change at the same speed as the world around it: it had no vision of the future.

What is your attitude toward the future? And your organization’s?

Answering these two questions sincerely is the first step in connecting with a new paradigm on the future.

Organizations face the environment too late, when the crisis is at its peak and the responses are sometimes drastic changes. They realize that adapting is not enough, because they often arrive late, and that the key is to anticipate. They learn that the challenge for the business world lies today in the potential future scenarios.

We are beginning to understand that the difference between good leaders and great leaders is having a far-sighted mind to create the necessary conditions that will enable others to innovate and create that vision.


Vicente Marrama Zorrilla

C&F Manager

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