I just came home from a networking event where the speaker delivered a presentation on a common theme – The future. It is also a topic many of my clients have a keen interest in when we start to work together. And why not, right? The future is full of new possibilities and exciting changes. We have to get ready for tomorrow, don’t we? What happens if we fail to see some trend, miss an opportunity that one of our competitors seizes or fail to foresee a shift that can debilitate our success? I am here to say, while some level of scenario and strategic planning is a productive, exercise that spurns creative approaches – trying to predict the future has become an addiction that is robbing most executives from maximizing value.
The only thing you can predict with certainty about the future is something will change and that we will most assuredly be speaking about the future, in the future. Why do I say, trying to predict the future is folly? All you have to do is examine the validity of economic forecasts to see this because most are abysmal failures. As an example, the Business Insider’s article “These Eight Charts Prove Economic Forecasting Doesn’t Work” demonstrates how off economic forecasts historically have been (also see An astonishing record – of Complete Failure from the Financial Times). And as I have pointed to in earlier articles, your life and career trajectory rarely, if ever, goes according to any plan. So why is it we are so enamored with living in the future? In short, we desire to control our destiny out of fear and lack of trust in life itself. When we do this, we miss the very opportunities that lie in front of us.
You might ask ‘but what about vision? Great leaders are visionary, are they not?’ Yes, leaders are visionary, and visionaries do see a different future. Leaders do create something new. Nelson Mandela envisioned the end of apartheid, Robert Kennedy saw a man on the moon, Richard Branson saw his Virgin Brand creating a different kind of airline, and Fred Smith envisioned overnight shipping. But these visionaries did not predict the future; they just saw a different one. Once seen, they worked moment-to-moment to turn that into reality. They saw a problem and knew a day would come when that problem would no longer exist. Something was uniquely calling them to be the one to do something about it. In the end, visionaries make no predictions. Rather they live as if their vision is current reality.
There is a big difference between a visionary leader who sees a different future and a business executive who tries to predict the future so they can steer their company in a particular direction. The former serves a calling starting today; the later finds themselves operating from a constant underlying anxiety that is trying to preempt or take advantage of something that lies beyond their reach. The true visionary allows their instincts to lead them forward from now; the forecaster gets lost mental gyrations that over time fail to reach their promise. The only value in engaging the future is to do so by seeing it differently, not in predicting what will happen.
The key is to learn from the visionaries who follow what they genuinely care about or their heart’s promptings. Such calling comes from within us and not from our ability to intellectually study possibilities. Once a visionary settles on their calling, they realize the only time they can do anything about it is now. They realize the very conversation they are having in this moment is the most important conversation. They see that anything that distracts them from their current focus robs them of the opportunity to innovate. They get in sync with life and let the game come to them. They maintain a focus on the greater outcome they envision while embracing this very moment. They do not live in projection, the act as if the vision is already a reality.
In the end, the future is not real; we can only imagine it. Trying to predict it, plan for it and manipulate the current reality to meet it has little value. Just because our minds become transfixed by the idea of future, thinking of ways it may turn out, does not mean it is worth our time to muse possibilities. This use of thinking is where we overuse the faculty of mind. Extraordinary leaders realize this, they are present to now and know they are part of something greater. Because of this visionaries dispel the myth of future and create the future starting with this very moment.