Futures Friday: Do Planners Make Good Futurists?

Or, If You Give a Futurist a Trend…

Friends and coworkers know me as a “planner”. I like to have a solid understanding of what is going to happen AND how to get there. It makes me a good consultant, client manager, and strategist. Over the years though I have come to realize that I am not really a planner, I am a futurist.

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Game Theory

A good chess player does not “plan” three moves ahead, they “think through” three turns ahead. There is a big difference. A plan is a course of action based on a series of events. If part of that sequence is altered based on events (internal or external), then there is “plan B”. There can always be a backup plan, but in essence, it is just a hard coded series of options. It is a brute force way of managing the future. When we operate tactically or reactively, we often use planning techniques as it helps us manage and prepare, and most people prefer to see a “fixed future” even if it rarely plays out that way. It’s much easier to manage to one set of expectations than to a multitude of possible outcomes.

The Power of a Plan

Plans are exceptionally useful for getting anything actually done. Certain tasks require more planning than others. A large wedding for example, or getting humans on the moon (both astounding achievements), require managing lots of moving pieces to get to a very specific outcome. The ability to plan (and follow a plan) is a crucial skill in the evolution of our societies. We need to be able to see a very clear goal and then have a path to get there.

Traveling Through the Desert

Imagine you are on a desert highway with large mountain ranges on the horizon. The highway stretches through the flat lands in a long line that seems to never end as it meets the mountains. In the distance, you also catch glimpses of other roads that go into the mountains.

Photo by Savannah Koomen on Unsplash

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

One of my favorite books to read to my kids was “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie”. If you have not done so, read it. Basically, it walks through extended implications of our actions. “If you give a mouse a cookie, chances are he will want a glass of milk to go with it…and if he has a glass of milk, chances are…” This is essentially what futurists do when we go through the implications of possible events in the future.

Plan for the Future

So, do planners make good futurists? Both need to be able to think ahead, see potential outcomes, and make adjustments. Both need to think about strategy and actions. Planners however tend to look for solutions, while futurists tend to look at possibilities. Planners tend to stay closer to the here and now, while futurists often remove all constraints except plausibility (and even then sometimes plausibility has to hold the futurists beer).

I am an innovator, storyteller, futurist, and problem solver. I have a passion for sustainability and social justice. https://www.linkedin.com/in/jtmudge/