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By J. Daniel Beckham

Create premature collisions. Take undercurrents and simulate their convergence, collision, and coalescence. Slam them together. Crash test them. Collide even the seemingly unrelated. What happens if the Internet is collided with the elderly? What happens when you smash quantum physics into process re-engineering?

Run with the scissors. One of my favorite T-shirt slogans is "Runs with scissors." It labels an obvious violator of life's protocols. Be reckless in your thinking. Imagine inventing a future that would rip the guts out of the organization - that would slaughter every sacred and semi-sacred cow. Boldness is liberating. So is audacity and heresy. Without them, the organization can become subject to the tyranny of the incremental as it chants the mantra: "It worked in the past. It works in the present. We need only do it better in the future."

Engage in dialogue. Talk about the future. I mean really talk about the future. Physicist, David Bohm, described such dialogue as revealing the "tacit infrastructure" of thought. According to William Isaacs in The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook, dialogue allows its participants to see "the assumptions taken for granted, the polarization of opinions, the rules for acceptable and unacceptable conversation and the methods for managing differences." According to Isaacs, dialogue creates "...a setting where conscious, collective mindfulness" can be maintained. Dialogue is a pathway to a richer set of implications. It is also an important step towards owning your own thinking. People own what they help create.

Constantly bash assumptions. Most pictures of the future are assumptions carried forward. To avoid being trapped by too narrow or too rigid a set of assumptions, deliberately and repeatedly attack assumptions. Break their hypnotic spell and open up a continuous stream of alternative possibilities. The universal solvent for reducing an assumption to its key ingredients is the question, "Why?" At Toyota, they have long used the 5 Whys to blast past the obvious and reduce things to their roots. By routinely asking, "Why?" five times, higher levels of understanding are created. To attack assumptions requires that the individuals involved in the assault rid themselves temporarily but intentionally of any personal ownership of the assumptions. Why is it important to own primary care practices? Why? Why? Why? Why?

Swim in the past. If nations have gone to war over oil in the past, is it likely they may go to war over other resources in the future? If simple technologies have set off immense social changes in the past, is it likely they will do so in the future as well? In colonial America, homeopathic physicians were the best trained and most respected. Allopaths were, for the most part, poorly educated apprentices. But the allopaths were scrappy, entrepreneurial and insensitive to the niceties of the staid institutions of European training. They started their own medical schools and overwhelmed their competitors in the race for professional legitimacy. Could such a pattern repeat itself in the future?

Extend your time horizon. To see convergences, collisions and coalescence, you've got to look out beyond the time horizon that defines most organizations' view of the future. The economist, John Maynard Keyes, was right when he observed that "in the long term we're all dead," but he was wrong if he meant to imply that the future has no influence on the present. The best way to ensure the present is to ensure the future. By definition, there's no way to create the future without action in the present. And the best way to allocate focus and resources in the present is against some rational concept of the future. The future is accelerating. It's always closer than you think. Future events at what the organization views as its three-year time horizon are increasingly likely to emerge as next year's events instead.

Dedicate time to the future. Most organizations dedicate only a minuscule amount of time thinking and talking about the future. Management and the board (sometimes with physicians) get together once a year and spend maybe four hours earnestly considering the shape of the future. If (conservatively) executives have 2,080 hours of work time available in a year, they will have dedicated a scant .02% of their time to consideration of the future. Some organizations have been very deliberate in engaging the future. Microsoft had an Advanced Technology Group dedicated to contemplating the future. Toshiba had a Lifestyles Research Institute. Yamaha set up a "listening post" in London to share the latest in musical technology with some of Europe's most talented musicians. Electronic Data Systems hired alumni of the Disney organization to help it put together an exhibit demonstrating how technology may remake people's lives. Nissan pulled together a naturalist, an astronaut, an ecologist, a physicist, an anthropologist, as well as community and business leaders to dialogue regularly about the future.

Copyright © The Beckham Company             Future Scanning – Mar. 1997 (Prediction)


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