Thinking in the Future Tense

An approach to predicting and preparing for 2040

A discussion on Jennifer James's "Thinking in the Future Tense."

Video Transcript

Rebecca Gruenberg 00:07 Awesome! So hi, today we are talking about the book, "Thinking in the Future Tense," by Jennifer James. My name is Rebecca Gruenberg, and today with me is Taylor Owens, Ethan Cunningham, and Evan Franzman.

So we're just going to do a brief introduction as to why thinking in the future tense is important. Really a lot of people view the future with fear and dread, which is related a lot to all the change that goes into that. This book really provides a missing framework for analyzing and organizing all of the life events and all the changes that organizations and people as a whole go through. And while it's aimed at managers and business professionals, and while it was written in 1996, it still has a lot of applications today. Especially with the Cyber Age that we're entering and the continual technological changes that we see every day.

So the very first skill talked about in the book is "Seeing with New Eyes." What this really refers to is perspective. We can't experience the future until it becomes the present, so a lot of the things that we believe about the future really aren't going to be able to hold up. And in order to do so, we have to use our perspective in order to think clearly about this unknown future. That involves going through all the positives and negatives of issues, see how parts relate to the whole, interpreting change, and adapting to it effectively and productively, and also creating new possibilities from them. Losing perspective can come from too much information or too much complexity which is really an issue in today's world, but feeling overloaded like that is totally normal. So let's go ahead and look at what distorts our perspectives and why we should keep these mind traps at the fore-front of our minds. So self-righteousness is the first thing that can distort perspective, and it's really asking "you can be right," or "you can know what's really happening." You have to be able to confront your preconceived beliefs and everything else that you believe going into the future in order to understand how you can adapt and change. Similarly, age. Many adults cling to the past and that's why children are always seen as visionaries because age can really pile up those negative experiences. So having that perspective about how your age changes, you can help to dial it back and view the future with a little bit more optimism. Gender. There's a lot of differences in sexualities and with women versus men in really more prominent roles being desensitized as weird in modern society. And gender perspectives really come down to a level of respect which is always something to keep in mind. Similarly, class. A lot of class systems create an inability to work or live together easily in these large communities, which are only becoming more complex. And then finally electronic media can distort our perspectives. We lose the ability to concentrate and sympathize because TV and computers are addictive. And of course modern-day, the issue more than anything are our cell phones.

3:09 So the next skill is "Recognizing the Future," and what that really refers to is pattern recognition, specifically. Patterns are mental maps that can lead us to visionary ideas. We really need an eye for information and clues, so that we can understand new patterns and trends. Managers especially need to be aware of patterns so that they can track changes in products and in markets because there are fads. But there are also long-term trends, and it's important to recognize that difference. Trends are often driven by increased complexity and customization, miniaturization, multitasking, and then growing interest in adaptability for the mind and the body. Predicting change comes from these six ideas. The first one is extension, and it's really just asking, "How will innovations affect the way society is organized?" You know, "How will they affect us now versus later?" Elaboration is kind of "What part of a business or service can be elaborated upon?" "How can it be further developed?" Recycling is just when old patterns or trends make a comeback. So it's asking yourself, "How can we revive this old trend?" Pattern reversals: that's really just a normal playing out of tensions between opposites. So it's just thinking about how the same way we always think we're going to move forward, trends will reverse the same way that we do. There are strange attractions and those are odd combinations to look out for. And finally chaos, which is just unpredictability in a lot of complex forms, which is why it's important to let yourself play with unlikely possibilities and really use some visualization techniques.

Evan Franzman 4:51 Jumping into skill three here, it's going to be "Harnessing the Power of Myths and Symbols." So the first question I asked when I read this chapter was, you know, "What are myths and symbols?" Is it the stuff, you know, we read in fables, that kind of thing? And it's not really that. Myths are threads that are linked to the past and they shape the perception of the present. They're often idealized and exaggerated, hyperbolic, and they represent deeply held beliefs and perceptions of a specific community or culture. Whereas symbols are kind of a summary of the myths that it represents, so they're an outward sign of an inward belief. They're very prevalent in language, (oops, you might go back there for me) very prevalent language, but difficult to find thoughts without symbols. So words can symbolize different meanings. For example, whimp is one that they use in the book, and that's somebody who's kind of weaker. So we go to the next slide. Now, we talk about the more important thing which is myth switches. So it's important for a leader to understand when myths are switching. So it's important to notice changes, old myths being uprooted, often cause a passion that distracts from the change in the air. So people are often deep-rooted in their beliefs, and so it's important to kind of notice these changes so the uprooting doesn't cause a passion. So some coaching styles, examples, they had in the book were humiliation versus motivation, like strategy and teamwork, and hiring practices shifted from humiliation to motivation over the course of, you know, several decades. A new one that's kind of coming up in the 90's they talked about, was like the idea of a global village, kind of having globalization. We can see now that it's very prevalent. Everything's super connected now. Back then, people, they cited examples of Chinese women using American style. I think anybody can use any style now. And back then they also talked about people who had negative reactions to it calling it "cultural pollution." As a company, it's important to tread lightly and respect and adopt cultures with overseas clients. Just a note they made. The last thing was it's really important for leaders to recognize myth switches. You don't want to be caught using an outdated myth. You know, back in before Jim Crow times, it was okay to be racist. Now, it's definitely not okay. You don't want to be caught using an outdated myth.

7:02 And so the next slide, "Speeding Up Your Response Time." So this has to do with embracing change, something we talked about last year. So this is a brief background on the process of change. You know change as we all know, is constant, unrelenting, doesn't care who you are. How do we keep up as individuals? It's important to understand the processes of cultural change. So here's kind of a list of what cultural evolution is. You have innovation, diffusion, cultural loss, acculturation, outside control, and then trade, travel, communication. I won't go over these too much, because they're not as important as the next two slides here which are the styles of change. And so one that we're really familiar with is incremental change. That's the most common type. It's little steps that gradually add up to a huge change, so slow we hardly notice. Examples they had were like exercising or developing a skill like coding or something like that. And the steps for this are, you know, you see this window, something just clicks, you're aware that you're kind of developing it. You explore, gather information about it, get prepared. You try and integrate parts of it into your life, and so you really fully commit and plunge into it. It's short, scary, you have feelings of doubt. You know you're nervous that this is really the right step. You eventually have the landing phase where you feel like you're on solid ground. You're on the right track and then afterwards you evaluate. You have some retrospective on what you could do better going forward. And then the second style was systemic shifts. This is like the more futuristic style of change. So it's appropriate for fast and comprehensive response, in business especially. It's a total transformation, not gradual at all. It's a 180-degree turn. So you're completely shifting everything. Two books that kind of talk a lot about this that I encourage you to go read if you're more interested in this is "The Anatomy of an Illness," and "In Search of Excellence." Two things I mentioned in the book is resources. The big thing about this style of change is, you know, if you're a leader, people you're leading, and you can even see this in yourself, is that people can feel threatened by this sudden shift and huge shift. You know, I'm talented in the situation I'm in now, but you know, I'm not so sure about the situation we're going towards. How do I kind of prepare? So that's just kind of something you have to focus on.

Ethan Cunningham 9:05 And moving into skill five is "Understanding the Past to Know the Future." And so the first problem is with nostalgia. And it's where we remember the good things and we forget the rough things. And a perfect example is like remembering the warmth of the cabin and forgetting how cold it was in the outhouse, right? And so this presents a clear resistance to change. This is the way things have always been. This is the way they should be. It's how we've always done it. And really it goes back to this great belief in a great past and a lackluster future. That, you know, you think about the good old days, the glory days, and that the future is just not looking so bright. How to practically expose yourself in this false belief is like if you go back and re-watch your favorite childhood TV show. I guarantee you if you go back and look you're like, "Wow, this is not the quality I remember it being, and things have definitely gotten better." Next slide, please. And so one driver of this resistance is lodge cultures and company cultures. And basically what they do is impose outdated standards on new members, and they also limit acceptance to conserve power. And so we're thinking like physicians, politicians, academics, religions, this like, "Oh you have to have four years of academic experience to move into this job." Which may not always be the case, because you can learn things, you can be capable without specific certifications. And so ultimately it suppresses opposing thought and disincentivizes taking risks. And so next slide please.

10:40 And then we talk about skill number six, "Doing More with More or Less." And so on the next slide, we think of the effects of security. And so security is defined as a feeling of being able to survive and prosper, and the lack of security brings anxiety, insecurity, right? And so as this insecurity increases, or your security decreases, the competition is gonna increase, right? And so we think time is money, and so like we're gonna sleep less. And you can see over time, we sleep less than past generations. And what we're moving into is from a manual to a mental labor. And so you think like agricultural society to corporate office type society. It also is making effects in like our day-to-day life. We think of stereotype versus empathy. It was okay to think like, "Oh this person is of this demographic, so they're like this." And now we know that's not the case, but it actually takes more mental labor to empathize with the person's situation. And so we can also see that with physical work and anxiety and thinking like, "Okay, my manual labor, like digging ditches all day, is a lot of physical work, but now we're moving into this mental labor, of this anxiety, which uses a lot of mental energy." And then creating insecurity to increase motivation and avoiding anxiety to increase security are kind of ways we kind of cope with trying to drive competition or feel more secure, but they're not sustainable. And then on the next slide, we talk about optimizing energy, okay. And so, these are just a few of many tactics, but two-way work relationships create more energy than one-way. And so in a one-way relationship, at least as far as work goes, you might think of fear and intimidation as a motivator, but you're just using that unsustainable anxiety and you're actually wasting energy, mental energy, that you could use for something else. Technology saves time and energy as long as you're comfortable using it. And so the learning curve might be steep, and that's why we resist that change, but the net time profit will pay off. And then some kind of like subcategories under that, technology is like allowing customers to do work like pumping their own gas, ordering online or from a kiosk like at McDonald's, or self-checkouts at a grocery store. So that way we're not wasting labor time. And then to finish this out, like pushing your skills and leaving old work to subordinates is like the idea that maybe a nurse is capable of doing certain jobs that the doctor can do, but just because they don't have the certification like usually they're told not to do that. And so in the future, we can look at pushing skills and leaving like old work to them. And finally lifelong learning, continuing education becomes more prominent, and just the fact that you can always have a growth mindset and continue to develop your skills in your work.

Taylor Owens 13:49 All right so moving on, we have skill seven which is "Mastering New Forms of Intelligence." This goes on with what Ethan was saying about the growth mindset and finding areas to improve. So first up we have Howard Gardner's Eight Primary Forms of Intelligence. So Gardner developed this list of eight forms of intelligence, so you can determine where you can improve and where you're lacking in your skills. So the first one is verbal and linguistic, which is like your communication. The second one is logical and mathematical, which is your ability to solve logic and mathematical equations. This is more scientific. And then there's your visual and spatial, which is your ability to visualize your solutions to the problems and be able to kind of create an image of what you would like to do. There's body and kinesthetic which is how you're going to physically respond to problems and how you're going to be able to make your body work and respond correctly and efficiently. And then we have five is musical and rhythmic, which is the ability to incorporate sounds and music into your ability to solve problems and be able to utilize that to decrease stress and improve your mood while you're working. And then interpersonal is your strong, intuitive skills and your ability to read the room. So this is being able to tell whether the people around you are upset, happy, amused, be able to know if you're doing a good job. And then intrapersonal is the ability to understand character and personality. So this takes a little bit more depth and being able to kind of see how people react and how you react personally and use that to your advantage to be able to work better with others while also being more efficient. And then moral and spiritual is a hybrid of interpersonal and intrapersonal, and this is more along the lines of what you believe is right and why you think it's right. You could be a religious person or not, it's just kind of where your moral beliefs stem from and whether you're strong in those or weak. And then the author added in a ninth bonus form of intelligence which is practical, and this is like your common sense or street smarts. So this is seen in a lot of people who like to reverse engineer, tear stuff apart to see how it works, so that way they can kind of move forward and know something that might not be teachable.

16:12 All right, so moving on to skill 8 we have "Profiting from Diversity." The key thing to think of when talking about diversity is that it's not just race. A lot of people will just focus on race being the only form of diversity. Another key form is gender, along with many other areas just like depending on how somebody's background was growing up and how it is currently, people come from all different walks of life and that's a very important thing to understand. So misunderstandings that are common here are based on stereotypes and then having lack of perspective and not knowing how they might see things. So change is happening by understanding these stereotypes along the lines of stay-at-home dads where men are staying home. They don't feel like they have to go out and work every day, and they feel like they can focus on being a parent. Where in the past women were expected to be the parent and do all the housework, and that's shifting because now people are starting to see that you can change and things are going to be okay. So a quote about this that I really liked was, "Men weren't really the enemy--they were fellow victims suffering from an automated masculine mystique that made them feel unnecessarily inadequate when there were no bears to kill." So that was by Betty Frieden, and that basically is just talking about how men weren't necessarily trying to be the oppressors. They were more felt like they were supposed to in order to kind of express their masculinity and be what the world told them they had to be, and like kill bears even though there might not have been anything that they really had to do. So in the end, you can kind of look at diversity as a process. So when you're trying to improve diversity, it almost always goes through this cycle. So control is where you look at a group, and you're like, "Oh, they're not like me. They're savages." So then you teach the people around you to hate that group because they're different. But then as like people like, "Oh, why are we hating them?" You begin to tolerate them moving forward. So then you start to imitate them because you're like, "Oh, they actually do some cool things." So you start to kind of adopt their culture, and then you redefine it to be more of like a mix. So now as you're starting to adopt, you're like, "Oh wow, we're not that different." So this is kind of like where we begin to adapt and start to accept. So moving on to acceptance. That's when you're like, "Okay, let's judge them based on their ability and as equals rather than how they're different." And then at that point, you forget that they're different at all, and you become one group of people. But then that's when you notice that there's another group of different people, and then the process starts over again. And moving forward, we have to be able to break out of this process and skip step eight and keep moving forward. So that's the end of our presentation. The key thing to take away from this is that it's very important to keep an open mind and be able to think in a future tense in order to not get caught flat-footed and be able to adapt to change and move with the change as it happens moving forward into 2040 and beyond.