An exercise to re-engage and build the future you want to see
“I don’t care what you say about this election, our stock price is at an all time high so it can’t be that bad. This administration might be the best thing ever.” said Rogerio, who voted for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate.
“How can you say that!!! That is so cold. Do you know what it’s like to be a person of color in America right now? I’m more afraid than ever for my family and friends. I am worried about the future.” said Collette, a Bernie supporter.
“Stop it with the election talk. We have work to do. We will all be fine. Let’s get down to business” said Marina, the manager of the group, who quietly voted Republican as she has done in every prior election. She is sick and tired of all of the election noise, and like many people, she justs wants to move on. But she knows she has to respond to recent events, the daily news gauntlet, and figure out how all of this affects the business.
We Were All Bad Predictors
Whether you see the new administration as a crisis, or opportunity, or both, take a moment with your team to think about the future productively. No matter which side you were on pre-election, we all have to admit, together, that we were wrong. The election results were a surprise, especially to the President-elect and the Republican leadership. All of our leading poll indicators, our think tanks, even our guiding hand of the stock market failed to predict the outcome.
We were all wrong.
Everyone except for Michael Moore. He was right. But Michael Moore likely can’t help you with your 2017 annual operating plan.
It’s critical that business leaders reflect on this main point: the entire world failed to predict the future. This means that your underlying assumptions about the economy, policy, culture, and reactions to technological innovation may also be wrong. So take a moment. Take stock. Work with your team to re-envision the future of your project, your plan, and your company based on shifting macro trends.
Polls didn’t work. Access to the biggest datasets we’ve ever seen didn’t help. The guiding hand of the market was surprised. Those of us who build predictive models (like me) received a wake-up call. Predictive models are based on assumptions. Our assumptions were flawed.
There was a strong desire to go deep into the spreadsheets just after the election. To run the “Trump scenario” that so few thought would happen. But more modeling and analysis won’t get us closer to a more certain future.
Instead, it’s time to get personal and connect with your team. Your fellow employees, peers, and partners are struggling through the same post-election confusion, and trying to make sense of what happened and what will it mean. Invite your team to a futuring session to generate scenarios of the future you want to build.
How to Co-Create a Future Vision:
The things you will need:
1 room that can fit multiple small tables (fitting 4-5 people each)
1 roll of brown “butcher” paper
1 roll of artist tape (sticks easily but comes off without tearing)
3 different colored Sharpie or thick markers for every participant
Rolling white boards + easels
Water, coffee, tea
At least 2 hours of time for your team – no cell phones or emails or disruptions
The recipe described below is adapted The World Café method which provides further resources and ideas for your futuring session.
1/ Invite the team
Look for a minimum 2 hour window that you can set aside without cellphones or laptops. Don’t organize on a critical day for sales or finance or during a big market launch. You want to be able to create space for presence and participation.
Let them know why you are inviting them to a futuring exercise, that your aim is to create a number of possible and preferable scenarios.
2/ Find trends that describe different versions of the future
In prep for your futuring workshop, evaluate and prepare to share trends that derive from different sources and diverse views. Focusing in on your sector can help uncover these ideas: The Future of Media, The Future of Health, The Future of Non-Profits. But there are overarching trends that affect every company and organization.
Here is a selection describing of posts and reports describing The Future of Work – the key here is to show a range of opinions:
Look for compelling quotes, provocative infographics, and surprising visuals. Don’t look for ideas to confirm your thinking, rather look for trends that will challenge your thinking. Print out a selection to kickstart your team’s thought process.
3/ Craft your initial questions
Why are you calling people together? To frame a future you want to see, collectively. You all work together – you have that in common. Choose to ask and explore a big question, a question that matters to the future of the organization. When you can frame your futures conversation as a question (vs. problems, concerns, gripes, or short-term expectations) you engage your team is learning something new together.
You can make it simple: “What is the future of x industry?” You can focus on the organization’s position. “What does it mean to be the world’s leading x?” Make sure your question is open-ended and invite inquiry and discovery. You’ll know you have a good question when is received with good energy encourage new questions, new ideas and new possibilities.
Prepare 3 key questions for the day that build on each other. You don’t have to be right in your question that you ask. Know that the deeper question-behind-the-question that you should be asking will emerge in your session.
4/ Prepare the room
Choose a venue or meeting room that can host several small conversations within one space. Your futuring exercise does not have to take place at a fancy off site – but you do have to set boundaries for no interruptions. You want to create a welcoming space, so pay attention to lighting and find ways to make a dull room more inviting.
You’ll want to have multiple small tables, café style, fitting 4-5 people per table. On the day of the event, cover each table with the brown butcher paper, taping down the edges underneath. Provide enough Sharpie pens for each table participant in each of the three colors on each table. Take your printed out featuring quotes, infographics, and images and distribute them among the tables for conversation fodder.
5/ Facilitate the day
Begin with a welcome and introduction and remind everyone why they are here, with the core questions visible on flip charts in the room. If you choose to follow World Café guidelines and etiquette, post them on flip charts or cards on each table. Create a safe space where participants are encouraged to be open and honest and connected to the people in the room.
If you have a number of people on your team who have expressed their post-election fear, personally or more generally, acknowledge their experiences. Ask everyone to bring their most creative energy to the work of defining the future.
Now comes the hard part: ask everyone to put their phones away for the full 2 hours.
Ask for volunteer hosts: The logistics are fairly self-organizing, but you do want to explain that you are looking for volunteer hosts to remain at each table throughout the 3 rounds of questions. Their job is to welcome people to each round, ask the core question, and review what occurred during the last round.
Ask participants to converse, reflect, capture, and sketch: The role of the participants is to join in the conversation, and use the pens to sketch, doodle, and capture the conversations at the table. Participants can choose to stay at their table, or to continue to circulate for each round.
As the facilitator, your role is to move around among the tables, encourage everyone to participate, and to remind people to sketch, draw, capture key ideas. Time each round with a smartphone timer set at 20 minutes, and gently move people onto the next round of conversation and the next table.
When you’ve completed three rounds of discussion, it’s time for the hosts to share and for the teams to circulate and review, reflect, and find patterns. Capture the notes and thoughts with cameras and ask everyone to reflect on their own – how will the insights generated today inform the work they do going forward.
The learning that occurs happens in the experience of the people in the room, forming connections and building their own inquiry-based strategic capability to think and explore. What do you do if your futuring exercise is successful? Replicate, and repeat.
6/ Replicate strategic conversations
You can choose to repeat these conversations when you find your team getting stuck, or responding to an unplanned crisis or event that sends all of your predictions off course. In a larger company, you can ask the participants to host their own futuring conversations with their teams.
In an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous times, we have to get used to the notion that we’ll be mostly wrong, most of the time, when we predict the future. Rather than clamp down and tell people to move on and “just get over it” – it’s time to open up the biggest questions that drive people to do great work every day. Through in person futuring conversations, we can restore trust, remind everyone of their humanity and humility, and become resilient together.