We have gotten to this place in society where we act like the future is something that happens to us, rather than something that we create with the decisions that we make each day. I think one of the reasons that this happens is that we have lost our future lens that we used so often as a child. When you are a kid you spend a lot of time imagining what is possible for yourself, for the things you care about, for your community.
As a college student, I took a group of elementary students on a tour of their ideal neighborhood. We walked up and down the streets of their actual neighborhood and they mapped on pieces of paper what they would like to be there instead. Where I may have saw an abandoned lot, they envisioned a perfect place for a new playground with 2 story tall slides. Where I saw a broken down school building full of peeling lead paint, they imagined a state of the art school full of teachers that cared about them. Where I saw a city bus that was full of crabby looking adults, they dreamed of a free bus that was full of happy people and that included ice cream with your ride. These kids had future vision.
As adults, we sometimes laugh off imagination as an unrealistic view of the world but the most amazing things come when we don't just start from where we already are but when we envision something that doesn't exists at all. If we started with the question "what would the world look like if this problem was completely fixed?" you may start to see possibilities for entirely new solutions.
A few ways to build your Future Focused Mindset:
1) When you are trying to solve a problem imagine what it would look like if you did the complete opposite of conventional wisdom. For example, if you were trying to think about how to make prisons less crowded instead of following conventional wisdom and adding more prison beds, what if you eliminated prisons all together? What would that look like? How would justice look different? Are there ideas from that exercise that give you a new perspective on your original problem?
2) Spend some time learning about other worlds. Societies often have set types of solutions to problems. If you are stuck, find out how other places solve the problem. Would looking at the early childhood system in Sweden give you lessons in St. Louis? Would looking at how birds migrate give you ideas on how to manage traffic on highways? Would looking at a deep sea ecosystem help you start to understand how your local nonprofit ecosystem operates (who are the sharks and who are the algae)?
3) Make time for the future in your present. Set aside 5% of your time to think about your organization or the issues you care about 5-50 years in the future. What is just beyond the horizon that you need to pay attention to?
What else are you doing to build your future focused mindset? Share it in the comments.