An American Indian proverb states: “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.”
Our futures walk with us.
I’ve previously mentioned there’s no such thing as the future – there are possible futures.
These futures have always intrigued but more recently I’ve been on a journey from imagining to shaping. In particular, my fascination lies with the possible futures someone can identify and live towards, which makes it possible for them to live with greater creativity, generosity, and enjoyment.
There are different understandings about the futures we need to grasp. Beginning with the kinds of futures lying before us, we’ll trace these back towards the present.
There are possible futures, expected futures, and preferred futures.
Possible futures emerge out of scenarios we have worked upon, the result of being imaginative in response to events taking place around us (natural or of Human origin – though most of us probably didn’t see these events approaching, even if someone did*).
Expected futures emerge out of the extrapolation of certain data, resulting from observing what is predictable and defined through scientific means, out of exploring the trends which are at large from the past into the present.**
Preferred futures emerge out of individual or group vision-casting and planning, resulting from the courage and creativity pulled together by people who believe they are able to choose their future.
You’ve probably spotted how there can be an interplay of all three of these ways of thinking about the future: for example, a predicted future may be rejected and, instead a group of people begin to identify a future they prefer, leading to a movement of people as an event in Human history – such as the Civil Rights Movement in the United States (organised), or the fall of Communism in Easter Europe (unorganised).
At any time, these futures walk among us, adjacent possibilities for how we might live our lives. Perhaps, most importantly, is how we use these possibilities – as ways to shape the future, wherever possible, with foresight, intention, and love.
(*Think Nassim Taleb’s Black Swan: unforeseen, impactful, and we write a back-story to say we knew there was a Black Swan all along. A futurist resists the temptation to write a back-story and, instead, begins to write future-stories.)
(**This is probably how we mostly think about the future, yet it perhaps is the most vulnerable way: for an expected future to be realised, nothing must change. Daniel Kahneman and, again, Nassim Taleb offer important reasons to be cautious about the predictions of experts.)
(Cartoon: Dai is a Vietnamese name meaning “great.”