How do you “win the future”?

Whilst the future is inherently unknowable, the path toward it is eminently discoverable. Reflect on the observation that today is yesterday’s tomorrow. That we are, in part, living out today what we dreamt of in times past.

As a thought experiment, consider the current ubiquity of Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Now, place yourself back in time to 2003 (the year when the “Matrix Reloaded” was released and when the Concorde made its last flight). And think about the technology trends in that year. Consider the growing spread of the internet and the increasing desire for mobile computing and communication technology. And attach these nascent trends to the basic human desire to be connected with others.

Thus we have the ingredients for mass virtual networking. With the opportunity afforded us through hindsight, we can see that these two technology trends in 2003 were used to great effect by people that understood that we are indeed a social being. And that technology and that understanding gave rise to the vision that these people had – that software applications would facilitate social interaction on a global scale.

Now, in futures work, this realisation of visions past being fulfilled can be explained by the three horizons model. Where the first horizon is called today, where the third horizon is tomorrow, and where the second horizon is that period of time between the first and third horizons.

Now, if you frame the current horizon in terms of “Business As Usual” and tomorrow’s horizon as an “Alternative Future”, one can make two inferences. Firstly, that the dominant characteristics of the third horizon are emerging today. And secondly, there are characteristics of today’s world that are no longer dominant in the future.

And it is through the tussle of this messy middle horizon that the winners of today’s competing emerging issues and trends will rise. It is these victors, who use to their advantage these issues and trends, that determine what the future will look like. They can see the weak signals of what is happening around them. And further, one notable characteristic of these victors is that they have an entrepreneurial mindset. They have a predisposition to be able to join the dots and to apply systems thinking to what is nascent.

Think about this messy middle in terms of the tussle between Facebook and MySpace from about a decade ago. Who took best advantage of the rise of the internet and mobile ICT to satiate our desire for connection? Facebook.

So, how does this apply to your situation? How can we relate this three horizons model to a current day circumstance. Well, how about the workings of government? What about how the direction of government is set. Think about this model in the context of say education policy? Or perhaps other areas like social, industrial or health policy? The application of this model is in terms of who can best take advantage of today’s emerging issues and trends in the context of a particular policy area.

One way of applying this three horizons model is by standing at that third horizon. What do you want the future to look like? What do you see around you? How do you describe this prospective landscape? Then, from this yet-to-be vantage point, what are the emerging issues and trends that you need to champion now, in today’s horizon, in order to bring about what you want to see?

For example, say you want to see, in a few years time, a situation where all homes have solar panels connected to a smart grid. What are nascent issues and trends that you could champion now to bring that to pass? Could you perhaps encourage one or more of: the acceptance of the sharing economy, the desire to do something for the environment, the increasing range of solar financing options? More completely, what are the embryonic political, economic, social, technological, environmental and legal developments that you need to support in order to successfully realise your policy objective?

The future is there for the winning, but it requires an understanding of what is emerging to shape the vision you see.

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