Lessons from a futurist: How to adapt to the now and next of work


If a job role or career embraces thinking about the future, how can the rest of us use future thinking to be more adaptive to what lies ahead?
Woman using virtual reality headset
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The future – it can be quite the human obsession. It’s explored in film, arts, literature and culture. It’s thought about, worried about and planned for. Weather forecasts are checked and financial predications scanned as we try to get a grip on that which is yet to happen.

After enduring a pandemic and its ongoing effects, it’s no wonder our antennae might be sensitive to what’s ahead. What do I need to be prepared for next?

Fear can rise in response to this uncertain future, as Dr Susan David author of ‘Emotional Agility’ explains. “If something feels new, difficult, or even slightly incoherent, fear kicks in.” But having too tight a grip on the future isn’t the best solution to fear because, “expectations are resentments waiting to happen.” 

Workplaces are tackling the unclear future in bold strides. New job roles and titles reflect the importance thinking about the future holds. Titles like Chief Futurist, Futurologist, Future Opportunities Director and Chief of the Future of Work are becoming more common.

If a job role or career embraces thinking about the future, how can the rest of us use future thinking to be more adaptive to what lies ahead?

  • Thinking by wandering

Humans are curious creatures, imagining and mentally rehearsing to think, plan or relax. “Mind-wandering may appear to be purposeless, but our thoughts have a surprising way of wandering to our goals,” says Alison Escalante.

Sara Blakely, entrepreneur, founder and CEO of Spanx said, “Don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know. That can be your greatest strength and ensure that you do things differently from everyone else.”

Rather than waiting to see, futurists and future thinkers tend to adopt this curious, wondering – and wandering – approach to zig when everyone else might be zagging. They think: ‘What’s going to happen? If these things connect and then that happens, what might the outcomes be?’

  • Thinking in time

Jane McGonigal, Director of Game Research at the Institute for the Future and author of ‘Imaginable’, suggests longer-term thinking of 5-10 years is our most common timeline. It’s a popular interview or dating question too: ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’

How far ahead are you thinking: tomorrow, next month, 90 days or next year and beyond?  Time may be a common way to think about the future, but it isn’t the only way.  

  • Thinking in horizons

Strategic thinkers and consulting giants like McKinsey frequently apply the ‘three horizons’ model to help clients think practically about the future. Try it out: step outside and notice that which is near, perhaps a fence or tree; this is the first horizon. Looking further along the road as it disappears into the horizon could be the second horizon. And then onwards up and beyond, towards mountains, a river or cityscape is the third horizon. Just as our eyes and vision give us near and far, so can our thinking.

  • Thinking in themes

Adopt topical or thematic thinking. Thinking about our lives allows us to focus on themes like health and wellness, financial security, education, family, hobbies. Bringing common information together makes it easier to find – like in libraries, movie genres or colours of décor. Consider future focused themes like competitors, technology, innovations or best practices.

  • Thinking for decisions and action

Musing and wondering is a beautiful thing, and so is deciding and taking action. When we think not just about the future but what action we will take, we switch from musing and wondering to decisive, powerful and practical thinking.

Whatever you think, savour it

The benefits of future thinking are many. Whatever you think, be sure to enjoy the benefits of ‘anticipatory savouring’.

This helps us enjoy a positive experience in advance. It’s imagining a holiday before it arrives, envisioning a product launch before the day or imagining a team success prior to the finish line. Each experience helps ‘derive benefits for the experience twice’. It heightens our enjoyment both during and after the event.

Whatever the future has in store, don’t be so futurist with thinking that you don’t believe you can influence what will happen. Humans have great agency and autonomy that can swing into action to make decisions and take actions to leverage power over our lives.

Stay alert to the topics, themes and ideas you’re interested in by setting up a watch list for key words appearing in the media or curating a digital file of stories, ideas and trends that evoke your curiosity or create patterns of thought.

And go easy; thinking can be a tough endeavour. As Bertrand Russell, philosopher, logician and public intellectual said, “Most people would sooner die than think; in fact, they do so.” 

It could be that many more curious and brave future thinkers are exactly what the world needs.

Lynne Cazaly is a work futurist and expert in new ways of thinking, leading and working. She is a keynote speaker and 10 x author. See more at www.lynnecazaly.com