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The Tension Between Today and Tomorrow

I’ve met a lot of great, impressive people in PFI.  One of the more impressive figure is Rick Myers, a former chief in a number of departments, a CALEA commissioner, a former president of PFI, and a colleague in the Futures Working Group.  Rick has graciously agreed to do a guest post on the blog titled “The Tension Between Today and Tomorrow.”  Drawing on his experience, Rick draws attention to the fundamental challenges facing every chief in their battle to lead for tomorrow while managing today.  His insight follows:

Being a charter member of PFI, and having been fully indoctrinated by Dr. Tafoya way back in 1989, I’ve been thinking about the future for a long time….so long that some of it has come and gone!  I enjoy thinking about the environment of policing 25 years from now and what we need to do to prepare.  However, I’m finding a definite tension that draws me back to dealing with today’s crises, which often have little resemblance to what the forecasts say lie ahead.

As a chief, I often had to fight off being bogged down with today’s crises, personnel issues, nagging policy snafus, etc.  Even tougher was getting my staff out of the daily funk and thinking forward.  I believe it is a forever battle.

But, now, as someone who finds himself consulting at different agencies, I’m really drawn away from the future as I attempt to assist agency leaders try to fix what’s broken today.  And, there is plenty out there that’s broken.

In one setting that I’m assisting at, they’ve set a goal to become accredited in the next few years.  Now, as a CALEA Commissioner, I’m all about encouraging more and more agencies to achieve this proven demonstration that they’ve crossed the bar and sustain adherence to best practices and high standards.  But, in this setting, the agencies involved have so many issues to address, I’ve had to express my sincere observation that they’re wasting cognitive energy worrying about accreditation that should be poured into just basic requirements of a police agency.  In other words, I’m discouraging futures thinking! 

Lest you think, good reader, that I should turn in my membership card, I assure you that I haven’t stopped thinking forward.  In this setting, I’ve engaged some of my colleagues to be thinking about how we could help the struggling leadership totally re-think how policing is done and organized in this setting.  Are there alternative structures?  Are there services that “the police” won’t or shouldn’t be preoccupied about in the future?  How can emerging technology improve services there?  And, what about the human equation, what future recruitment, training, and accountability processes might benefit in this setting?

I recall in my second chief’s position, going from being “the dayshift” to actually having a quiet office where I could think.  It was during this time that I attended the NA and met Dr Tafoya.  I’ve been thinking ever since. Futurists know about this tension between today and tomorrow.  As leaders, there is no way to abandon the problems of today simply to dream about tomorrow.  The key may be to use that tension to CONNECT today and tomorrow. Bridge builders sometimes use tension as a key ingredient of constructing spans that last a long time.  While I don’t think like an engineer, I am thinking that this tension might be a bridge for us to say, “ok, here is one of today’s major issues; if we do nothing, what might it look like in 5, 10, 20 years?  If we do X, what might it look like?  If we do Y?, etc”  Similarly, something that might resemble a minor concern today might appear more like a major crisis in the making from a forecast perspective.  So, instead of struggling with the tension between today and tomorrow, it can serve as a daily reminder that no matter what we’re up against now, there are implications and, if we’re lucky, maybe even strategies lurking ahead.  Likewise, if we’re scanning today’s environment and see a trend that has little impact on us today, let’s not overlook it until it blows up; perhaps we can roll it into our strategic thinking.

If we do a little less structured Strategic Planning (I believe in it, but hate going through the process) and instead daily use the tension between today and tomorrow to think more strategically every day, we might find that we benefit both today AND tomorrow.  Just a thought…

 

Rick Myers

 

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