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It’s New Year’s Eve.  Here is a virtual toast to our readers, members and colleagues, wishing all good fortune in the coming year.  Bonne annee!

This time of year, people naturally become a little more future focused.  They reflect on the recent past and develop hopes for the coming year.  Many of us will make a New Year’s Resolution, a commitment to some action that we think will mprove our lives.  In our organizations, we make a shift to the new year.  Calendar year stats get a re-boot. 

This is an excellent time to have conversations about our futures, both personally and professionally. So much of the practice of foresight involves fruitful dialogue.  In my formal training, the most exciting methods – the very ones that separate futurists from the pack of forecasters, analysts and consultants – are focused on facilitating effective conversations about the future.  

Last month, we published a piece from Rick Myers, who has since been appointed as the chief of police in Newport News, Virginia.  BTW, Congratulations, Rick!  Rick’s article drew on his past experience as the chief of police of numerous departments and a consultant for many others.  His comments struck a chord with me.  Let me draw attention to a particular section:

 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.

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.

I think Rick is expressing the very real and necessary tension between the demands of the present and the lure of the future.  The necessities of the present often work against our future aspirations.  Dealing with the urgencies of the present yields immediate fruit while investments for the future require delayed gratification. But, failure to prepare adequately for the future imposes future costs.  But, social science is pretty clear: when faced with two choices, one with immediate rewards and deferred costs and the other with up-front costs but delayed rewards, people will choose the first option over the second nearly every time.

In recent years, a new method for encouraging dialogue that confronts this tension has emerged: Three Horizons.  While there are some American practitioners, the center of gravity for the method is clearly the United Kingdom, with prominent practitioners in London, Oxford and Edinburgh. 

Three Horizons holds a simple proposition: at any given time, there are three essential and valid voices about the future: the managerial voice, the entrepreneurial voice, and the aspirational voice.  These are voices of the present that speak to different views of the future.  

The managerial voice addresses the need to get work done.  It is the voice that responds to the urgencies of the present and the need to service those needs in the future.  The managerial voice seeks incremental change – to evolve in response to changing demands.     

The aspirational voice challenges the current practices and dreams of a better future.  It pursues transformation (large scale change) and seeks to prepare for future dangers.  It is the voice of sudden, dramatic change over incremental change and revolution over evolution.   

The entrepreneurial voice is opportunistic, seeking to exploit smaller scale improvements in current practices.  It is the voice of action that implements change.  Ultimately, it becomes co-opted by the other voices, usually by the managerial (incremental change) but occassionally by the aspirational (transformative). 

Three Horizons provides a way to map and value these voices.  It grants structure to discussions about the future and helps participants understand from which perspective a particular idea comes.  The organizations that have used Three Horizons are finding it easier to make the critical linkage between the present and a distant, desired future.  Consequently, they find it easier to take concrete actions toward that future while respecting the demands of the present. 

As we move foreward into the new year, let’s have better conversations.  To good futures! 

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