Navigating the Future

I love ballooning. You can change height easily enough, but you have to find a place where the wind is blowing the way you want to go to change direction. Meteorology helps but has no guarantees. And, of course, you’re never quite sure where you’re going to land. Ballooning requires acts of faith, training, teamwork, and luck, and the only reason to do it is for its joy. It seems like an appropriate metaphor for our lives right now.

Sometimes, in our day to day lives, we do things so automatically that we don’t even notice we’re doing it. We ignore the weather and the wind. 

I spend a lot of time talking with people and considering what is happening around us, what’s disappearing, what’s emerging and what it means. The short answer is that we are confused. We sense that the way we used to work is ending, that what is replacing it is unclear and evolving and that the existential challenges we face are frightening. We’re flying over the cloud of confusion.

It is a time when we should be taking part in conversations about what we sense as much as about what we can prove, but other than on the very edge of polite conversation; we don’t. We seem much keener to dissect what has already happened and feasting on anger and blame. This article on Medium, shred with me by Caroline Guibert-Pavillet captures the problem well. 

At the same time, as we are increasingly unclear about the future, we still monetise it as though nothing has changed. We value companies on future earnings, buy our houses on mortgages, and work for companies with whom we have a tenuous relationship in return for a monthly salary. We have become addicted to regular income to pay the debts against which we have mortgaged our uncertain futures.

The result is that we become obsessed with addressing or commenting on problems of relatively little long term importance. We share our views on media whose aim in life is to harness our attention to buy more stuff on credit that we probably don’t need; rather than provide us with a meaningful conversation that might change something. There is something paradoxical about paying for apps to help us “live in the now” when we pay for them with money we have yet to earn.

We seem addicted to short-term measures, from efficiency to ROI to likes on social media and the data it provides. In many ways, it’s an easy hit, like any addiction.

The challenge with the future is that there is no data on it; it hasn’t happened yet, which makes addressing it more problematic. It is a breeding ground for fears and speculation. There is no data-heavy, provable, evidence-based solution to the future. It won’t negotiate with us, and we have to meet it on its terms, not ours.

The future is going to arrive. We will all land somewhere as it does, and the least we can do is to prepare.

Preparation is straightforward. There are no courses, no hacks, and no guarantees. Just talk. With those people you care about and trust, about what matters, what’s interesting and what you notice, and listen to them as they do the same. If you’re clear about what you value and what you’re not prepared to do, the rest will sort itself out.

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