The Climate Economy requires a way of thinking that includes the future in every strategic decision. We do this all the time in our daily lives without thinking too much about it. We help our kids with their homework so they can be more likely to succeed in the future; we save money for retirement so we can be comfortable in the future. Thinking about the future in our business decisions is not a new concept, but it’s being applied in more ways now, and it’s a skill set that’s going to be increasingly in demand. Here we will briefly introduce the concepts of moral imagination, strategic foresight and backcasting to provide readers with a variety of ways of approaching this challenge.
First of all, we are looking at the world in a broader scope that recognizes that the actions we take can have repercussions on society that may not be broadly beneficial. So companies (or individuals) that are reaping benefits at the physical, economic or emotional costs of others have to rethink their way of doing things. A brief introduction to the concept of moral imagination on Inc.com includes the following:
To deal effectively and responsibly with both ongoing and emerging ethics issues, business needs to shift its perspective from reactive compliance to proactive moral imagination. Moral imagination is the capacity to discern the bigger picture. It is the kind of imagination that reveals how the web of financial and managerial connections of business are simultaneously a web of ethical interdependencies. The moral imagination lifts our sights from the short-term horizon of our immediate actions to include a wider appreciation of the impact we have over time on diverse constituencies. Most significant, the moral imagination compels us to question the adequacy of conventional wisdom in favor of pioneering new solutions to ethical quandaries.
Strategic foresight is the process of establishing equally likely scenarios in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world, then discussing the scenarios in order to identify assumptions and open new pathways. In Future Motion’s Introduction to Strategic Foresight (PDF):
The insights from scenarios cannot be learned from a report or a presentation. This can only happen if a group conversation about the scenarios takes place. The people involved need to think about the meaning of the scenarios in order to understand their implications. As such, the scenarios are a tool, an artefact to support a meaningful strategic conversation and an immersive learning experience.
A scenario dialogue helps to create words to describe the future. This makes it possible to talk about this, during the dialogue and later on in meetings or casual conversations, for instance, when something happens in the news that resembles one of the scenarios. Scenario dialogue helps to create vivid images of the future and how to respond to change. This is like a memory of the future and serves the same purpose as memories. It can tell you how to respond if a certain situation were to occur.
The point of all this?
The official future, the future that people believe in, is often based on outdated principles, assumptions and mental models. All of us have biased believe systems that we are unaware of. We follow the rules of thumb that we hold for truth. And we hold certain beliefs about the organization. Scenarios function like a mirror, as they help us become aware of our assumptions and belief systems.
Scenarios help to think the unthinkable. In this way, the impossible can become possible. Challenges can be seen as opportunities for transformation, but not in the sense of hollow phrases. But supported by ideas about solutions and actions that might work to overcome even the biggest global challenges.
Wow! Sounds like a plan. A fabulous example of scenarios is in BSR’s recent Doing Business in 2030 – Four Possible Futures (PDF) report.
Another way of thinking about our current situation in relation to the future is by backcasting. Part of the Natural Step framework, backcasting means starting at where you want to end up, and working back from there. A. Gayle Hudgens, Ph.D., author of Collaborative Spunk: The Feisty Guide for Reviving People and our Planet describes backcasting as follows:
Closely related to scenario development, the backcasting method addresses the question of how to create desirable futures, rather than passively waiting on trend extrapolation or other linear techniques to see what futures will occur. In backcasting, one “leaps” forward in the imagination to envision a future endpoint (a scenario)…
Next, work backward to the present to find out what actions will have to take place to assure such a future. during the process decision points emerge that reveal critical action steps essential in the short and medium term for realizing the longer-term endpoint…Early actions often include harvesting the “low-hanging fruit.” This means you first build momentum by taking advantage of the obvious, less demanding items.
How does this factor into the Climate Economy?
- Benefits to Environment: in all these methods, it’s a sustainable future that’s paramount. It’s no longer a side issue, like a “sustainability officer”; it’s a prime consideration in every strategic move.
- Benefits to Economy: Companies and entrepreneurs will benefit both from the practice of these new methods and the insights they bring, as well as from the creation of new markets for this new expertise.
- Benefits to Humanity: Humans are part of a system, many systems, working together, and understanding and basing decisions on this reality will work to improve human outcomes. Instead of destroying the systems that sustain us, we’ll become more in tune with them over the short and long term.
This has been a brief overview of these topics; please Google these topics because much more in-depth information is available for those interested.
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