There was a time when predicting the future was the work of those who could communicate with spirits, read the stars or throw bones. Oracle’s and Shamans, Soothsayers and Druids, and the list goes on and on. The point is that ever since the time our first ancestors decided to walk upright, we as a species have known that knowledge about what was waiting up ahead could mean the difference between victory and defeat. We know that knowledge of the future could mean the difference between life and death.
So we are naturally curious about the world of tomorrow. As a species we are constantly applying your mind in an attempt to establish the direction of our focus, for our careers, for our investments, for the future of our kids. But figuring out what lies ahead, is not easy at all.
So lets take a look at a scenario that describes the difficulty we face when dealing with the future.
Holiday Packing Scenario: Let us assume that you have to go to your room right now, and pack your suitcase for a holiday that you will be taking in several years from now. You don’t know where you will be going, you don’t know when you will be going and you don’t know what the weather will be like or how the terrain will look. You don’t know whom you will be travelling with. You basically can’t even be sure if you will be around to take the trip! So what do you pack? And even more critically, what do you pack if your life or the life of your children depended on it?
What do you pack, if the future of humanity depended on it?
Fundamentally it all boils down to this: How do I know that the answer to the question today, will still be applicable when I need that answer at some time in the future? Humanity exists in many social, cultural and technological landscapes. We often find predictable and linear problems, and solving these problems can be easy. But lets compare a single solvable problem to a neuron, as we would find it in the human brain.
Understanding a single neuron is not that much of a challenge. But what happens when billions of neurons combine to form a single brain? You would agree that insight into the workings of a neuron does not bring you even close to understanding the complexity that emerges from a human brain.
The same happens when solving problems. Dealing with a single problem in isolation is easy. Complexity arises when dealing with multiple challenges on multiple fronts simultaneously, with all solutions and reactions to solutions being uncoordinated, interdependent and adapting. You would agree that this makes looking into the future quite a bit of a challenge!
Now I am going to have to disappoint you a little bit. There is literally no way that you can beat the “Holiday Packing Scenario”.
Even packing your entire wardrobe may not save you from a tsunami or hurricane. The only way to know what to pack is to know what the weather and terrain will be like.
The point I am trying to make is this: The only way to be future ready is to have knowledge of what it is that you will be encountering there. And sometimes, even this may not be enough.
Think back to history, Napoleon and Hitler both knew very well the challenges of Russia in the winter. Despite this, both thought they would soldier on through the snow and blizzards, both were wrong. Even though this example probably says more about the dangers of underestimating nature or overestimating yourself, the point is that not only do we have to know what lies ahead but when you do, you need to listen!
Without making this article too long, the following two points emerge as logical conclusions. First one is that to be future ready, we need knowledge of what lies ahead. When we do know what lies ahead, we have to act rationally to that knowledge. I don’t want to be over dramatic, but it literally may be that the future of humanity depends on it.
Now, it would follow then that since our decisions today influence the world in which our children will be living, knowledge of the future becomes our duty, our responsibility. This is a responsibility that we need to take much more seriously, lest we risk future historians classifying us as the generation that destroyed the world of tomorrow.