Which of your future selves are you going to help out?


Do you ready the pot for tomorrow’s coffee before you go to bed at night?
Do you go to a yoga class so that you’ll stay fit, strong, and flexible over time?
Do you put money aside to cover your next tax bill?

Foresight is a complex business. At the organisational level, a lot of thought and work goes into finding tools and techniques which help people prepare for times which haven’t arrived yet.

Yet, like all the most important topics, foresight is also terribly simple. It’s about finding answers to the questions “What’s coming next?” and “What should I do about it?”

Sometimes that’s as simple as prudently taking actions which will benefit your future self – like prepping that coffee pot before you go to bed.

When you do this, it’s like your present self is helping out your future self.

When you arrive in the future, you’ll be able to look back and feel glad that your past self made an effort on your behalf.

No-one knows for sure what the future holds, so we’re always taking bets, more or less informed, on what will await us. (Chances are high you’ll need coffee in the morning, and the kettle will still be there to let you make it).

When we address more complex future issues, individually or as an organisation, we have to take more complex bets about the future circumstances which await.

We have to decide which of our potential future selves most needs our help, or which will stand to reap the greatest rewards from our actions today.

This one might get sick. This one might lose her job. This one might win the lottery. This one could write a Nobel Prize-winning novel, if only she could find the time to do so. This one might develop a sudden passion for topiary, and want to retrain as a professional gardener.

Any one of those future selves could benefit from the decisions we take in the present – but we can’t help all of our future selves. What’s more, whatever decisions we do take will have consequences in whichever future does eventually emerge.

We have to make decisions about which of our future selves will most benefit from our help, which ones will be able to cope for themselves, and which ones we just don’t think are likely to ever arrive. (The latter category might include future selves who have been more fortunate or successful than we dare to imagine; sometimes the future we neglect is the one that seemed “too bright to hope for”).

When you start to think about what comes next and where you want to head, it’s worth imagining the variety of future selves which might await, and the future worlds they might live in. (There are ways of doing that work methodically, even at a small scale).

When you picture those future selves:

What do they need from you?
What can they do without?
Which of them will benefit most from your intervention?
How will they judge the choices that you are making today?

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