As an executive coach, two future-related questions often leap to mind: 1. How will the client and their organization get to the desired destination/vision? 2. And is that really the right place for them to go? These are fun and interesting questions to ask, but the ensuing discussions can veer in a number of different directions and leave the client confused not only about where to go and how to get there, but also who they are and what makes them distinctive. What these conversations really need is time travel.
Clients are often firmly rooted in the present. The future, for them, feels distant, abstract, and daunting. At CO2 Partners, we find it’s helpful for the client to imagine time-traveling to the future and looking back on the present. From that future perspective, we ask them to determine the competencies, capabilities, and capacity that their organization needs and that they personally need to make it to this particular future. Working backward–from the future to the present–can help generate new insights and make the future more concrete and approachable. When you’ve been to the future mentally, it doesn’t seem quite so abstract and daunting.
For conversations about future plans, I also recommend Darrell Mann’s book Hands on Systematic Innovation. In it, he provides a 9-box approach to thinking about any issue from a past, present, and future perspective, depending on whether you’re functioning in a super-system, system, or sub-system. The center of Mann’s model is where your mind will typically default to if given an issue: present time and standard system. Knowing that there are eight other ways to consider an issue leads to new angles and potential solutions.
It’s easy to be and feel rooted in the present. It’s also relatively easy to time travel back into the past–the past that we know and have already lived. The future seems distant, abstract, and daunting by comparison, but it doesn’t have to be.
Time travel to the future. Then figure out the competencies, capabilities, and capacity you need to make that future happen.