200 Japanese pensioners volunteered to begin the cleanup of the Fukushima power plant earlier this year. The self-proclaimed 'Skilled Veterans Corp,' asserted that they, not younger people, should risk radiation because, "they are more likely to die of natural causes before the cancers take hold."
This example jumped out as a loving illustration of future thinking in, Future Quotient, a report just released by Volans a leading UK consultancy, think tank and innovation lab. Authored by John Elkington, Alastair Morton and Charmian Love ( a talented young Canadian many of us hope to some day lure back to Canada), Future Quotient is designed to stimulate thinking in advance of of the 2012's UN Summit on Sustainable Development in Rio.
The report's implications are broader.
It offers a thoughtful analysis for those wanting to ensure our current interest in social innovation doesn't just rearrange the chairs on the Titanic but instead helps correct its course. Or for those wanting to improve the legacy we are leaving to our future generations.
Here is their juxtaposition of present versus future thinking.
Present Thinking: A team or organisation dominated by present thinking will tend to evolve a cultural time frame that is near-term. They will focus on current trends driving the present towards a predetermined or desired goal. They will be highly organised, with changes in plans seen as disruptions to continuity, the end game of present thinkers. The future is not something to be explored and exploited; it is something to be navigated. Present thinkers try to get the job done, on time and on budget.
Future Thinking: A team or organization weighted towards future thinking focuses on what's next. They move towards areas of chaos and uncertainty where new ideas and possibilities emerge, the end game of future thinkers. Quick to change course and adapt. Highly tolerant to risk and ambiguity a future-thinking team will engage in speculation and be driven by challenges. They will pursue possibility, often with little more that their intutition to guide them.
Future Quotient includes a survey of over 4000 Volans clients (business, government, community) assessing their ability to think and act with long term horizons in mind. The consensus - thinking and acting long-term will be increasingly important.
However the overwhelming majority of respondents felt our ability to think long-term—let alone intergenerationally—is weakening. With very few exceptions, leaders, decision-makers and policy-makers are not yet thinking and acting for the longer term. Indeed, stressed by the protracted downturn, too often they are hunkering down, lowering their ambitions and shrinking their timescales.
Rather than simply diagnose the report also inspires.
So do we trust to luck and allow a new economy to emerge wherever it chooses to do so, or do we seize the opportunity to create and shape the new order? In The Future Quotient we choose the second option. Now, more than ever, it is time for businesses and their brands, governments and civil society organizations to test and build their capacity to meet the needs of both present and future generations.
It offers 50 examples of individuals or initiatives who have a high future quotient and are invested in serious long term innovation. They include initiatives like the Clock of the Long Now (a clock buried deep in a Texas mountain and designed to run for 10,000 years. It is meant to shift our relationship with time from chronos to kairos); individuals like James Lovelock originator of the Gaia Theory (the earth as a whole is a self regulating system)) and political movements like the Arab Spring (liberating new energies that could be devoted to democracy and sustainability.)
They challenge. For example, in a section entitled Green the Greys they suggest: "Older people, in addition to being politically active and more conservative, also tend to have their pensions invested in incumbent, older order industries and companies."
They educate – offering a guide to expanding your future quotient.
And they take hope from political leaders like Ontario Premier Dalton McGinty: The responsibility of leadership is to represent the future to the present.
For anyone interested in playing long this report offers practical first steps. A journey that can only begin with love.
Click here for a recent SIG sponsored webinar with Charmian Love co-author of Future Quotient and Toronto based Tony Pigott CEO of JWT and key contributor to the report. It's available for download or playback.