Future-Back: How Leaders Create the Future Today

COVID-19 changes the way you think about the future. On-going disruption changes the way you think about yourself, others, and the present.

The imagined future transforms the present.

In a recent conversation, Mark Johnson, co-author of, “Leading From the Future,” told me that volatility makes long-term thinking more important.

An imagined future helps you navigate an uncertain present.

Mark and his co-author Josh Suskewicz use the expression “Future-back*” thinking. Leaders use present-forward thinking to execute and future-back thinking to create strategy.

Future-back guides present-forward when leaders execute on vision.

Present-forward and future-back are both necessary.

Present-Forward and Future-Back*

What is – What could be

Sustaining – Transformative

Continuous – Discontinuous

Increments existing in paradigm – Develops a new paradigm

Concrete and predictive – Ambiguous and abstract

Drive to certainty – Drive to clarity

Delivery/managerial – Discovery/entrepreneurial

Linear – Multidimensional

Deductive/inductive – Abductive (Hypothesis from incomplete observation)

Analytical – Imaginative and creative

Facts and data-driven – Assumptions-driven

Answers – Questions

Build off base – Clean sheet

Point solutions – Systems thinking

The importance of vision during volatility (2:24):

The future-back process*:

Phase 1: Develop an inspiring vision that is fully actionable.

Phase 2: Translate it into a clear strategy.

Phase 3: Prepare for and manage its implementation.

How to develop your vision*:

#1. Paint a picture of future environments.

Specify a time horizon. “The key is to focus on a date that is distant enough to stretch your thinking, but not so far-off that it is utterly unrelatable.”

Consider the jobs to be done in the future. “Jobs to be done” focuses on customer’s true need. Ted Levitt illustrated the idea when he said, “No one goes to the hardware store to buy a quarter-inch drill: you go to buy a quarter-inch hole.”

#2. Identify major implications of the future.

#3. Envision the future state of your business. Consider core business, adjacent businesses, and new growth.

How is your view of the future shifting? 

How does your view of the future impact the present?

*Note: This post is based on my conversation with Mark Johnson and the book, “Lead from the Future: How to Turn Visionary Thinking into Breakthrough Growth.”

Bonus material:

The complete unedited conversation with Mark Johnson including a 10 minute conversation about Clayton Christensen at the end.

How to get out of the weeds (3:25):