Sunday, December 19, 2004

Re -think the future...NOW!

The other day I received an e-mail from the UK from Rowan Gibson asking me if he could assist me in anyway – he had noted I had used a quote from him in a recent newsletter. I replied thanking him for his interest and after I had sent it checked to see what the quote was and also to check out Rowan Gibson using google.

As soon as I had done so I remembered I had a copy his book, ‘Re Thinking the Future’ (which is a great read, being a collection of articles on the future by a range of influential thinkers). It had also been the source of a number of the quotes I had used on our site. I felt obliged to send a new e-mail informing him of how I had used his book. I also noted that on his website there are photos of Rowan with Tony Blair, Bill Gates and my favourite stirrer, Tom Peters. I must say I was impressed that he had taken the time to contact me.

Rowan’s webpage has a few short articles well worth a read but I also recommend his more extensive book. Rowan’s theme is that last century most organizations had a linear view of the future and, using a transport metaphor, ‘they appeared to be driving large luxury cars on a wide open highway that stretched into the distant future.’

‘Today’, Rowan writes, ‘is less certain’. Many organizations now see themselves at the end of the road. The twentieth century marks ‘the end of a whole order of things; the end of a post war world.’ Alvin Toffler, one of the book’s contributors, describes the future as ‘terra incognito – the uncharted landscape of tomorrow.’ It will be a world of chaos and uncertainty; a world of accelerating and unpredictable change.

This future world will force us to drive off familiar roads and to do so will require ‘a new kind of vehicle, some new driving skills and whole new sense of direction’. We will need ‘a all wheel drive all terrain vehicle that is lean and highly maneuverable’

‘We all need to rethink the future now’.

Rowan provides three key messages:

1. The road stops here.

All of us have to realize the future will be different from the past as obvious as that sounds. Too many behave as if this is not so. This is delusionary. The past is gone. From now on it will be an ‘off the road experience’.

2. New times need new organizations.

We need completely a new ‘vehicle that can handle the rough and uncertain times. One that reflects the information age, rather than then industrial age.’ This vehicle will be beyond the mechanical and will need to have the ‘nature of a biological organism’ .This ‘nature’ needs to be distributed in a network in all the minds of those who work for the organization and be driven ‘by human imagination’.

3. Where to next.

To make confident decisions faced with an uncertain future leaders will need destination, a ‘vision, a point of view about the future, a direction in which to channel the efforts of he people they work with’. Leaders will need to look ahead and explore the horizon for themselves. This is a great opportunity for courageous leaders because they will have to create their own ideas. ‘On the road to the future there will be no pit stops’ – it will require continual reinvention.

Rowan’s ideas apply to schools, many of which seem locked in industrial age thinking. Too many schools still prefer to stick to the old roads of terra firma unaware that their world is crumbling underfoot. So, to extend Rowan’s metaphor, while such careful drivers wait in vain for new maps to be passed down from on high real leaders are developing new means of travel and making up new maps as they go along.

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