In Michio Kaku’s book, Physics of the Future (2011), he explores the idea that “The future is already here; it is just unequally distributed!” The book goes on to describe what the next 100 years might look like if we search for innovative edges. This means we must consider new possibilities and use forward-thinking when looking at what is happening today in artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, medicine, energy, space travel, wealth, and humanity.
This principle of thinking is a great tool to use in our organizations today. Embedding forward-thinking into organizational culture is essential when facing disruptions and turbulent dynamics. An organization that adapts to changes coming at them and cultivates a culture of innovation will have the foundation to thrive in the future.
Future casting: an exercise in cultivating conditions conducive to innovation
In our organizations, if we assume that the future is already here but unequally distributed, then we can help jump-start innovation by engaging in a bit of future casting. Future casting is when you metaphorically cast your perspective out to experimentations that are already occurring, but not widely distributed in your field, organization, or sector. By looking for interesting experiments that are already going on, we “cast” ourselves outside our day-to-day work to actively seek new ideas or models that are working in other places.
There are pockets of innovation in every sector, field, and community happening already or waiting to be discovered. Team members can seek out these innovations by asking their network or doing research in a way that expands perspectives and looks into the horizon. Here is a simple process that you can invite your team or leadership group to engage in to foster innovation.
- Introduce the idea of future casting and why it matters in today’s organizations.
- Assign homework: each team member searches their network in their field, sector, or interest for innovative approaches, experiments, or provocative practices.
- Go and learn more about what is happening. What are they doing? How are they thinking differently that resulted in this innovation? What have been the results of this experiment? What are they learning? What do they want to change or tweak going forward?
- Come back and report to a team meeting or retreat.
- Each team member shares what they learned with the team as a whole.
- Have team members move into small groups to generate a vision of the future. Create examples as if they were forecasters of what the world, sector, or field might look like 10 years from now. Invite the small groups to be provocative in their future-casting reflections!
- Have each small group present back to the whole team.
- Take time to reflect on what was presented and how it can impact the current way they think and do business.
This simple group exercise can be useful in larger or smaller contexts. For example, if you want to look within your organization, you could do a future casting exercise within the organization. Or, you can have your leadership team build their capacity for deep adaption and innovation by looking outside of the organization to the sector, field, or world. Ideas and examples that provoke our way of thinking are a powerful way of creating conditions that are conducive to innovation and innovative thinking.