Friday, March 23, 2012

From need to action

Assumptions + visions + action = change!
For illustrations click here!

The use of Foresight Styles Assessment is increasing by word of mouth. It is reassuring to know that consultants, teachers, professors and group leaders are interested in using and developing their students, clients and employees foresight abilities.  We need those abilities now more than ever. It is becoming evident to increasing numbers of people that we have to rework the way we as Homo sapiens live on this planet; if we want to exist. We are realizing that we have energy, water, fertile land, mineral and clean air needs far beyond the ability of the planet to supply them. We need foresight in order to identify ideas that are already on the table, but not recognizable because they don’t fit the reigning paradigm.

The reigning paradigm is that which we assume, most of the time without thinking about it. At a recent symposium “Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream” in Sweden one of the exercises was to articulate commonly held assumptions, because these have to be made visible in order for us to understand the current paradigm and how it frames our decisions. We cannot envision the future if we cannot take a critical look at the paradigm that got us into this situation. We surely cannot locate the beginnings of the new paradigm either. Now the assumptions of a paradigm are not inherently bad and they allow us a framework for many important decisions and behaviors that allow us to function in society. However, it is difficult for us to understand that paradigms have a life cycle just as human beings do. The life cycle of a paradigm and the life cycle of an individual are not necessarily the same and a paradigm shift can come just when an individual has gotten her collection of assumptions sorted out and filed away.

If we are not ready, a new paradigm can come as a shock and be literally fateful. I am reminded of a story a Polish colleague told me about her good friend. The father of this friend lived under a positive version of communism where all worked together cooperatively for the common good. Even when communism began to fail, along with the fall of the Berlin Wall, he held on to his vision and assumptions. But, instead of a better form of communism, the winds of capitalism were blowing and as a good communist he “knew” capitalism was wrong. It shocked him, pained and depressed him and ended in his life by suicide.

Back at the symposium the participants were sharing their assumptions: that our environmental problems can be solved with simple changes in our behavior such as when we sort our own trash and deposit it in depots intended for that purpose; that everyone needs an automobile; that expressed feelings are a sign of weakness; that science only brings good; that everyone has a right to be a parent; that humans have rights (but not plants and most animals) and that individuals cannot make a difference.  There are others as well; that growth is necessary and inevitable, that human beings have dominion over the plants, animals, land and minerals and can use them for their own purposes, that an individual can own land, water and mineral rights, and specific genes, cells or bodily substances.

All these assumptions are based on the picture of an entitled individual who must take care of herself, on the individual over the collective, on clockwork construction and a linear paradigm. Individuals have rights, not groups (unless they are companies), time and progress only goes in one direction, and the world is made up of polar opposites (right or wrong, black or white, good or bad, leaders or followers.)

Individuals can become more aware of their assumptions by asking the simple question, what do I assume? Do I believe in “my country- right or wrong”, “All countries need defense forces.”? What do I believe? That all human life has the right to live? That hierarchy is inevitable, that men are stronger than women?

How will the new paradigm emerge? The parameters of the next paradigm have already been laid. I believe that the emerging paradigm is fueled partly as a response to what has gone wrong with the prevailing paradigm. Partly it is a response to the growing numbers of people filling the planet and partly it is being created for us because we have so abused our resources that those very abuses are impinging on our preconceived rights. Opposing thoughts like resources are ours to use and the damage caused, for example, by removing oil from the ground create a cognitive dissonance, a clash of ideas within our minds.

The emerging paradigm is about interactive systems, not the parts of machines. It is messy and complex. It requires people working together and alone and knowing when each is appropriate. It is more about responsibilities than rights. The advertizing phrase “…because you are worth it” in the new paradigm could be “…because you are needed”.  Our dominion over plants, animals and all resources will be accepted as the commons. Air, land and water will also be considered common responsibility. The various human attributes will be recognized as just that, attributes and not so sharply categorized by male, female, smart, dumb, old, young or any other definition.

Foresight is a mixed bag of abilities that use brain capacities to think holistically, to consider the future along with the past and the present, to survive in low structure situations where everything is not known and to consciously choose when to be contemplative, in the moment or take to action. Foresight StylesA is a tool that makes these choices understandable and indicates the degree to which we use our capacities. It also hints at what we might wish to improve.

Foresight Styles Assessment points out the skills we need as we move into the next paradigm and how to both create new assumptions and to understand that they are just that, assumptions. They describe, in a kind of shorthand, the reasons many things occur and give us an excuse not to make changes. Assumptions give us a type of stability, because they don’t require much thinking and are handy arguments to ourselves and in dialogue with others. Since they are held by so many, they gain in credibility and are rarely questioned. Assumptions come in bunches and just like flowers form a bouquet, assumptions form a beautiful paradigm.

Note: Be a part of foresight research by responding to alternative foresight questions at:

Find out more about Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream symposium at: