Before describing a future, we first need to look back at what came before it.

Useful images of the future are rooted in the momentum and arcs of the time they emerge from. They are anchored in the past, but do not just extend the same logic and trends forward into a prolonged version of business-as-usual.

They explore how the actions and logic of the recent past and present could continue to unfold, develop, and collide to allow something new to emerge.

Get a good, long run up

How far forward are you looking into the future?

Look twice as far back as you intend to look forward. For a 5 year strategic plan, get a sense of how the company and its context has changed over the past 10 years. For a 10 year transition to achieve carbon neutrality, look at your relationship with carbon over the past 20 years.

Notice patterns that emerge and repeat, what disrupts, and the speed of change.

Connecting the past to your futures

Some of your scenarios will feel quite different from the past that came before them. To strengthen the connection between these states, consider:

  • How does this image of the future extend from the present?

  • What seeds of this future can you see around you today that could provide momentum and energy for this transition?

  • Who’s view of the past have you considered? Can you enrich and deepen your understanding of the past by viewing it from another perspective?

  • What would need to be true for this future to emerge?

Deepening your understanding of the past extends the range of stories you can tell about the future that feel both true and hopeful. And right now we need more hopeful futures.