It is possible to partially analyse – and as a result influence – the future just like any other system.
Where does the future actually come from? Much of it echoes from the past because of strong reinforcements within all the social systems that together make up our global community. The more established that a social system becomes – whether it is an organization, an industry, or an economy – so the more resilient it is. But also the harder it finds that it is to react and adapt. The most crucial example of how deeply-reinforced systems can become almost unsteerable is the explosive growth of High-Tech, whose implications and side-effects over the next few decades have effectively become unstoppable.
As a result of this entrenched progress, it is hard for organizations to grasp many of the opportunities ultimately driven by “unstoppable but exponential” High-Tech because they rapidly explode from unfamiliar areas. It is even harder for corporations, governments – and indeed all of us – to avoid unfamiliar hidden threats that are ultimately also being driven or aggravated by High-Tech. Some of these threats are made even harder to tackle because, as in any strongly-reinforced social system, too many people with power or influence consider that they will be worse off if the current balance is altered.
In the absence of sufficient international governance to address escalating world crises there is a growing need to shake things up a bit at the global level so as to break free from numerous unhelpful legacies left over by history. But that is easier said than done, even when tackling far-more-modest local issues. Two of the most challenging stumbling blocks are, firstly, within any social system the reinforced habits of the past mean that a given type of change is much easier for some groups to deal with than others. And secondly, within organizations, within industries, and all the way up to whole global systems, “unwritten rules” often get in the way – and sometimes even block changes that people know are needed and that they want to happen.
Despite all these difficulties, the good news is that throughout history leaders from every walk of life have succeeded in deliberately breaking enough Rules to change the future in the way they wanted – but not so many as to cause unnecessary trauma.
For those who actually want to “Make a Difference”, being able to predict important strands of the future is only the beginning. Genuine Leadership is about improving upon what otherwise would be likely to happen anyway – in other words, it is about changing the future.
Ultimately, that is how successful leaders influence the world.