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Think like a futurist. Here’s how.

We’ve spent a lot of time here talking with futurists, asking them what they see, searching for clues about what tomorrow might hold.

Now, finally, we have a blueprint for how to think like a futurist.

It comes from Sheryl Connelly. She is — surprise! — the in-house futurist for Ford Motor Company, and she led a thought-provoking session at the 2015 ASAE Annual Meeting on how to develop a future-focused mindset.

Lord knows that’s more important than ever. Given the pace of change and complexity these days, the only way to get ahead is to think ahead — to spot those weak signals of disruptive change on the horizon and figure out how to take advantage of them before they get here.

Here are some ideas from Connelly on how to do that:

  • Be provocative. Challenge assumptions. When you hear, “That will never happen,” respond with, “If that were to happen …”
  • Be plausible. It’s one thing to be provocative. It’s another to stay employed. Balance the two.
  • Seek out contrarians. They keep us grounded by telling us where our future thinking is going off the tracks.
  • Challenge the status quo. And remember that our visions of what tomorrow will look like will likely be wrong, so when you challenge the status quo, do so by imagining multiple futures.
  • Don’t become too reliant on SWOT analyses. (For the uninitiated, SWOT is shorthand for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats). SWOT is based on present points of view, which don’t translate well to future-focused thinking.
  • Don’t expect the past to be your compass. The past is not a good indicator of the future.
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, remember that no one can predict the future with complete accuracy. “The only way to predict the future,” Connelly said, “is to create it.”

A little anticipation doesn’t hurt, either. If you can accurately identify a few future facts before they arrive, creating your future seems a lot less daunting.

One thing is certain: There’s no time to waste. Let’s get started. The future may not have arrived yet … but you can see it from here.

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