15 December 2006

Bring me Data on the Future

"History doesn't repeat itself but it rhymes."
- Mark Twain

Policy that makes perfect sense in the context of the past doesn't always make sense in the context of an ideal future.

People who frame policy decisions out of past events are largely defined by them.

If you want to see starkly different policies described, try this. Have one person or one group talk about the past and what has happened so far. (This could be a personal past, a past for their company or for their nation.) Once you see that they are firmly in that place, have them describe policy, strategy, tactical options. What you will hear will be variations on their past and will be as likely to describe desire to right wrongs as create an ideal.

If you want people to create fresh policy options, get them to tell you about the future. Have them describe an ideal that they could begin making real right now. Don't even let them engage in reminiscing. In that place, in that ideal future, have them describe who they are and what kind of thoughts and feelings they have. Then have them work backwards towards what policies, what choices, what strategies and tactics they've pursued to get there, starting from the present.

In the first instance, people drag the past into the future with them. In the second instance, they drag themselves into the future. In the first, they are busily mending past wrongs. In the second, they are creating future rights.

It's worth remembering that we have no data on the future - unless we chose to define it by our past. I recently made mention of changing the national dialogue. Part of that would be getting people to talk about possible futures and work backwards from that. Maybe it's time to start remembering the future.

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