CONNECTING THE INVISIBLE DOTS: HOW TO ACTIVE THE FORESIGHT NEEDED TO FORGE THE FUTURE WE WANT
By John Sanei
John Sanei (Sah-nay) is an author, speaker and trend specialist fascinated who combines futurism and psychology to help others activate the foresight needed to create an abundant future.
I’ve always been amazed by people who have the ability to see the invisible: business owners, artists and entrepreneurs who seem to peer into the world of tomorrow and pinpoint potential that the rest of us simply cannot see.
It’s a skill that I want to understand, cultivate, and share in the face of an epidemic of the disease of Future Shock that Alvin Toffler wrote about 50 years ago, because generating a better understanding of what the future may bring will encourage us to forge, with optimism and excitement, our best possible future.
To fully understand how people see into tomorrow, though – we need to look back.
THE PROBLEM OF ABUNDANT CHOICE
For centuries, much of the world – particularly the Western World – favored certainty over freedom, whether they wanted to or not.
To make sense of the natural world, and create a framework for cooperation within and across societies, our thoughts and behavior were codified in law and usually underscored by religious dogma. People lived, worked, loved and died according to a strict set of rules, and could predict the broad course of their lives from a young age.
Some parts of the world still operate in this way, but elsewhere, we have become bored with security and, on the back of the Western Enlightenment, we’ve replaced archaic rules with the freedom of choice. We choose where we live, how we live, what we do, when we wake up, what we eat… We’re swimming in the freedom of endless options.
To borrow from Sartre, that freedom carries with it the burden of responsibility. The onus is on us to make a sequence of informed choices to plan our future; a deal few would have turned down in the past.
However, in the exponential age of today, it becomes increasingly difficult to know which path to take. We find ourselves trying to make informed decisions about a tomorrow that is almost impossible to predict.
The shift from security and certainty to an overwhelming and unknowable range of choice has, I believe, unlocked a perpetual anxiety in modern societies.
WAYS OF SEEING
To ease this anxiety, we look for the familiar and the obvious, which manifests itself in two seemingly sensible ways of seeing the world – what I call HINDsight and PLAINsight. We also see on a more intelligent, analytical level, with INsight.
In our more predictable past, these were sufficient lenses through which to understand the world and plan for the future.
Today, however, I believe we need a fourth critical way of seeing: FOREsight.
HINDSIGHT: MADE FROM MEMORIES
Allegedly, “Hindsight is 20-20”. And it is indeed useful when you’re looking for patterns and heuristics, a very human undertaking that’s necessary to survive a complex world. But keeping your perspective set on the past is of ever-diminishing use in the face of a fluid future.
As a way to look into the future, HINDsight isn’t seeing at all; it’s a byproduct of using memories to try to plan your next step. While there is undoubted value in learning from the past, we cannot apply the same approach that was relevant yesterday and hope that it holds up today, tomorrow or the day after, particularly in the realm of business. A familiar past is only ever going to offer up predictable ideas, and that’s of limited use in our unfamiliar, unpredictable future.
PLAINSIGHT: PHYSICAL PERCEPTION
PLAINsight is even simpler to understand than HINDsight: it’s what happens when we open our eyes, and our optic nerves feed all the information we’re taking in to our brain. It ties in with our other senses, but it’s typified by what’s in front of our eyes.
Of course, there is a physical world out there for us to observe, but as Anaïs Nin said, “We don’t see things as they are, but as we are.”
Despite our body’s best efforts to objectively take in the world, our experiences, prejudices and circumstances influence the way we interpret the information fed to our brain. Our state of mind, emotional state and primal state of being all cloud the objectivity of our vision, and affect the way we process and perceive the world around us, leading us to project our personality onto our perspective. In short, we see the world with our own custom-made filters. People who believe that “Seeing is believing”, who rely on PLAINsight alone, overlook the intuition, hope and faith needed to future-proof themselves. Waiting for the world to manifest in recognizable ways will always anchor us in the present. As quantum science challenges the validity of singular perception and suggests that, actually, believing is seeing, it is clear that the immediate is not an adequate guide into our tomorrow.
INSIGHT: WHERE INFORMATION BECOMES IDEAS
Insight is a buzzword that has bubbled over into every aspect of our lives. Understood as the recognition of a useful pattern within a set of data, insights can be incredibly powerful.
However, if they remain trapped in books and best intentions, an endless cycle of analysis paralysis, rather than driving change, then they are wasted – a glance of the invisible ignored. Unacted on, never validated, I call them INsights. The futurist Herman Kahn described INsights as “The Expert Problem” – when a person’s level of education reduces their chance of seeing a solution that does not fall into the framework in which they have been taught to think. A defiant grip on knowledge alone is not enough in an exponential reality. We need to use what we can from the past and see the world without prejudice to activate ideas that reveal the future.
FORESIGHT: CONNECTING INVISIBLE DOTS
FOREsight is what we need to find the eureka moments for the modern world. It’s the moment when a meaningful solution to a complex problem materialises as if from thin air; when any number of insights become a coherent and tangible action.
It’s the connecting of invisible ideas and processes – dots – in a way that suddenly makes sense of the world and offers a clear path forward.
FOREsight is a perspective that can only be accessed by evolving through the memories, perceptions and information that blur our vision every day – and it is essential in the face of the future we are forging every moment.
A business like ride-booking app Uber is a prime example of the evolution of the sights. Relying on HINDsight would not have revealed the need for change; PLAINsight would show a need to reduce congestion and traffic, and help people get around. INsight would offer up statistics and data on smartphone penetration, and patterns of human movement. But only FOREsight could connect all of these and create an app that allows people to move affordably and quickly without a vehicle.
THE FLUID FUTURE
Having developed a new understanding of the way we see the world, we can turn our gaze to the incredibly exciting future we are creating.
In just 20 years, we have built the infrastructure to connect half of the human race to the technology needed to access the internet. The rest are set to follow within the next 5.
A global, connected community equipped with endless opportunity and inspiration is redefining reality as we understand it today. Info tech, biotechnology, blockchain and machine learning are hurtling us towards a hyper-intelligent, hyper-personal, hyper-efficient, hyper-affordable tomorrow that’s just around the corner.
The advances in these 4 sectors are pushing the frontiers of what consumers can expect, and will come to demand. Forward-thinking businesses are entirely reimagining what their services and products actually are to align to those possibilities, because failure to do so will undoubtedly cost more than an investment in innovation.
The way the consumer of the future sees the world ultimately allows us to connect the dots from past, present, and potential to what will become possible, and essential.
For those who run businesses, there are some obvious tactics to put into effect: lower your reliance on data, take the current landscape with a pinch of salt, be sure to activate relevant trends rather than sitting on information – and ultimately give the consumer what they need before they realize what that is.
And what about the people facing that future?
SEEING THE UNSEEN
The 20th-century philosopher Alan Watts said that the wise man needs to unlearn something every day, and that’s best applied to the way we currently see the world. We will not be able to thrive in the future when we continue to view the world from a perspective that emerged out of the Industrial Revolution.
In her article “The Great Shift in Society”, Danish writer Louise Skøtt Gadeberg discusses the root of our viewpoint with economist Keld Holm. Their elegant argument is that our society has always derived its values from the dominant drivers of production. In agricultural times that meant taking guidance from God (who controlled all). In industrial times we deferred to the world-changing powers of mechanical production, what they describe as saying “hello to factory rules, assembly-line production, conformity, and uniformity for the sake of efficiency.”
Our society is currently torn between those who cling to industrial-era thinking, and those who are ready to step into the innovation society. Shifting away from the established way of seeing the world – where we are pre-fashioned cogs in society, calls for an obsessive pursuit of our own excitement, made possible by our own wisdom and curiosity.
Moving on from that irrelevant way of seeing the world unlocks wisdom, because when we are not reliant on the past, our perception, or superfluous information, we start to see the world through a new lens: one that is shaped by curiosity.
When we are curious, we move through the world with an excitement and flexibility that makes today’s impossible tomorrow’s goal; curiosity frees us from the strictures of old-school logic – from HINDsight, PLAINsight and INsight – and allows us to follow our heart. And heart-led actions that combine the chemicals of wisdom and curiosity create an unstoppable chain reaction that carries us into the flow state, that sought-after space of energised, effortless focus where we are flexible and adaptable – the critical space for facing the future
The way we perceive tomorrow defines the way we prepare for it. In a time of abundant choice, you have the ability to let go of restrictive perspectives, activate your wisdom and curiosity, and start connecting invisible dots. In doing so, new opportunities will present themselves and our future will be fueled by a vision of optimism, rather than the fear that is a symptom of Future Shock itself.
There is incredible potential in this approach, offering limitless energy and motivation. But this way of seeing the world is more than a tool for business planning; it is an exercise in self-awareness. The quest for new perspectives and an understanding of the future is a deeply reflective process that forces us to confront our own entrenched views and beliefs and, in so doing, heal our hearts and minds. In doing so, we can project something pure onto the collective future we will face together.