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Life can only be understood backwards

I’m sure you’ve heard the quote from Søren Kierkegaard:

“Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.”

This is true when thinking about the future. However, most companies, organisations and people think from the present and then extend to the future. They think forwards. This is not a safe strategy in an exponential age. An age when the forces of change - from technology to climate change - are so powerful that the future is in many ways no longer an extension of the present.

So how do you think from the future backwards?

There are a number of techniques to help here, but one I particularly like is based on how humans have always made sense of unknown, uncertain and scary ideas like the future: storytelling. Specifically I like to use a technique called Design Fiction. By imagining future stories for ourselves and our companies and organisations, we can begin to envisage a preferable future. Having done so, we can then make the right choices now to steer our futures to an optimistic place. This technique also helps us communicate more effectively our purpose and values and inspire our people, clients and stakeholders. The future is more a mindset than a timeframe. The way we see the future helps us act and so define the future.

So my take on Kierkegaard’s quote would be:

“By understanding the future backwards, we can start living optimistically forwards.”

Let’s take more control of our future for 2023.

Martin Talks

The future is coming. Ready?