As you watch a professional tennis player preparing to receive a serve, you’ll notice they are in constant motion. Knees bent, they stay on the balls of their feet, shuffling, ready to react swiftly to a serve coming at them at 100+ mph. As we think about what the future is about to serve us, what does that ready stance look like? And what does resilience look like?
The book Imaginable by Jane McGonigal presents an approach for “How to See the Future Coming and Feel Ready for Anything―Even Things That Seem Impossible Today.” It’s the mental equivalent of shuffling on the balls of your feet, leaning in, eye on the ball…This book was the feature at our CliffsNotes Book Club meeting in April, and we had a great discussion about how future-thinking leads to a higher level of resilience. (Thanks again to Cate Rodman our fabulous facilitator! For Cate’s notes, visit the portal.) What’s more, it is not simply about imagining what the future may hold, but also about promoting actions today to influence a possible future. In the book, McGonigal gives us the tools to help shape the world we want to live in.
First off, why even bother about thinking about the future?
In the book, McGonigal explains that imagining the future is a tool that gets you out of rational thinking and puts you into a more creative space. And we can train the brain to do this—to imagine what is un-imaginable, and to think what is un-think able. The neuroscience is fascinating. As an fMRI scan shows, a different part of the brain is activated when you think about one year from now versus the distant future—e.g., envisioning a scenario 10-years from now.
In our book club meeting, we opened the discussion by sharing one thing that is true about our lives today that ten years ago we would not have imagined. It’s a powerful question to engage a group and demonstrate that we don’t always know what the future will look like. This encourages people to dream about the future to come and be open to potentially crazy ideas or new realities. Afterall, if a crazy reality came true in the past, then why wouldn’t that be possible in the future?
It reminded me of the famous quote from Henry Ford. When asked about customer input, Ford once said, "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses." As was the case for Ford’s customers, they could only imagine more of what they already had for transportation. It wasn’t in their realm of possibility yet to image an automobile. When you are able to tap into the power of your imagination, you open up new possibilities and new realities.
How does this benefit leaders?
In the workplace, it is a skillset that is not just useful for risk management or scenario planning, it’s also a leadership mindset that leads to openness. Looking ahead allows you to be open to multiple perspectives, to juggle options more freely, and possibly to allow you to let go of your own agenda or deeply-held beliefs. The act of imagining can open you up to new, and possibly better ideas. It can also help you connect with people who are different, and it can help lessen your fear of the unknown.
Using technology to facilitate the imagining
At book club, Cate led us through an exercise using Chat GPT to help us do some creative future thinking. She posed some questions and let AI generate some fun responses. We asked ‘what if’ questions such as, “What would happen in a world where there are no more trees?” It was a fun way to use technology to get us out of rational and grounded thinking, and it pushed our thinking to be more creative. Imagining an impossible (or ridiculous) scenario can help you see reality more clearly, and help you prepare for what’s next.
In the book, McGonigal invites us to play with the provocative thought experiments and future simulations such as this one. It sparked a lively discussion in book club and left us all wanting more.
As always, let me know what thoughts this provokes, and what strategies you try to stretch your imagination…tennis whites optional!