Ten years ago, frigid temperatures in Texas caused rolling blackouts, and millions lost power. The state was warned to weatherize its power grid to prepare for more extreme weather but never got around to it. Then, in February of this year, plummeting temperatures again caused widespread outages. Nine hundred people died, mostly from frostbite. Members of ERCOT, the state's "electricity reliability board" resigned.
What happened - or failed to happen — in Texas is emblematic of how we come to make decisions in a period of ongoing crisis. ERCOT's failure to act on clear evidence of what needed to be done to avert future disaster is an all-too-common reaction in today's disrupted age. We kick the can down the road. We cross our fingers and hope we're not in charge when events hit the fan.
But the issue is not just how we mitigate or don't mitigate risk. It is also about how leaders manage and plan for future opportunity.
Texas' power grid reliability managers failed to weatherize. But the times we are living in demand that we futurize our thinking in order to avert future disasters, but also foresee future ways to add value, serve customers, and build new markets that don't even exist today.
From pandemic to the dastardly attack on the US Capitol to a steady barrage of climate change-emboldened floods, wildfires, and hurricanes, we all seem to be suffering from Disaster Fatigue. Faced with too many warnings — and the need to make too many decisions — it's easy to allow our thinking to lapse into what I call Defeatist Mode, and essentially shut down our Idea Factories.
To ward off Disaster Fatigue and get the creative juices flowing again, I recommend that you and your organization consciously start spending more time thinking about tomorrow. I call this process Managing the Future, and it involves managing a cultural shift from present circumstances to the future state we want to make manifest.
How to Manage the Shift
Economist Rudy Dornbusch once observed that things often take longer to happen than we think they should. But then they happen faster than we ever thought they would. That's the sense I get as I have returned to the lecture circuit this fall and have spoken with dozens of leaders about where we are right now.
There's a growing sense that Covid 19 is not going to go away completely for the foreseeable future. Instead, we are moving from Pandemic to Endemic (in other words the virus and its variants will still be with us, but enough people will have been vaccinated or become immune such that a semblance of normalcy returns).
During this period, leaders especially need to consciously shift attention away from a crisis management mentality and towards an emphasis on managing tomorrow's potentiality.
As I see it, this is exciting news. For those willing to engage with the future, there is a wide-open field of opportunity. Never has there been a greater need for those with a vision of positivity as regards the future.
A recent survey conducted by Lancet, the British medical journal, found that 45 percent of
Millennials in 10 countries surveyed are so worried about climate change that it affects their daily life and functioning. So often the prevailing attitude is "we're doomed."
"As a young person, when you see a trend coming down the pike, you know it's going to hit you," writes Sara Kessler, in Gigged: The End of the Job and the Future of Work. No generation is allowed to sit out the future, and right now the 71 million strong Millennial Generation has decisions to make about Climate Change for which there will be no "do-overs."
Yet even with climate disasters increasing at an increasing rate, history tells us that our attitude and belief in a more positive future determines more about outcomes than any other factors. We can muster the brainpower to invent and unleash massive climate-cleansing innovations that keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees centigrade, but only if we believe we can.
To do so we must choose optimism over pessimism. We can choose optimism in the face of headlines that declare we're doomed as a species. We can form study groups and tiger teams to look farther out and contemplate how our industry is changing, how our employee’s expectations are changing, how our customers' needs are changing, and in doing so we can choose to think positive thoughts.
As we think, so we become. By consciously taking charge of our "self-talk" we can make the shift from defeatist, reactive, and crisis-driven thinking to deliberate, purpose-driven, future-focused thinking.
For those with an eye on their attitude, who monitor emerging technologies and social, demographic, and economic trends there are fewer surprises, fewer blindsides, and greater opportunities to own the future.
As Fleetwood Mac sang:
Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow
It’ll be better than before
Open your eyes and look at the day
You’ll see things in a different way