When to pay attention to the background?

With the volatility of presidential announcements and a strong feeling of ‘what is the new world order?’ it’s very easy to ignore things going on in the background.

Why do I look at the background?

The background influences everything  going on right now. To become future ready, organisations and leaders need awareness of this broader picture, else the future arrives, it’s a surprise.

After all, we humans seem to be hard wired to pay attention to the brightly colored, fast moving object. It’s either dangerous or interesting. But the very slowly moving, adding up bit by bit changes, these are easy to ignore.

It’s the difference between a heart attack calling urgent attention or slow incremental weight gain. The later is dangerous if you want a long and healthy life.

Last week, I had both to consider.

A family member in hospital for a heart attack, while I was thinking about my contributions to the Oxford Futures Forum at the University of Oxford on Scenarios, Climate Futures and the role of Arts and the Humanities.

Oxford Futures Forums look at integrating professions to deal with complex trends playing out over 30+ years. It pulls things that add up little by little in the background, into the foreground.

As an individual, I hanker to live a long and healthy life. I wish the world I eventually leave to be happier, kinder and fairer than the world I was born into. The vision of happy people, happy planet seems a good thing to aim towards. It beats the alternative.

Yet, the most likely climate trajectory (science) is that in 70 years, the Arctic will be habitable for alligators.

If you, like me are over 40, it’s not likely that we’ll be alive. But we may be alive for a good amount of the next 70.

What does this say for future societies, the world’s financial and industrial system and the lives of our children and grand children? This is when futures scenarios are incredibly powerful.

As leaders, it’s also a place for us to influence for the better.

For a happy planet, the science is clear. It’s now about values, decisions and action — and influencing them. Ethically.

It’s not simply about a happy planet. Will there be happy people in a world with alligators in the Arctic?

So back to the opening question, when is a good time to look at the background?

Now is good. The incremental pieces that create the background continue to add up, compounding each day.

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