Back(casting) to the Future
I spent yesterday running a sustainability strategy workshop for one of my major clients. The main challenge in getting people to think strategically is to help them escape ‘the tyranny of the present’ – all those gripes, battles and personality clashes that encumber what we are trying to do right now.
I used two methods to overthrow this tyranny:
First I got all the gripes out in the open by getting the attendees to write on Post-its the positives and negatives in the organisation’s sustainability efforts so far and clustered them on a wall template – this formed the current situation;
Secondly, we used a ‘backcasting’ methodology as follows:
- Agree what targets we would like to hit in 10 year’s time;
- Split into teams and brainstorm visions of what the organisation would look like if it had hit that target – these were drawn on flip chart sheets;
- Still in teams, generate a list of what the organisation would need to have achieved in 5 years’ time to be on track to each 10 year vision;
- Finally generate a list of actions the organisation would need to do right now to get from the current situation to each 5 year list.
By arranging the flip chart sheets from the current situation to the 10 year visions on a wall, we ended up with a map showing several pathways from today to that 10 year goal. Interestingly, the ‘right now’ action lists were quite similar, which means the initial strategy will be flexible enough to encompass a gamut of future possibilities – they won’t have to bet on a single outcome coming to pass.
Not only does backcasting break with the present, but it’s very inspiring, creates some really substantial and meaningful debate, and it’s good fun to boot. It’s a bit like building your own time machine – and you don’t even need a DeLorean…