We Should all be Futurists

By Gaidi Faraj ~ Dean of The African Leadership University (ALU) on 30 Apr 2020Insight


During the covid-19 pandemic many people are worried about the challenges that it brings, and rightly so. For many small and medium sized businesses, the slowdown in the global economy is going to have long lasting repercussions. However, we should also recognize that with every challenge comes a myriad of new opportunities. Disruption gives way to opportunities for transformative change that weren’t previously there. We are reminded that things we thought impossible have proven to be possible. What does this mean for how we think about things going forward? How we think about blind spots, complacency and ingenuity.


Covid-19 has created an opportunity for a shift in global mindsets. This is particularly important on the continent of Africa. As people contemplate how to respond to the covid-19 pandemic a lot of people are beginning to do scenario planning. Scenario planning is a basic feature of futures thinking. The basic idea of futures thinking (sometimes called strategic foresight) is that you look for signals or drivers of change that hint at some future possibility, you imagine potential future scenarios, and try to use that information to make better informed decisions about today’s dilemmas. Futures thinking is not about predicting the future, but rather about solving problems today based on a systematic analysis of future possibilities.


Futures thinking is a basic skill that can be learned by anyone. It's no different than learning design thinking, human-centered thinking, or many other tool sets that 21st century entrepreneurial leaders need to have. The idea is to look for signals or trends and try to predict how those trends will impact your particular line of business 5, 10, or 15 years in the future and then begin to do scenario planning on how best to respond to those trends. A futurist thinks about the probable future, the possible future, and the preferable future and then works to implement a plan that increases the likelihood of the preferable future. 


This global pandemic is an excellent example of why futures thinking is so important and relevant. Companies that had planned for different crisis scenarios were more prepared to respond to the abrupt changes brought about by this global pandemic. We are faced with challenging and uncertain times. We have no idea how long this crisis will last or how deep the impact on the global economy will be. But by taking a proactive approach to planning a response, we can take the action steps that are most likely to yield a preferable future outcome from this pandemic. There are opportunities to reimagine entire systems in education, healthcare, service delivery and a myriad of other sectors. There is no shortage of challenges, nor opportunities. There is only a shortage of systematic futurists.


Business leaders need to take this time to upskill themselves and I encourage us all to take a look at futures thinking. Add this new skill set to your repertoire and begin to think proactively about the future and the opportunities that it brings. The future, afterall, is what we make it. 


By Gaidi Faraj ~ Dean of The African Leadership University (ALU)