Written by Sarah Babb & Marguerite Coetzee
We lose our bearings in times of turbulence and have differing views of the future. Each with its own rewards and pitfalls. It helps to understand your future orientation to see how it impacts your choices and decisions now, sometimes limiting and sometimes liberating.
Where we are now and where we’re going
We are emerging from lockdown in differing ways, with a range of textures and feelings, as we are confronted by stepping into a profoundly new reality. There is a disorientation as to how we navigate, not even sure where our starting point is let alone where our final destination will be. Some leaders have a sense of grief, a nostalgia for what was, and a sense of loss. Others a sense of relief and guilt in returning to familiar places and familial contact. There are also those with personal quests to find a higher purpose, a seeking for the path into The Big Reset. And many leaders have not looked to far afield and are zoomed in on the immediate crises to be solved, controlled and acted on. Some keep their eyes cast down, their focus in, and their pace fast. This range of orientations is well captured by the notion of future orientations.
“In uncertain worlds, (future orientations) provide a sense of thickness or porosity to the threshold between present and future, holding the future at an indeterminate distance ...Orientations can make the future appear malleable ...or set in stone ...; they capture the rollercoaster of desires and fears that inhabit every one of us.” - Bryant & Knight
How we orient ourselves in time and space
Anthropologists Rebecca Bryant and Daniel Knight explored the ways in which our temporal orientation - our relationship with the future - influences our present decision-making and imagining of what’s to come. In identifying what our future orientation is, we are able to overcome the associated barriers and to seize the resulting opportunities. Re-orienting ourselves in times of change enables us to build a positive and tangible relationship with tomorrow, today. As leaders then we can re-orient our teams.
We all have the capacity to orient ourselves in time, space, and thought. Orientation implies some form of navigation, relation, and inclination. Being disoriented means losing one’s sense of direction, feeling out of place, and being in a state of confusion. It is in grounding ourselves, assessing the situation we are in, and finding our bearings that we can be re-oriented. When we know where we are and where we want to be, we can figure out a way to get there.
Leaders, in particular, require a re-ignited sense of direction, purpose, and understanding in order to lead their teams through crisis and towards curiosity and creativity. Understanding and mapping future orientations assists leaders to craft alternate ways of viewing the future.
Why we stay in a holding pattern
Mindtraps, such as those identified by Jennifer Garvery Berger, cause us to stay in a holding pattern of seeing single stories, being comfortable, being right and being in agreement. Or we cling onto wanting to control the outcome as if we could force it, holding on with all our might to protect our ego and pride. Teams have collective mindtraps too, that could hold them back from seeing a more potentiality and hope.
It is therefore useful for leaders to see where they find themselves currently with their future orientations and mindtraps, and figure a way out. It is about stepping up to lead with greater ease and impact in complex times; to continue with creativity, courage, and curiosity. For yourself and your teams and communities. And to bed down ways of being future fit in all times.
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ANTHROPOLOGIST | ARTIST | FUTURIST