By John Elkington
Future Quotient 2 (second in a 3-part series)
So, dear reader, are you ready to test your Future Quotient? (Or at least to take our beta version of a test designed to give us all a sense of how to do that?) In the first article in this 3-part series, we explained why we need to develop a Future Quotient (or FQ)—to complement current IQ, emotional quotient and ecological quotient tests. The third article, next week will spotlight some of the sectors and innovators that made it into our new report, The Future Quotient: 50 Pioneers in Seriously Long-term Innovation, which will launch on October 12.
How do you think you relate to time—and to the future? To get a quick idea, you will be able to visit a dedicated website (http://www.futurequotient.com) from Thursday, October 13—where our anonymous online survey (http://www.mindtimemaps.com/start/fq/) will take just a few minutes to complete. The benefit for you is that you will get immediate feedback on your results. And the benefit for us is that, over time, we will be able poll hundreds and then thousands of people and organizations, creating a publicly accessible database of the findings and, in the process, evolving an improved FQ survey process.
When I took an early version of the test, I came out wildly skewed into the future-oriented zone. Discover how your own ‘TimeStyle’ can shape your opinions and priorities, depending on whether you operate from Past, Present or Future perspective. You can also find out how your thinking relates to that of other people around the world as the survey builds or work out how your TimeStyle relates to that of the rest of your team or organization.
Importantly, the process—developed by MindTime Technologies—does not prioritize one type of thinking over another. Instead, it recognizes the need for balance within a team. MindTime CEO John Furey explains, “when working with people of different thinking styles we must first recognize the value of their thinking. Only then can we understand how our thinking works in collaboration with theirs, rather than in competition.”
All of this comes with a public health warning, however. The current approach is a first experiment—and should not be seen as a measure of anyone’s Future Quotient. A wealth of Future-oriented thinkers does not necessarily guarantee a high-FQ team, for example. So let’s take a quick look at how each time frame potentially works.
1) Strengths of Past thinking
A team or organization weighted to Past thinking will tend to evolve a cultural time frame that seeks to leverage the past. The team’s thinking strategies mine the past to avoid risk and increase certainty. As a collective, the team will research what is known, accessing individual and collective experiences and knowledge from beyond the team. They will seek to understand the fundamentals and measure and weigh all evidence carefully before coming to any, even tentative, conclusions.
2) Strengths of Present thinking
A team or organization dominated by Present thinking will tend to evolve a cultural time frame that is near-term. They will focus on current trends driving the present towards a predetermined or desired goal. They will be highly organized, with changes in plans seen as disruptions to continuity, the end game of Present thinkers. The future is not something to be explored and exploited; it is something to be navigated. Present thinkers try to get the job done, on time and on budget.
3) Strengths of Future thinking
A team or organization weighted to Future thinking focuses on what’s next. They move towards areas of chaos and uncertainty where new ideas and possibilities emerge, the end game of Future thinkers. Quick to change course and adapt, and highly tolerant to risk and ambiguity, a Future thinking team will engage in speculation and be driven by challenges. They will pursue possibility, often with little more than their intuition to guide them.
Each of these thinking styles also comes with weaknesses, obviously, but these potentially now fade into relative insignificance in terms of the economic context in which we find ourselves. The Great Recession—or Great Reset—is having a profound impact on the time orientation of business and government alike.
As several CEOs told us during the course of the Future Quotient project, recessionary pressures and wider uncertainties in the system have encouraged short-termism to proliferate, with even many pension funds becoming increasingly myopic in their investing.
So where would you look for industries, companies and business models that address these different dimensions of change—and particularly extended time dimensions? One answer spotlighted in our survey of 12 long-sighted sectors is civil engineering. And a particularly striking example of explicit, thoughtful trading between the interests of present and future generations was the process that resulted in the London Thames Barrier—which cost nearly £500 million.
In the Thames 2100 project, on which one of the project authors worked, decision-makers embraced a flexible approach for managing uncertainty—so the Barrier, designed to protect the city of London from flooding, can withstand multiple levels of future sea level rise. For each adaptation option, as the World Resources Institute notes, the project assessed: the key threshold of climate change at which the option would be required (e.g., the extreme water level); the lead time needed to implement the option; and therefore, the estimated decision-point to trigger implementation, along with an uncertainty range.
The costs of defending London against flooding are huge: modeling suggests investment in building and maintaining of flood defenses will need to almost double to £1 billion a year (compared to £570 million now) by 2035. Trading off the need – and ability to pay – of present and future generations led to a decision to design a modular system, good enough for the foreseeable future, yet modular so it can be extended to meet future contingencies.
So what lessons can we learn from such projects, sectors and the innovators behind them in designing systems that promote and reinforce high-FQ attitudes, behaviors and cultures? That is the subject we plan to turn to in the third article.
About John Elkington
John Elkington is Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of Volans (http://www.volans.com) and Co-Founder and Non-Executive Director at SustainAbility (http://www.sustainability.com).
His latest book is The Zeronauts: Breaking the Sustainability Barrier (Earthscan/Taylor & Francis) to be published April 2012.
He blogs at http://www.johnelkington.com and http://www.guardian.co.uk/sustainable-business/sustainability-with-john-elkington, and tweets at @volansjohn.
 The author thanks his co-authors on the report, Charmian Love of Volans and Alastair Morton of JWT.
He also thanks four partner organizations: Atkins, The Dow Chemical Company, MindTime Technologies and The Shell Foundation.
Readers: Test your team’s FQ-orientation and report back on Talkback! Survey link: http://www.mindtimemaps.com/start/fq/