What’s your story about the future? by Melinda Sinclair

Hurtling or dancing?

Hurtling towards a scary future. Or learning to dance on the edge with new possibilities. What comes to mind for you when you think about the future? Which of these two images best captures it for you?

These two images tell very different stories about our experience of moving to the future.  They both capture something real and true. And yet, which one we choose as the dominant story to live into can have a profound impact on our lives. To be intentional about the future we are shaping day by day, choice by choice and action by action, it is important that we reflect on our stories about the future and that we choose the story that we want to guide us carefully.


Hurtling towards a scary future

There is little doubt that our world is changing faster and in more profound ways than any one of us can quite fathom. And this change is often experienced as moving us towards more complexity, confusion ambiguity, uncertainty, even chaos. The image of hurtling towards a scary future  (from a Sunday times headline of a few years ago) captures something of the sense of being “out of control” we experience at times as we deal with our world.

No matter what our role or place in life, we cannot escape the disconcerting impacts of change. As a leader in an organisation, as a parent supporting children to find their way in the world, as a professional trying to map out a career, or simply a human being trying to live a good live  - we all feel the turbulence. Sometimes we truly despair and fear the worst. Indeed, it often feels as if the best we can do is to brace ourselves as we’re hurtling out of control towards the cliff of a scary future.

Giving in to a sense of despair is the big danger inherent in this story about the future. It is a story of hopelessness and lack of control. When we succumb to the doom and gloom view inherent in this story, we essentially give up – or we implode. At best, we make our lives smaller and smaller. We hunker down to survive without even asking ourselves honestly “to what end”.

Dancing on the edge with new possibilities

The other image tells a much more positive and hopeful story. It evokes a sense of play and adventure, a sense of openness to what might come. Inserting the word “learning” into the story makes it not a passive process, but an intentional process we can actively participate in.

This second image is a play on a book title Dancing at the Edge. Competence, Culture and Organization in the 21st Century (by Maureen O’Hara and Graham Leicester, published in 2012 by the International Futures Forum.) Here’s short quote from the back cover of the book that speaks to the “subtle discipline required of ‘persons of tomorrow’:

“They are the people among us who inhabit the complex and messy problems of the 21st century in a more expansive way than their colleagues… They dance at the edge.”

The image of learning to dance at the edge contains no more certainty than the other image of hurtling towards the future.

The story does not dispute or deny that change is happening at an ever faster rate, or that some of what is happening  is truly scary. We’re still on that edge, and dancing there is risky.

The story inherent in our second image differs in at least two crucial ways, however, from the story in the first image. First, it holds open the frame that the future holds many possibilities that we could engage with, not just disaster. Second, it shifts us away from the sense of hopelessness and complete lack of control implicit in the first image towards a more intentional and active engagement. We are not just helpless passengers hurtling our way to a scary future; we can choose to learn how to be active players and dancers that engage with the many possibilities of the future.

Choosing our story

Our story about the future we live into is not neutral. It shapes our feelings about the future.  It helps shape our choices and our actions  – and in so doing, it helps shape the very future that’s coming into being around us.

So what is the future story you are living? How well does that story serve you?  What is the future story you would like to live into? And what will it take for you to step into that story?

If we want to be future smart, it is vital that we carefully consider the future story we’re living into and choose one that holds the greatest potential for good outcomes. This holds true in all contexts personally, professionally, organizationally and in all our broader communities.

The vital element is a willingness to learn, to cultivate in ourselves the mental frames and capacities that will give us the best chance to thrive tomorrow. And for us to encourage and support others – those we lead, parent, teach, coach – to cultivate these qualities in themselves.


The good news is that there is a rich conversation about this very issue, with lots of thoughtful wisdom about what we need to cultivate in ourselves to become more future smart. While there is no way to know what the future will bring, we can have a fair degree of confidence in at least some of the internal capacities we need to grow to be active dancers on the edge of possibilities. All it will take -  and I know that this is no small thing – is to be willing to be a learner in a whole new way.

We ARE shaping the future, whether we are aware of it or not. It is vital that we develop the skills and capabilities that will allow us to be shapers of a positive future, in the face of the tremendous change and challenge that the future presents us with. 

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