Over the last several centuries, we have become a bit obsessed by the concept of learning. It is a worthwhile obsession too! It has opened the door for millions to “create” a new identity based on what they have learned rather than what they were born to. A boy may have been born a farmer, but via learning, he can become a doctor, lawyer or perhaps even the president. And this stepping up allows all of us to enjoy the high levels of connection made possible by a flood of people into the knowledge based career paths.
But is learning the ultimate? I would argue that it is not. When we learn, we take over “accepted wisdom”. In other words, we strive to understand what others before us have created. For example, calculus from Newton. In other words, learning is a backward looking activity. There is nothing inherently wrong with looking backwards.Indeed, we probably should do more of it in order to capture more of what the people around has learned. That is something that “knowledge management” strives to do.
At the same time, looking backwards is not the same thing as looking forward. Looking forward is a strategic challenge and it requires a different perspective. For example, a person who has mastered quantum mechanics may be not up to the task of dealing with climate change.
I would argue that the 21st century will embrace this idea – that we need to be more forward looking in a strategic sense, in order to create the type of future that our children are more likely to enjoy. In this light consider this cautionary note for persons who aspire to get paid for giving advice
If you are going to be an adviser and integrated part of your client’s team, you have to have ideas about what the future holds. You need to know what challenges your client is likely to face, and you need ideas about the opportunities that the future will provide them. You need to be future-oriented.
The bigger and more strategic your thinking, the deeper your knowledge, the more valuable you are to high-level stakeholders. They want to know how to guide their business into the future, and they need to see around corners. You need to have ideas about what lies around those corners.
Future thinking is about forming opinions rather than giving right answers. And so the last sentence in the above quote should actually, read “You need to have ideas about what is most likely to be found around those corners”. And not just that, the more important strategic question is what you should one do about it. How do we best create value in light of what is most likely to occur?