This week I asked someone a rather simple question:
“Is your future singular or plural?”
At first glance, it appears to be a rather innocent sentence. However, as you peel back the onion-like layers that enshroud this question, your answer provides significant insights about your beliefs. The easiest way to define the difference between a singular and a plural future is to tell the stories of Josh and Katie.
A Singular Future
Josh has always wanted to be a firefighter. This dream germinated when he was a young boy watching his neighbor’s house burn down. The idea has grown with him as he has matured. As a young adult, he has invested his time and training doing countless hours of physical and mental preparation. Yesterday, he finally got the letter he had been waiting for from his local Fire Department. But it held devastating news. He was not selected. Josh’s dream has come to an end and he found himself drifting as he was cut off from his anchor.
Josh struggled with his circumstances because he held one view of what the future would look like. The pursuit of a singular future can focus us, but it can also leave us without an anchor when dreams and reality collide.
A Plural Future
Katie is young college graduate, energetic and full of ideas. At times, her ideas overwhelm her because there is simply too many things that she wants to do. Yesterday, she got an unexpected letter in the mail. It was an invitation to join the Peace Corps for the next 12 months in the tiny African country of Burkina Faso. The place is so obscure she had to use Google to discover where it was! Despite her many dreams, she had never considered the Peace Corps. However, with time and consideration, she has come to realize that this opportunity aligns with her dreams, albeit in a way she would never have scripted. She has always wanted to travel, to help people and to make a difference in the world. Burkina Faso does all of these rather well and she decides to pursue this unexpected opportunity.
Katie embraced an unexpected future because she held many views of what it could look like. A plural future can feel confusing because it often requires us to hold onto conflicting ideas at the same time. However, when we understand the core values that drive our dreams, it can lead to wonderful and unexpected results. Like a year in Burkina Faso
Do you understand your personal future bias? How about your companies? Each of these two perspectives brings different strengths and weaknesses. Individuals with a singular future often pursue their goals with remarkable doggedness! But when those goals become unattainable it can cause the painful death of a dream. Future pluralists can often find unexpected success amidst an ocean of options. They can also have difficulty making decisions because opening one door often requires them to close another.
Our view of the future, whether singular or plural, significantly affects how we live. It shapes our view of risk. It defines how we perceive change. It quietly defines our views of right and wrong. It guides who we choose to spend our time with. It even affects how we manage our finances. So as Socrates once advised, “know thyself”. Is your future singular or plural?
Dr. Jeff Suderman plural futurist, consultant, professor and pracademic who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman