Is Your Future Singular or Plural?

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?


Jeff Head Shot 3.jpgDr. 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

Becoming a Future-Ready Organization: Moving Your Dot

This week I have the privilege of conducting some workshops with higher education professionals in Florida at the NACCAP ‘15 conference. I will be speaking about developing organizations which are resilient amidst change. Today’s blog shares three Future-Ready principles that we will be speaking about.

Principle 1: Strategy defines your preferred future.

When you make a plan, you place an invisible dot in the future that says, “I want to be here at a defined time”. Sometimes this dot is in the near future such as picking up the kids from school in an hour. Conversely, when an organization sets a five year strategy in place, they are placing their dot in the distant future. Wherever it is, your dot defines your preferred future. Future-Ready organizations have a deep understanding of their preferred future and can tell a robust story about their dot.

“The best way to predict the future is to create it”. Peter Drucker

Principle 2: We have three ways by which we define our preferred future.

Research reveals that individuals view things through one of three time orientations; the past, the present or the future. If you have a past orientation, you make plans by assessing what can be learned from history. Those with a present orientation evaluate their current circumstances in order to make decisions. If you have a future orientation, you think and dream about the future before you make plans. Each of these orientations is valuable for different reasons. As a result, good plans involve all three of these perspectives. Effective leaders learn from the past, leverage the present and prepare for the future.

“We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are”. Anais Nin

Principle 3: The uncertainty of your preferred future increases as your time horizon increases.

The further your invisible dot is from today, the greater the uncertainty about whether or how it can be achieved. Many things can occur which will affect your plans to pick up the kids from school in an hour. However, this uncertainty is significantly magnified if you stretch your time horizon to 3, 5 or 10 years. This means that Future-Ready organizations must embrace uncertainty and develop the capacity to quickly adjust their dot when unexpected changed occur. This is called strategic agility. It is not the ability to know the future, but rather, the ability to anticipate and respond to it more quickly than others do!

“Change is the way that the future invades our lives. Leadership is the way that we invade our future”. Alvin Toffler, Susan Komives.

Change is inevitable! However, successful organizations invade the future by understanding and applying these three principles. Strategic efforts should define your preferred future. Your time orientation affects how we think and plan for the future. Finally, longer time horizons have higher uncertainty. Through the use of strategic foresight, organizations can develop the capacity to make adjustments when things affect our preferred future. The ability to more dots quickly will be a hallmark of effective organizations in the 21st century!

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Jeff Suderman is a futurist, consultant, and professor 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 Email:

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