The Best Way To Predict The Future Is To Invent It

by George Kennedy on June 28, 2013

Best Way to Predict the Future is to Invent it

 The Best Way To Predict The Future Is To Invent It

Technology pioneer Alan Kay says “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” This is the epitome of the one-sentence-paragraph.

While his advice applies in the best of times and the worst of times, it is more than prescient for today’s times: jobs are scarce, wages are down, prices are up, and the magnitude of the housing crisis strikes terror in the hearts of the average homeowner.

I did not mention unemployment rates because we all know what that is nationally and in our local communities. If you are a new entrant to the job market or a member of the long-term unemployed (the 99ers), self-reliance is your most likely option.

ou are going to have to make it on your own. Therefore, the one certainty today is more uncertainty since “jobs, careers, valued skills and industries are transforming at an unheard of rate” according to author Peter Sims.

My advice is do not waste much time wondering about the future and your place in it – which legitimately preoccupies everyone from the underemployed, to the unemployed, the high school graduate and the average in-debt college degree holder. There are a declining number of good or great possibilities. You could, however, utilize your time and think about how to make your life count by creating value others are willing to reward. If you create the right product or offer a value-laden service, others will purchase it. If you solve a problem, people will exchange their money for your solution.

I took the quote by Alan Kay from an article exhorting us to take a hard, careful look at our predispositions to planning our future. The author questions our tendency toward linear thinking – the death knell for creativity. He opines that this kind of thinking is fostered by our educational system and, later in the workforce i.e., “Teach and test on facts known…reward perfection in the workplace…penalize mistakes…avoid risk and failure…use familiar skills for familiar situations…and use the past to predict the future with linear plans in a non-linear world.”

“To be enterprising is to keep your eyes open and your mind active. It’s to be skilled enough, confident enough, creative enough and disciplined enough to seize opportunities that present themselves…regardless of the economy…Enterprising people always see the future in the present.” Jim Rohn

The author is on point suggesting that graduates and new entrants to the workforce today are largely unprepared for the uncertainty they will face. Where in the education and experience phases of their lives has there been an emphasis on an “ability to discover, create, and reinvent?” So, what does it mean “To invent your future?” These three qualities are essential:

a) To invent your future would define you as an enterprising person; someone creative enough to visualize what’s out there and how to fashion it to your advantage. You’re different because you’re creative.

b) A second quality is the courage to set yourself apart from the crowd because you have feelings of self-worth to want to seek advantages and opportunities that may shape your future.

c) A third quality of the inventor is a willingness to question – everything. I know that if you ask enough questions, you will hear something that resonates with an idea, a thought, and you will act on it. Answers to questions drive creativity just as questions do.

The article I refer to includes examples of those who fit this mold: entrepreneurs, a famous comedian, and an architect, all creative, who placed their faith in invention and small bets – trial, error, knowledge, success – to discover what works. If you have faith in your idea, muster the energy and the enthusiasm to pursue it; go where the trail takes you. You’ll know if the trail runs out. Just be capable of handling your emotions; it could be a hell of a ride. That is also part of the process.

I have noted in previous articles (“The Future of Employment is Self-Employment”) that we are in a different world today that is less linear and more favorable to the risk-taker, those willing to be imperfect to create success. The primary distinction between the inventor and others is a healthy skepticism about convention. You are your greatest asset, therefore you bet on yourself to achieve a favorable outcome. How else, you reason, will you discover the range of opportunities available to you to build a rewarding career, launch an enterprise, achieve a greater measure of satisfaction than would have been possible employing more linear thinking? Not to be devalued is the larger collateral benefit of the “inventive mindset”: Society; our civilization becomes richer and more diverse because the inventors, you among them, saw a different future than the rest of us. You used your gifts and your talent to create a future while we are enriched by the fruits of your creativity. A perfect example is Starbucks. Who among us does not enjoy a daily trip – or two – for their favorite beverage? or to meet a client at that convenient “informal office” away from home or the office setting?

C’mon, each of us has read of a new product, a new idea and said, “Wow, why didn’t I think of that? It’s so simple!” There are myriad reasons why you or I did not think of it. What is important is how you think about your future now. How broad is your vision? How comfortable are you outside your comfortable parameters of thought and action? Again, are you self-reliant?

To invent your future in this rapidly changing 21st Century world involves resetting old theories and embracing ideas that defy some conventional tenets. For example:
a. Risk is good;
b. Small failures are to be celebrated because they are a precursor to real learning; c. Value the uncertainty often associated with experimentation;
d. There are no stupid questions – just questions;
e. Premature judgments are antithetical to the incubation of new ideas; This is a huge leap for some.
f. Accept that no possibility is off the table unless it threatens life and limb – yours and others, is illegal, or considered immoral – whatever that means today.

Inventing your future is not for the faint of heart, those who fear being misunderstood, or those unwilling to challenge convention – with its legions of supporters. It is for the mentally tough, those who understand that the true purpose of a ship is to sail in uncharted waters. I believe a ship tethered for lengthy periods is analogous to the champion boxer who trains vigorously but never has the championship fight. I saw a quote by Jim Rohn on “Creating Opportunity.” He writes “to be enterprising is to keep your eyes open and your mind active. It’s to be skilled enough, confident enough, creative enough and disciplined enough to seize opportunities that present themselves…regardless of the economy.”

I employed the linear model earlier in my career not because it was easy – it wasn’t. I did so at that time because during the decades of the 60’s, 70’s, and the 80’s, the linear model offered the best prospects for the future I wanted – available to few like me – if I was prepared to work hard, resolve to succeed, and persevere. The world I would confront today would necessitate different personal and professional choices, the principal difference being that I would choose the route of the entrepreneur – working for myself, creating my own financial success. That success would enable the world of discovery I ultimately did enjoy.

Yes, I would come with the same resolve to learn and grow and the energy to match the best around me to achieve the level of satisfaction I would feel was my due because that is my character. Linear planning would, of necessity, have to be set aside. It offers few desirable choices today – at least not to me.

I will sum up this way. You’ve got one life to live. Live it on your own terms if you can, or if necessity compels it. Today, necessity compels it if you want any measure of satisfaction from it. I believe each of us has the capacity to learn. We may even have a degree of innate genius. We just need to be inspired enough to discover it. Experience enough frustration, disillusionment, or disappointment and you might unearth talents you’ve never developed. At the end of the day, the responsibility rests with you to chart your course. Here is my advice: Develop new skills, explore new ideas, risk it all, learn from the experience, and plant your flag of success on terrain of your own choosing. This is the world of the 21st Century. Get used to it!

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George Kennedy

George Kennedy was a business advisor to small technology companies in the Washington DC Metropolitan Area. Currently, he serves as the Chairman of the Economic Development Committee of the Marana, AZ Chamber of Commerce and is a board member of the United Way of Tucson organization. He also serves as an advisory board member to the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Mr. Kennedy is a retired senior Foreign Service officer with extensive international experience. He holds a B.A. from the University of Oregon and two graduate degrees from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C.

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