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Here we are. And there is where we want to be. There’s a third player in this drama, of course: the obstacles—or at least gaps— that stand between here and there. Theories abound about what to do:

  • Meticulously plan how to get there from here, mapping each step of the way and taking every contingency into account.
  • Back-cast by imagining yourself standing in  the successful future and then reverse engineer the trajectory—from there to here, instead of from here to there. (A very useful strategy—thank you Bucky Fuller, Bill Perk and Karl-Henrik-Robert—when “there” seems impossible.)
  • Remove, go around or crush the obstacle. As though the problem was external.

In the realm of physical systems, of course, there are external obstacles—the fallen tree blocking the highway—that do need to be physically removed. But if one thing is clear to me from more than 20 years of helping companies build sustainability into their businesses, it’s that the physical, engineering, designing/making/moving stuff aspect of sustainability is the easy part. The real challenge is people. You and me. It’s getting—or, more accurately, enabling—human beings to show up differently, to think, feel and act differently. And to do it consistently, effectively creatively, generatively.

Again, theories abound:

  • Build on strengths, because that offers the greatest possibility of improvment.
  • Overcome weaknesses, since that will provide the biggest gain for a given effort.
  • Remove the internal obstacles to change, since there are, it seems, these things that hold us back, even when we most want to change.

I’m lately exploring a very different but extraordinarily powerful approach—what Eckhart Tolle calls the power of now, or what executive coaches Bryan Franklin and Jennifer Russell call “accepting the present state.” What happens when you fully accept who you are and how you are now, when you accept that the history and experiences that brought you to where you are now—however painful, disappointing, wish-it-were-otherwise they may be—are both what is so, as well as fully constitutive of who you are now, of the self and capacities you appreciate as well as those you would change? What happens when you take a deep breath, release the familiar story, accept yourself—and your organization, and your colleagues—just as you are, and move freely and powerfully from there?

(A company is not a person, of course, nor is it a collection of people; as Gregory Bateson observed, it’s a collection of parts of people. So this model, like any other, must be applied with care. To be continued…)