In complex uncertain times it is easy to focus on the negative, to be swept away by media hype and the polarising conversations of social media. Yet these times demand that we explore ways in which we can work together to reframe the future. Our use of language, the narratives in our heads and those we share shape us, our culture and the future we weave as the human race.
This post is a little longer than I intended (as usual!) but this is the space I grow my own thinking and come across treasures online. My blogposts are places I can go back to as well as to make new connections. This particular post was sparked by a recent online interaction that was along the lines of… as an expert….as the owner and managing director of….I have a large and high quality network…what you need to understand….there is only one future… For some reason this sort of language always riles me and the “don’t you know who I am-ness” leads me to seek a better place for conversation. Hence this post reflecting on how we might reframe the future through language, narrative and deep connection. So here goes!
First up I would like to draw on the work of Ivana Milojević and her excellent article on foresight narratives in response to COVID-19. It’s a critical read for all, but especially those involved in the public sector. Her article focuses on narrative foresight – the stories that individuals, organisations, states and civilisations tell themselves about the future. Ivana provides really rich examples of some of the commonly used metaphors used prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes examples of futures fallacies, which are detrimental thinking patterns about the future. These cognitive fallacies include denial: just a flu and fatalism: letting it run.
Comments such as “nobody knew”, “who would have thought?”, “never before” and “pandemic shock” have been abundant. However, so have the narratives of “it is just a matter of time”, “we need to start preparing now” and “time is running out”. In the end our common narratives shape our actions. In the Aotearoa New Zealand context here’s my observation:
Our narrative could have focused on:
survival of the fittest and herd immunity
Instead our narrative focused on:
a team of five million and kindness
While the Aotearoa New Zealand narrative may be wearing thin for some, what it did was galvanise our community spirit and enhance pride in our country. It shaped our actions.
The Blue Pacific Strategy
This different narrative was developed as the Pacific Island Forum’s strategy for 2050, with a focus on working together as one. This shared stewardship approach aimed to help address critical challenges such as climate change, sustainable development and security. It also represented the opportunity to consider how to best leverage solidarity, strength and areas of opportunity, as one region. The future was reframed through the narrative that was developed:
The narrative could have focused on:
a small group of island states threatened by climate change and at the mercy of other countries
Instead their narrative focused on:
a large ocean nation – the Blue Pacific Continent which can influence others and lead the conversation
The second narrative leads to a place of opportunity and moves from powerless to proactivist.
A Planet of Seven Billion
On a recent Singularity Radio podcast FBL25 – Amy Webb: Thinking Like A Futurist reminded us that culture has more influence than ever before, and the importance of challenging our own ways of thinking in order to consider alternative futures. In the reperception exercise (39:00) she probes the thinking regarding the influence of China globally by asking the question: Why does that concern you? What’s the thing that got you upset about that? The conversation then led to her reframing the conversation:
The narrative could have focused on:
There are one billion people living in China so we must find ways to influence that market.
Instead her narrative reframed the conversation:
There are over 7 billion people on the planet. How might we influence the market of 6 billion outside China?
Amy explores the increase in synthetic media, natural language processing, the ability to quickly translate languages and the technology to make people’s mouths look like they are speaking that language. In five year’s time we may be able to launch a movie around the world and have it instantaneously translated at scale in 200 different languages. That thinking opens up possibilities now and now is when we need to begin creating the future.
Her final point:
Changing perceptions and mental models unlocks new ideas.
Virtro Company Narrative
I have recently had the pleasure of talking with Lee Brighton, the President of Virtro, an amazing company in the immersive technology space including the use of simulations and virtual humans. I was particularly taken by the way the story of the company has been woven throughout the work of the company. Virtro proactively lives its narrative of diversity and inclusion.
This includes a policy of employing 50% newcomers. In our country we would probably refer to these as immigrants (I think?) and in the USA I think they would be called aliens? The newcomer narrative seems more open, accepting of diversity and positive by design. The reframing completely alters the way we view and value people.
Reframing the Aotearoa Narrative
A recent LinkedIn post by Hone Heke Ngāpua-Rankin from Cultural Flow brings this important conversation on reframing the future back to our own work here in Aotearoa New Zealand. Here is what he had to say:
After 11 years of teaching from Primary school to College I have seen first hand the effects of colonisation.
Students would say:
I am not Māori enough because I have blue eyes.
I am not Māori enough because I have never been to my marae.
I am not Māori enough because I can’t speak Te Reo Māori.
Whānau, give our rangatahi opportunities to engage with experiences that will strengthen their cultural identity.
Change the narrative to:
I am proud of my Māori whakapapa.
My tūrangawaewae lives inside of me.
One day I will be able to speak the words of my tūpuna.
If our rangatahi start saying they are proud of their Māoritanga. The waka is paddling in the right direction.
Thanks to Hone Heke for allowing me to share these important words. Our world view shapes our narrative, which in turn shapes our actions.
I have always been a fan of appreciative inquiry and its strengths based approach. I wanted to finish off this post by making links to some of the principles of AI because they too focus on the importance of questions and creating images for the future. You can check out the full list of principles by following the links above.
If what we focus on grows then let’s try to spend more of our time asking powerful questions from the beginning.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay