Skip to content

How Can You Plan For An Unpredictable Future?

plan for an unpredictable future

How can you plan for a future that is uncertain and unpredictable?
An interview with Margaret Heffernan.

How much time, energy, and effort do you spend planning for what lies ahead for your team or organization? Given the dawning realization in most workplaces following the global pandemic that unpredictable and continual change is really the only certainty your business plans can be guaranteed, it’s worth asking if all your efforts at planning are worth the paper they are written on.

“Forecasting experts have found that if you’re very, very open-minded and consult a broad range of information sources, then probably the furthest out you can reliably plan is about 400 days,” explained Margaret Heffernan, author of Uncharted: How To Map The Future when we interviewed her recently.

You create a good future.

“If, however, like the rest of us, you’re not quite that rigorous and you don’t regularly review your forecasts, then it’s more likely that your horizon for accurate forecasting is about 150 days.”

This means your best-laid plans for future are valid for about five months at best. 

“A significant downside to being addicted to predicting the future is that the plans and forecasts begin to take on a false sense of value,” said Margaret. “Those who are addicted to prediction and to planning make themselves very rigid, so when things don’t go according to plan, all they can experience is a sense of loss.”

So,

How Can You Plan For The Future More Intelligently?

Margaret suggests that understanding the difference between complicated and complex systems is the key to plan for future. Every organization has both complicated and complex systems operating within it:

  • complicated system

complicated system is generally a linear system in which patterns of cause and effect repeat in predictable ways and can be streamlined to create efficiency. An example of a complicated system would be the baggage checking-in process at the airport. There are lots of moving components and people involved in getting a bag to its destination, but it’s easy to see the whole system and the process is largely the same every day with few unforeseen situations likely to arise. This means it can be optimized for efficiency. 

Read Choose a Rune: Your Choice Will Reveal What The Future Holds For You

  • complex system

complex system is not linear and has lots of different factors interacting with each other. This can make it difficult to see the whole system at once because thousands of factors can be creating multiple reactions. It also means that things can change quickly, making planning challenging. In a complex system, flexibility is more valuable than expertise and efficiency, as the most recent thing that happened may not happen again.

To plan for future more effectively for the complicated and complex systems in your workplace, Margaret recommends the following:

Take stock of your complicated and complex systems. 

Look at the systems and processes within your workplace and identify which ones are complicated and suited for the management of efficiencies and which ones are complex and require artistic flexibility. This will help you plan for the future more intelligently.

How are you encouraging people to understand the difference and equipping them with the capabilities to navigate both? 

For example, a “just in time” approach is appropriate for a complicated system and is geared towards optimum efficiency. Whereas a “just in case” approach focuses on understanding what could happen that would have a huge impact, and ensuring contingencies are in place to make the business more resilient. 

plan in decades, think in years

Read The Door You Pick Can Tell Your Future- QUIZ

Let go of your addiction to prediction. 

While there is benefit in planning, it’s important to remember that plans are not reality. If you can be flexible and divert from the plan when required, you will have a more intuitive, creative, and imaginative response to the situation. 

Try asking yourself, “What is the real story? How does it unfold? Where could it get me?” to take a more curious approach to opportunities and challenges, rather than trying to get your plan “back on track.”

Encourage the skills of curiosity and creativity. 

Rather than trying to “manage” a complex system, take a more “artistic” approach. 

For example, artists regularly work with the uncertainty of what the outcome of a project will be. They spend lots of time absorbing the world around them, observing people, and letting ideas coalesce. They understand at the start that they don’t know how it’s going to unfold, but they begin anyway.

How Can You Plan For An Unpredictable Future?

Can you let go of your fear of uncertainty and give yourself permission to pursue a far richer array of future possibilities? Could you prioritize exploration and experimentation to uncover creative solutions to complex challenges? Could you invite, empower, and trust people to help you find new solutions? Do you have the resilience of an artist to plan for future?

Read 7 Strategies For Smarter Decision-Making, According to Science

What is your plan for the future? How are you planning for the uncertainty of the year ahead?
Leave a comment below.

(You can hear the full interview on the Making Positive Psychology Work podcast here.)


Written by: Michelle McQuaid 
Originally appeared on: Psychology Today 
Republished with permission 
plan for an unpredictable future pin

Michelle McQuaid

Dr. Michelle McQuaid is a best-selling author, workplace wellbeing teacher and playful change activator. With more than a decade of senior leadership experience in large organizations around the world, she’s passionate about translating cutting-edge research from positive psychology and neuroscience, into practical strategies for health, happiness, and business success. An honorary fellow at the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education, she blogs for Psychology Today, hosts the top-rated weekly podcast Making Positive Psychology Work, and her work has been featured in Forbes, the Harvard Business Review, the Wall Street Journal, Boss Magazine, The Age and more. She holds a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania and has completed a PhD in Appreciative Inquiry under the supervision of David Cooperrider. Michelle lives to help people discover their strengths, move beyond their fears, and finally discover what it truly takes to flourish with confidence.View Author posts

Leave a Reply

Up Next

How To Manage Your Dark Side – 10 Tips To Embrace Your Shadow Self

How manage control your dark side

Do you have a dark side? Of course, you do. We all do. But none of us ever talk about it because we are afraid and ashamed of it. If you are struggling to manage your dark side, then here’s how to get started. 

When your dark side takes control

When your dark side is in control, you don’t recognize yourself. The dark side of your psyche gives rise to thoughts and feelings that make you afraid yet tempted. It distorts your thoughts and emotions, yet it feels so right. And perhaps this is why we are even more scared of our dark side. So we suppress it and keep it hidden away from the world, even our loved ones. But we know deep within us, within its confines, our dark side grows silently, patiently looking for a way out. And when it does come out, all hell might break loose.

Up Next

7 Things To Consider When Making A Midlife Career Change

Things To Consider When Making A Midlife Career Change

Are you one of those who are wondering how to go about making a career change at 50? A midlife career change can be exciting but terrifying as well, so here are some of the things to consider as well as options you can consider.

Changing careers is always challenging. But sometimes, a change is all you need to find workplace happiness and a feeling of accomplishment. We see several people changing their careers in their 40s and 50s to find better work-life balance and more tremendous success. 

The first step in a midlife career change is accepting it is possible. An average person holds 12 jobs in their lifetime – and more often than not, if you look at their journey, you’ll see that the jobs they held towards the end of their career had nothing to do with the jobs they started with.

Up Next

How To Improve Your Relationship With Yourself

Improve Relationship With Yourself

Having a healthy relationship with yourself is extremely important when it comes to living a happy and content life. Let's find out what you can do to improve your relationship with yourself.

Key Points:

Many people would be glad to work on self-improvement but believe they don't have enough time for it.

A change in mindset can help them take advantage of the time they already spend transitioning between locations or tasks.

These transition times can be used to check in with themselves and gain a better understanding of how they're feeling.

The thought of adding or removing a habit fr

Up Next

Feeling Down? 5 Reasons Why You Feel Like Shit And What To Do About It

Feelings that make you feel like shit

Feeling down? Me too, buddy. The keyword here is ‘feeling’. Feelings are weird, if you ask me. Emotions make life complicated. It ruins relationships, families and even careers. It makes you feel like shit and like hitting your head against the wall. But that’s not completely true, is it? 

Not all emotions pull you down. After all, who would we be if we didn’t feel anything? Emotions make us who we are and it adds meaning to our lives. The secret lies in identifying which negative emotions make you feel like shit and knowing how to deal with them.

Dear negative feelings, thanks for making me feel like shit 

Yes, I know we should experience the whole spectrum of human emotions

Up Next

How to Tame and Silence Your Inner Critic: 5 Ways

Ways Tame And Silence Your Inner Critic

“Turn down the volume of your negative inner voice and create a nurturing inner voice to take it’s place. When you make a mistake, forgive yourself, learn from it, and move on instead of obsessing about it. Equally important, don’t allow anyone else to dwell on your mistakes or shortcomings or to expect perfection from you.” ― Beverly Engel. This one quote perfectly shows why it's important to silence your inner critic.

Do you have a love/hate relationship with your inner monologue? You know, the voice that can motivate you to press on or stop you dead in your tracks and make you feel a few inches tall.

It is the same voice that attempts to protect you from shame, embarrassment, or making a mistake. If not tamed and regulated, this voice morphs into an intense critic, one that can sabotage and stagnate if it gains too much power.

<