We all love to make predictions at the turn of the year. The media is full of them, and pundits vie to claim the so-called accuracy of their foresight. But are they actually predictions at all – and more importantly are they helpful to leaders trying to deliver breakthrough performance? In reality, predictions are just hunches based on examination of past data. They might be useful in pointing to continuing trends, but in the fast-moving environment that most businesses occupy it is the new and unexpected that creates challenges and opportunities. So, going into 2022 why not make some declarations instead of predictions. What do you want to see – what is the future you want to inhabit? How does that feel? Exciting?
Prediction used to be regarded as magic or witchcraft. Soothsayers, prophets and astrologers would claim to see into the future and predict upcoming events. Rightly, most were rejected as charlatans. Today prediction is a process. Analysts, economists and advisors across all sectors use data on past events to provide insights on what will happen to markets, politics and trends of all types. They have much more data, better models and massive computing power at their fingertips, and predictions have become more accurate. However, at the same time, almost every aspect of the world, from climate to business trends has become more volatile. In her book “Uncharted” Margaret Heffernan suggests that “Research shows that the time horizon for accurate forecasting is shrinking: 400 days if you’re rigorous, closer to 150 days if you’re not.” More importantly, despite what its etymology suggests, prediction has only ever been about using past experience to make a better guess at what the future might hold. This perspective naturally limits a leader’s ambition by always starting from a position constrained by what’s gone before.
 The word comes from the latin praedicere, prae (before) and dicere (tell)
Imagine declaring the future you want to happen instead of predicting what might happen. How would that change the way you approached the year? Leadership is language and making a declaration is a creative act that uses precise, un-caveated terms to bring a possible future into being. Declarations need to be wholehearted and made publicly to those who will hold you to account. They need to be honest and authentic. Declaring what you think stakeholders want to hear is just another prediction based on past experience of what goes down well. True declarations are acts of bravery that put your leadership at stake, but carefully distilling what’s needed and what’s missing from the froth of assumptions that hold back breakthroughs will mitigate the risk.
Bold declarations are the foundation of great leadership and are hugely powerful. Declaring a possible future will inspire, energise and enrol teams to help you deliver. By imagining standing in the declared future, the leader has new insight to challenge limiting assumptions. Declaring the future you want makes it real and immediately changes the conversation with teams. Instead of past-focused plans that can only build incrementally on what’s gone before, collaborators can make promises and requests that get straight to the heart of what’s needed to make that future happen.
It is ironic that at a time when daily experiences dramatically emphasise that the future will be nothing like the past, we are still drawn to rely on often shaky predictions. It’s understandable that we look to the past for a sense of security and a desire for things to ‘return to normal.’ But that can create an illusion of certainty, and prevent us from looking outward to what could be, and shaping our actions from a future perspective.
Our future is a created reality which exists within us, and we are empowered to design. Whilst we can’t always change the circumstances or challenges, by publicly and boldly declaring the future we want, we bring new possibilities and realities into existence. Performance, engagement and energy will all be transformed by a leader’s bold declaration of a possible future. The very act of declaring it allows action to be taken from a new future perspective rather than from the past.
So, as we go into a new year, look forwards not backwards. Don’t predict – declare the future you want to lead your organisation into. All the best for a breakthrough 2022!
Breakthrough Thinking Practice 5: Act from the future
Isabel Elvery | 20/05/2022
Breakthrough Thinking Practice 4: Speak your declarations publicly.
Isabel Elvery | 19/05/2022
Book recommendations to further Breakthrough Thinking
Mike Straw | 06/05/2022
Breakthrough Thinking Practice 3: Identify what you are really committed to
Isabel Elvery | 23/03/2022