Being future smart includes remembering the past and noticing the present (2)

Noticing the present

Present: the period of time now occurring

Dollarphotoclub_65559276In the previous post I asked how our relationship with the past might relate to being future smart. The key is remembering the past – through the study of history (at least in a few areas that matter to us) and through crafting our life story (our own personal history). These forms of remembering give us a better understanding of some of the forces that are shaping our present – and hence also shaping the future that is emerging from the present.

We also looked at the idea of re-imagining our life story to see some of the multiple other possibilities that were always also present. This might help us develop more openness and adaptability in our views of ourselves and the shape of our lives – a stance that is likely to be helpful as we are faced with the need to shift and adapt in the future.

What about the present then, the period of time occurring now?  If remembering is our fundamental mental activity with regards to the past, then noticing is our fundamental mental activity with regards to the present.  Noticing what is happening now is how we clue in to our present – which is where we live moment to moment and also from where our future unfolds.

How might we practice the art of noticing the present in ways that could serve us also in becoming more future smart?

It starts with valuing a rich picture of now

A concept that I find helpful to bring into this is that of a “rich picture of now”.  Berger and Johnston, in their recent book Simple Habits for Complex Times, describe creating a rich picture of now as an attempt in which we “seek to understand as much as possible about what is happening now”.

Berger and Johnston use this notion of the “rich picture of now” as part of their process of engaging with challenges in a complex world. Their premise is that since in complexity there is rarely a straight line to a problem and its solution, the richer our picture of “now” is, the better our changes of seeing and connecting things in the complex interconnected space that might lead us to a solution.

Creating a rich picture of now is an interesting way to think about how we should engage with the present in a way that contributes to us being more successful and fulfilled now, while also being more future smart. We know only too well that our attention is limited, that much is going on around us without us noticing it. Our noticing is shaped by our concerns and priorities – and I certainly know for myself how these can often narrow and “shallow” my picture of now.

A narrow and shallow picture of now might mean we miss seeing opportunities and possibilities going by. It may also mean that, like the proverbial lobster, we fail to notice that the water around is getting hotter and hotter. Quite simply, not having a rich picture of now constrains our ability to shape our future in the direction we might want to.

This is one of the reasons why a great deal of the upfront work in a coaching process is often focused on developing a “rich picture of now” in the area(s) of concern for the client. This is an integral part of the process of figuring out how to help a client move to their desired future.  It’s really a process of asking and answering in different ways questions like: What is happening? What is not happening? What is working well? What is not working well? What forces are at play? What has you attention – and what deserves more of your attention?

So creating a rich picture of now is the foundation of our engagement with the present in a “present smart” as well as “future smart” way. But I think there are three specific “noticing the present” practices that we can use to enrich our “rich picture of now”.

Notice the wider context in which your concerns fit

In a complex world seemingly disparate things are interconnected and impacting one another. So narrowing our lens too much, focusing only on our personal concerns as we build our picture of now, means we may completely miss things that are happening now that might have a significant impact on us. For example, what is happening to our career, now and in the future, cannot be separated from what is happening in our industry and in the wider world.

If we accept this, then there is  a strong need to include a wide-angled lens for our noticing in the present – one that pulls into our picture of now more of the wider context in which our own ”smaller”  concerns fit.

So if career is your focus of concern, then it makes sense to look at the wider context in which your job and skills fit, and how these might be impacted by some of the forces at play – technology being an obvious one. Having a sense of what is happening now might help you make better sense of what you’re experiencing, and also give you some different ideas about how to position yourself going forward – ideas that you would not have without the wider look at the context.

Notice not just what is, but also what is happening

Essentially, this means noticing movement and shifts that are currently happening.  It’s about capturing not just a snapshot of the present moment, but a video that shows the flow of events, the direction in which things are trending. It is one thing to know what your current state is; it is something quite different to know the direction in which it is changing.

If we combine the idea of looking at the wider context with the idea of looking at the direction in which things are trending, we start to gain a very rich picture of now to help us make sense of our lives and think about our future. This is one of the places where we can borrow a lot from people and organizations who invest lots of resources in tracking trends – something hard for an individual to do.  Even a small amount of time invested in reading a few trend reports – about technology, your industry, your country – will help you fill out your picture of now. [In later posts I will share some of my own favorite resources to get a sense of “what is happening”. ]

Notice what’s happening in odd spots

There may be merit in devoting some of our present noticing to things that seem completely unrelated to our concerns. When we poke around in odd spots – parts of the world that seemingly has no direct relationship to the things we are primarily concerned with – we have the chance of noticing things that may connect in totally surprising ways with our understanding of the world. If you’re into science, what are some odd spots in the arts you can poke around in? If you’re into arts, what are some odd spots in science or technology to look at?

Of course there is no guarantee that you will make a connection that is helpful at all. However, you will have learned something new, even if not useful. And learning to continue learning is a future smart skill that we cultivate in the present.  You will also have added to your inventory of ideas – and that might one day pop out in a creative connection when you least expect it.

Maybe most important: Noticing what’s happening in odd spots our world and trying to understand that will help keep you mind stretched and flexible to include and absorb possibilities that sit outside your current view of the world.  Continuing the practice this form of cognitive flexibility is a capability that will likely stand us in good stead as we engage with the pace, scale, and deep impact of future change.


© 2016 Melinda Sinclair

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