Chapter 2. Personal Foresight - Becoming an Effective Self-Leader

Five Mindsets of Personal Foresight

Let us look now at five different mindsets, or mental orientations, we all must be aware of, and balance against each other, as we seek to live productive and successful lives.

Three Mindsets of Time (PPF)

The three most fundamental mindsets that we each balance, every moment in life, are our thoughts and feelings about past, present and future. Successful people live in all three of these mindsets, all the time, and they shift between them in various contexts. Let’s look briefly at each in turn:

1. Past. Knowing our history is the foundation for knowing who we are, and where we can go. If we don’t understand our past, we will be ignorant of many of the probabilities and possibilities of our present life. In the modern world, this includes a basic knowledge of the 500 year epic of science, the twenty-thousand year history of human civilization, and even something about the five billion year history of life on Earth. As Cicero says, “To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?”

At the same time, if we spend too much time in the past, obsessed by our history, traditions, or nostalgia, we can easily lose sight of both the present and our future. So we must balance this very important mindset with the other two.

2. Present. If we aren’t sufficiently attentive to the present, we will miss all that is happening around us right now, and won’t see others, and ourselves, for who we really are. Books on mindfulness, like Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Wherever You Go, There You Are (2005) and Williams and Penman’s Mindfulness: An Eight Week Plan (2012), and Bohm’s On Dialog (1996) are excellent at helping us be present to those around us. They calm us, and return us to active listening in all our interactions with others. We stop planning what we are going to say next, and truly try hear and be in the moment.

At the same time, we must actively know our past, and create useful futures. Perceptive authors like Eckhart Tolle are great champions of presencing. In books of his like The Power of Now (2004) you will find many good strategies for getting out of dysfunctional stories and habits we use in thinking about both the past and the future. At the same time, Tolle overclaims when he says things like: “Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have.” The reality is that our minds are built to both model and live in the past, the present, and the future at the same time. Wisdom and success come when we learn how to balance all three of these mindsets of time, in all the contexts of our lives.

3. The Future. This is the mindset that we are most concerned with developing in this Guide. We all have expectations, priorities, strategies, and plans about the future, and we should make at least some of those as conscious, deliberate, and tested as we can. Some anthropologists argue that this future orientation, and the areas of our brain that create it, are the essential processes that separate us from other animals, the defining essence of humanity.

The Three Mindsets of Time, mapped with associated Personality Traits (Furey and Fortunato 2012)

That may be overclaiming, as all animals are likely to have some sense of past, present, and future. But we must grant that our human ability to imagine the future is now, after two million years of cultural evolution, uniquely advanced, and thus our future is particularly expansive. The faster and more complex the world gets, the more we can see personaboth future opportunity and risk.

An online self-diagnostic I like, MindTime, offers a good intro to better understanding and navigating the three mindsets of time. It can help you better recognize, empathize with, and work with with the different types of people who like to mentally live more in the past, in the present, or in the future. It can also help you find out where you tend to fall on that spectrum, on average and in various contexts, if you don’t already know your preferences. I recommend taking their free 18-question online survey to see where you tend to live, most often, among these three fundamental mindsets, and paying for their more in-depth diagnostic. Different personality types tend to live more in each of these three mindsets.

At right is a graphic that maps personality traits to these three mindsets. This figure comes from a 2012 publication by John Furey and Vincent Fortunato in the journal Personality and Individual Differences. Furey is the founder of the nonprofit foundation, MindTime. They are doing good work in helping people better understand themselves, and I recommend their framework for better understanding yourself and others.

Five Mindsets of Personal Foresight (Five Ps) 

We’ve discussed the ladder of self-leadership, our model for the five fights (ASOPE) we all engage in daily, in creating personal and team foresight. We’ve seen that the Three Ps of Adaptive Foresight are three most fundamental ways we create foresight, and we’ve discussed a fourth, Preparation (understanding the relevant Past and Present, two of the three mindsets of time) as the Four Foresight Skills.  Together with the Four Action Skills, this gives us the Eight Skills of adaptive management, a uniquely powerful cycle, the Do Loop, for generating adaptive foresight and action. We can very successfully apply the Eight Skills to our own lives, as well as our organizations, and we seek to do so throughout this Guide.

But when we turn from foresight skills to mindsets, to the mental orientations we use personally to think about future, there are is one additional mindset, that of Progress/Purpose we should mention. We can think of this fifth mindset as an application of both the Strategy and Reviewing skills in the Eight Skills. Strategy involves knowing where you want to go, and why (Purpose) and Reviewing involves knowing how far you’ve gone in the right directions, and where you’ve fallen short (Progress).

Let’s look briefly at the Five Mindsets now:

  1. Future – Preparation. Good foresight begins with knowing as much of the relevant Past and Present of a problem, the key actors, and environment, as we can, in the time we have.
  2. Future – Probabilities. We must next know and expect as many of the relevant trends, cycles, predictions, and circumstances of tomorrow that we can see, today.
  3. Future – Possibilities. We must also creatively imagine alternatives, opportunities, risks, scenarios, wildcards, experiments, and contingencies that might alter these probabilities.
  4. Future – Preferences/Priorities/Plans. We must also draw out of ourselves our current thoughts and feelings on preferences, establish priorities, and make plans.
  5. Future – Purpose/Progress. We must also occasionally take stock of who we are, relative to our community, and what value we serve, and can create (Purpose). Defining our Purpose allows us to ask if we are making Progress, which we must also try to measure and critique. We can think of Purpose as preparation for Progress, the way Past and Present thinking prepares us for Probable, Possible and Preferable futures thinking. Organizations and individuals that don’t have a clear sense of their Purpose are disengaged, and can’t see or agree on Progress. Consider both as one challenge, the hardest of the five.

Our great challenge is to make all five mindsets as conscious, and as well-used and well-critiqued as the Three Ps at the center of these five. All five of these mindsets can represented with words beginning with the letter P, so we can call them the Five Ps, or the Five Mindsets of Foresight Thinking.

All five of these mindsets can be practiced in all four of our foresight domains, Personal, Organizational, Global-Societal, and Universal. The last of these five, Purpose/Progress, is deeply influenced by the models and beliefs that we hold in the Universal domain. When we have models and beliefs of Purpose and Progress that stem from our Biggest Pictures of how the world works (Chapters 7-11 of the Guide), these can either help or hinder us greatly as we ask what these concepts look like in our Personal, Organizational, and Global-Societal domains. It is my hope that those chapters can help, in some small measure, as as you take stock of these very important concepts for yourself, your family, your organizations, and our global society

Again, the fifth mindset, Purpose/Progress is the hardest to make conscious, but also among the most important. We will argue in Chapters 7 and 11 that we can usefully measure progress via Five Goals and Ten Values. Chapter 11 in particular will argue that we can best understand our purpose by recognizing we are here to do our small part to help the universe continue to evolve and develop, and to make progress toward both these apparently universal goals and values, and our own personal goals and values, in a world of continuous exponential change. Our model is surely incomplete and wrong in parts, but hopefully it will help you in your own search for what these two very important mindsets mean to you.

Let us now look at five particularly helpful life priorities that help us with personal foresight. These can be thought of as an application of mindset four above, Preferences/Priorities/Plans, that I think are particularly useful to keep in mind, on a daily basis.