Inventing the Future, part one

Do you have realistic goals for yourself and your life?

One of my original inspirations for the Creating the Impossible program was that I saw how often people struggle to create something they don’t really want (but think they can have) instead of throwing themselves into the pursuit of something they really want to create (but don’t think they can ever have).

For example, most people want to make more money, but their definition of “more” is based on what they currently have, not an amount that would actually afford them the flexibility to live the life they want to be living. Or they put their energy into becoming a more successful plumber or doctor when what they really want is to create art of save the world.

This obsession with being “realistic” is predicated on the false notion that we can usefully predict the future by listening to our own thinking in the echo chamber of our mind.

One of my favorite quotes on the subject originated in the 1960’s with the Nobel Prize winning physicist Dennis Gabor who wrote:

The future cannot be predicted, but futures can be invented.”

In this week’s blog, I’ll explore the perils of attempting to predict the future as a guide to how we behave in the present; next week, we’ll look directly at what it takes to invent and live into a possible future that’s better than what you’ve ever imagined…

1. The lesser of two imaginary evils

I have a friend in the hospitality industry (I’ll call him “Steve”) who has leveraged his personality over the years to build several successful bars and restaurants. His current endeavor, however, is struggling, mired in a swamp of temperamental staff, rising rents, and a “custody battle” with his business partner and investors over which of them has the right to set the direction for the future.

When we were speaking the other day, he shared that his partner had offered him the opportunity to back out of the project entirely with minimal debt if he left immediately. His hesitation was that he felt that without his continued presence, the project was doomed to failure, and he owed it to the investors not to let it go down without a fight.

“I’ve only got two choices”, Steve said to me. “Save myself and leave my investors to drown, or fight like hell to right the ship even though everyone on board (including the investors) wants me to leave.”

When I pressed him on why those were his only two choices, the source of his apparent dilemma became clear. “There’s no way that place will survive without me,” he said.

Now understand, that statement wasn’t as arrogant as it might first sound. His presence and personality was one of the main reasons people patronized the business in the first place. But what he couldn’t see is that the reason he felt between a rock and a hard place was because he was unwilling to question his imaginary future. As long as he believed his prediction that “the business can’t survive without me”, any course of action that would take him away from the business was the equivalent of abandoning a sinking ship with the women and children still on board.

What I pointed out to him was that the nature of thought and consciousness is that what we think seems real to us, and the more we think about it the more real it seems. So the fact that he couldn’t imagine a scenario where the business survived without him was simply evidence of how thought works, not that he was accurately predicting the future.

Furthermore, the reason we can’t accurately predict the future is that there’s no way to predict what will occur to us and for us along the way. While the way the business was currently set up was built around his being a part of it, with him no longer there a whole new approach to customer satisfaction might occur to his partner, one not predicated on his presence. In fact, the business’s overreliance on his force of personality might well have been masking a host of simple to fix problems and opportunities that would become evident in the vacuum left by his departure.

While this was clearly difficult for him to hear and imagine, it opened up the possibility of an infinite number of futures where he was neither the villain or the hero of the day. And that opened up the space for him to explore what he actually wanted to do, regardless of which way things ultimately turn out for the business.

2. Fighting for a losing cause

Take a look at your goal list (if you’ve got one) and pick out one of your favorites – the one you’d most like to have happen. In your heart of hearts, do you already know how things are going to turn out?

Will it be a huge success? An abject failure? Or will you give it your all only to come up short (again) when all is said and done?

We set some pretty ambitious performance targets for ourselves here at Genius Catalyst, but I realized to my dismay recently that while I would love for us to reach them, in my mind I already “know” we’re not going to make it. Consequently, I’ve been putting as much creative energy into backup plans as I have been into actually reaching them.

While on the one hand this is sound business practice – mitigating the down side – on the other hand it also goes a long way to explaining why we often don’t hit our targets.

It’s really difficult to win a race that you’ve lost before you begin.

As soon as I realized what was going on, I recognized that I wasn’t up against the reality of our circumstances, but rather the apparent reality of my own habitual thinking. When I put that thinking to one side (more on that next week), new creative possibilities came to mind almost immediately that have once again brought our targets within reach.

Here are a couple of things you can do to see if you’re living into a future that you unwittingly made up inside your own mind:

1. Choose two projects you’re currently working on – one personal and one professional.

2. For each project, write out a paragraph or two about how you honestly think things are going to turn out. Don’t try to make these paragraphs any more or less positive than what you actually think.

3. Notice to what extent these predicted futures are becoming self-fulfilling prophecies. Which actions are you taking (or not taking) based on your prediction? Which opportunities might be lying in wait just outside your current field of vision?

4. Open up to the possibility that whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re probably wrong. There are a host of as yet unforeseen inspirations and opportunities that will only come your way if you stay open to them and move boldly forward in the direction of your dreams.

In the words of the Scottish Himalayan explorer W. H. Murray:

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.

Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”

Next week, I’ll continue this exploration with some ideas about how we can escape the limitations of our own self-predicted future and step into a wider world of possibility.

Until then have fun, learn heaps, and may all your success be fun!

With all my love,