Futurizing: A Powerful Tool in Business and in Life

When I taught in the Writers Program at UCLA in the early ‘80’s, I’d often assign a writing exercise that really got students creative juices flowing. Design an ideal day for yourself 10 years out, I’d instruct. Give specifics and provide details. Describe the view over the breakfast table. What are you doing in your life that’s bringing you joy?

Many said it was the best thing they had ever been asked to do. I believe it’s because the exercise encouraged them to futurize, in other words to visualize events as we wish them to be in the days to come. I still remember one student telling me: “I’ve never thought much past the next weekend.”

I believe strongly in the power of futurizing because it works. It certainly has worked for me. I started my career in 1982 as a freelance writer. I was living hand to mouth, but with tons of ambition and lofty dreams.

One New Year’s Day during that period, I visualized one day living in a home in the hills above Santa Barbara with views of the Pacific Ocean. At the time, I was living in an apartment in Van Nuys, California, with views of … a parking lot. Today I live in the house of my dreams, with views every bit as inspiring as in my imagination, with cruise ships docked in the harbor and on clear days, the Channel Islands in the distance.

I have written about the tragic Ice Storm in Texas last year which exposed the state’s failure to weatherize its power-grid to prepare for more severe storms caused by climate change. A similar power outage a decade earlier produced stark warnings from experts that the state’s Electricity Reliability Board should harden equipment and transmission facilities. But warnings went unheeded, and over 900 Texans died, frozen in place, waiting on help that never arrived.

What happened in Texas is emblematic of how we make decisions in the age of acceleration. We put off and delay. We kick the can down the road. We cross our fingers and hope that we’re not in charge when things finally hit the fan. But the even bigger danger today is that we fail to futurize our thinking in order to capitalize on the upside of rapid, often relentless change; and go jet skiing on the blue oceans of tomorrow.

In my journalism days, I did a piece for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner titled “Motivational Speakers: Selling the New Gospel of Ambition and Success.” It changed my life. I interviewed some of the great motivators of all time and studied their teachings: Zig Ziglar, Dr. Denis Waitley, David Schwartz, Earl Nightingale, Bob Richards, Robert Schuller and many others. One of the recommendations that all seemed to agree on was the power of visualizing and taking action daily to turn vision into reality.

I became hooked on the value of futurization: imagining and visualizing how you want it to be; setting goals that will accelerate you toward your dreams, and otherwise managing your mental environment. If there’s anything I see holding us back, it’s what Zig Ziglar called “stinkin’ thinking” – wallowing in negativity and worry; not thinking big about our lives, about the size and shape and texture of what’s possible if we put our minds to it.

My strong suggestion: marinate in how you want it to be, and it will be. Your “future view” determines the “future you.”

Futurizing is as elemental as checking your weather app before leaving home and taking your parka. It’s Sam Walton flying in his airplane looking out the window at where a certain town seemed poised to grow and scoping out where his next Wal-Mart should be constructed. And futurizing is Jeff Bezos exhorting his team to think longer term, when his competitors were consumed with next quarter, and leapfrogging over them as a result.

How best to futurize? There are a million ways! One method that works for me is to remind myself to think farther out and consider implications. Before every important decision you make ask yourself a simple question: where will this trend, this technology, this development be in ten years and how might that factor into the decision I am about to make?