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Wanted: Time Travellers

Ask anyone what they would do if they could travel in time and sooner or later someone will tell you they would go forward to the next lottery draw date so they can return to the present day and buy the winning ticket.

This week the Euromillions lottery is another roll over. Visualising the future isn’t easy.

But never mind our own fanciful dreams of lottery riches. For leaders creating strategy seeing into the future is an essential skill. Which path to take? Which strategy to follow? What steps do we need to take today towards a better tomorrow? We know that developing this foresight can be incredibly difficult, especially in such conditions of uncertainty as we face in 2017. Taking the brave first steps now in a change programme to move your company away from it's comfort zone is a tough job. How can we know what the future will hold? If only we could travel through time. If only we had a time machine to take us there….

Run as a facilitated event over a series of phases, simulation exercises and workshops are our tardis to the future, providing us with a time travelling vehicle that enables our exploration to begin. These interactive people based decision making exercise can create an escalating set of conditions that allows a team of participants to move their thinking ahead of the present day and forward to the point where they are experiencing the future. One the past five years I have used these with considerable success, heading off anything from ethical protests to sales slumps.

And this can all be done without leaving your boardroom, and without using up terrabytes of computer data. It need not involve techies, geeks or weirdoes (although you are free to provide your own!). Instead, simulations focus on the human side of the change experience, allowing the managers and leaders in your organisation to face and experience the challenges of the future in a risk free present day setting. Creating scenarios that move your business into the future move us into the complex domain, where conditions of uncertainty make decision making difficult. Simulations are a place for experiential and pragmatic learning. They allow us to move teams to a place where an escalating situation delivers new challenges and that can allow the team to change their thinking and to create vision of the future that might otherwise have been out of reach. Crucially these sessions also expose strengths and weaknesses within our own teams, delivering the eight key benefits that I always bang on about (see Simulate to Stimulate).

As the Time Traveller in HG Wells’ story puts it, “Scientific people know well that time is only a kind of space”. By taking our simulation forward in time we can create the space to do great work today.

When the exercise is complete, delegates return to the current and share their ex

periences and insights. What is the future like? What attributes, characteristics, behaviours and systems will the future require? What new talents and capabilities are needed? What disasters can be been prevented? What actions can we take now to create the best future? Who are the best people to get us there?

As we analyse these learnings it becomes easier to visualise just what the future might look like. It becomes possible to understand more about the relationship between cause and effect and it allows the first steps to be taken in a change process to move closer towards a future that can now be visualised and communicated. The exercise allows you the creative space needed to assess future strategies and aims.

These exercises go by different names. At one end of the scale are continuity exercises, shifting your organisation through time to a critical moment where rapid and often stress filled decisions are the order of the day. At the other might be multi-team large scale military, political or business wargames, where hundreds of agents and systems play out an interconnected and shared future. In between are the leadership, strategic change and corporate visioning decision making exercises where management teams take their time machine to a new space in the quest of future proofing and resilience. At the very entry level is a focus on your project, your team, your individual situation.

Creative exercises are a hot bed for talent development. When exercises like these are held you can actually see the process of team formation, alignment and power politics being played out before your very eyes. Team members who might previously have seemed the most unlikely achievers can step up and unveil talents that were previously not noticed. On the other hand, others might face a struggle coming to terms with the emerging fact that their long held beliefs and strategies are not future proof.

The quality of these exercises comes in the scoping and understanding the starting point of the present day and to understand about the outcomes that you want to get from the exercise. And a growth mindset. As to the exercise itself, they range in time from anything from half a day to half a week, with teams working independently or in a multi-group system (some of the best exercises involve teams working in competition with each other, making move and counter move in a style faithful to your industry). Exercises like these are great for understanding and analysing likely competitor strategies and as a way of identifying blindspots in your own.

And the other thing about such sessions is that they combine hard thinking, strong learning and critical evaluation with fun, camaraderie and a sense of purpose. And who wouldn’t want that?

Step aboard and beat the lottery.

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