Blog No. 15. Destination 2050: future maker and future taker. Toolkits for shaping the future part1

December 24, 2012

By Peter Ellyard.

One of the things all of us do all the time is we seek to shape the future.  Some of us are good at doing it and some of us are not.  And most of those who do this well are successful in charting and constructing their life and career paths. As well many of those who do this well are also the major shapers of our collective future, for great leadership is impossible without this. Those who do this badly are often left behind, and so the issue of growing humanity’s capability to shape the future is very important for realizing a more just future.

            We shape the future by two means. First we respond to changing circumstances and trends and position ourselves to gain advantage or avoid being disadvantaged. This is the future- taker part of us–the manager in each of us.  Second we envision a future, aspire to realize it and set about accomplishing this through strategic action. This is the future-maker art of us – the leader in each of us.  This critical difference between future-taker and future-maker was beautifully expressed by the serpent in G.B Shaw’s play ‘Back to Methuselah’ : You see things and say why. I see things that never were and say, why not?’ Our future shaping actions may be large of small and they might focus an hour ahead, a month ahead, a year ahead or a decade ahead. Gary Hamel says success goes to those who get to the future first, and to do that we need to become marvellous future-makers. Think about the number of times every day and every year you seek to shape the future, how you do it, and how often you act respectively as future-taker or future–maker. If you think your organization, community or nation is over-managed and under-led, and most people I meet think this is the case, this means we have too much future-taking and not enough future-making in our lives and organizations. Moreover the manager and leader in each of us is only two sixths of our toolkit for shaping the future.  More of this in a moment.

            Most of the time when we shape the future we don’t do so alone. We do so with either the active or implicit support of others. So our capacity to be an effective shaper of futures depends a great deal on of our ability to initiate, nurture and amicably end relationships, and our ability not to damage these relationships and even strengthen them, while we are collaborating to shape the future.

            Given that future shaping capabilities are so essential for creating successful lives, careers, organizations and communities, and that we differ so much in this capability, it is extraordinarily that so few of us are ever given the opportunity to improve our future shaping capabilities. Most of us battle on with our inherited skills and by learning from our experiences, particularly the negative ones. We can and should do a lot better than that.  We should and can become the best possible shaper of the future we can possibly be, and be as capable as we can be at initiating , nurturing  and amicably ending relationships.  In terms of ensuring our future success I would even consider these capabilities as important for success in life as are literacy and numeracy. Most of us go though our whole lives including all of our years formal education, without dedicating time or resources to learning to become more effective shapers of the future.

            In my last two books Destination 2050: a concepts bank and toolkit for future-makers (2012) and Designing 2050 : Pathways to sustainable prosperity on Spaceship Earth (2008),  I describe in detail my concepts bank and toolkit for shaping the future.

            In Destination 2050 I outline six major means we use to shape the future. These are:  

1 Leadership: being a purposeful future-maker.

2 Management: being a resilient future-taker.

3 Planning: applying planning skills such as those used in all the planning professions (which include land use, urban, community, transport, social, financial, industrial and economic planning).

4. Design: using designing skills such as those embedded in design based professions such as engineering, architecture, and of course all

forms of design (industrial, systems, fashion and graphic design)ESTINATION2050T U R E – M A K E RS

5. Innovation: developing new means (through what I call ways and wares) to do old and current things better, and new things first.

6. Learning : increasing our knowledge and capabilities, changing our mindsets and belief systems in order to become more future effective, and expanding our capability to seek and take new options and new pathways to the future.

            All of these future-shaping capabilities are so fundamental for our ultimate success in life they should be taught and learned in our schools from the first years of schooling. Some of these are formally taught in professional development courses at the tertiary education level but this is much too late, and this ensures that they remain an elite skill set not a universal one.  A top priority in our education systems should involve devising curricula and learning experiences that enable all of us learn these six tool kits for shaping the future in the primary school and from our parents. Knowledge learned in school is often forgotten but capability learned in school coupled with continuing experiential use will stay with us and grow throughout our lives as we tread our chosen life and career paths. The bottom line is that in  the 21st century our education should concentrate on developing capability rather than growing knowledge. Through the digital revolution and the rapid spread of mobile communications  devices even into poorer communities and nations we can acquire knowledge through learner –driven modes of learning and just- in-time for when we need it.  Capability however needs lots of practice and structured experiences. This is what schools do well. Probably 70% of all the job categories in a generation’s time have yet to be invented. It is therefore better to focus on growing capability rather than knowledge in our school systems and continue to grow and customize capability development for emerging opportunities in our workplaces and communities throughout our lives.

            In this blog I want to focus on the first two of these tools: management and leadership. I will devote other blogs to the remainder of these tools. 

The effective manager is the resilient future-taker in each of us, while the effective leader in each of us is the purposeful future-maker. Social justice should demand that we do not just learn leadership and management in business schools and professional development programs. We must make this curriculum and these capability-building experiences universal.  What is really behind this extraordinary failure to recognize that these capabilities should be universally accessible is the belief that management and leadership are elite programs for a minority rather than a birthright for the majority. We see management and leadership in particular as something we use to shape the future of others and that it is not a skill set we need to shape our own futures.  Behind all of my work is the idea that first of all we should learn to become both a manager-of-self and leader-of- self.  Indeed until we become good managers-of-self and leaders- of-self we should not be given the opportunity to become managers-of-others or leaders-of-others. Most of us have had the dreadful experience of being led or managed by somebody who is a poor manger-of–self or leader-of-self.  I’d go further and say that we must universalize effective the capabilities needed for design, planning, innovation and learning as well.  Only the last of these is currently regarded as a universal skill set for ensuring future success and here we are usually learning knowledge too much and capability not enough.   Most professional disciplines are built around only one or two or these shaping the future tools. These six tools are often seen as a skill sets relating to a particular profession or group of professions. However most planners are not highly skilled in leadership, innovation or design, engineers are similarly placed in planning or, and most educators know insufficient about management, planning or innovation and so on. My own learning has been to recognize that all of these six of these tools are actually parts of our collective toolkits for shaping the future and that all of us should develop at least some capability in all six of these early in life. It is time all six tools were taught and learned as a coherent whole set.

            Most of us don’t have a clear idea about the difference between management and leadership; we know that they are different but we seldom try to understand what the essential difference between management and leadership is. In my books and writings, I discuss at length the relationship and difference between management and leadership.  However central to this difference is this: management is dedicated to future-taking – and change-taking, while leadership is about future –making and change –making. Here is the bottom line:


  • Future-taker
  • Change –taker
  • Path-taker

Good Management involves being resilient in these three activities


  • Future-maker
  • Change-maker
  • Path- maker

Good leadership involves being purposeful in these three activities.

 Go to Destination 2050 and Designing 2050 to find a detailed discussion on management and leadership from a futures perspective. These books also describe the respective roles of planning, design, innovation and learning in shaping the future as well.

22 December 2012









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