The neutrality of the future

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Michel Godet, a member of the French Academy of Technology, argues in his publication “La Prospective” that we are fortunate we cannot predict the future. This uncertainty gives the future freedom and meaning, as could we totally foresee it, the present would become unbearable to live in. The future has to be built, and isn’t just a continuation of the past.[1]

Put in simpler terms, Godet says we should not try to define what is good for the future, but instead create new options. Only the people who will live the new reality can judge its value.

It’s easy to express our belief in a bright and better — or darker — future. We have a biased perspective, where we argue using the logic of the past. If we apply such thinking, we merely reproduce what we know today. Yet future realities need the freedom to be different. Biased thinking is our biggest enemy.

We live in a better world, as Peter Diamandis — author of Abundance — argues. “Humanity is now entering a period of radical transformation in which technology has the potential to significantly raise the basic standards of living for every man, woman, and child on the planet,” he says. “Within a generation, we will provide goods and services, once reserved for the wealthiest, to all who need them.”

Technology will benefit us, and we will keep experimenting with new ideas to reduce poverty. Yet we will hit many bumps in the road. Especially because we lead with a complexity that we cannot manage. Our actions might have positive effects today and tomorrow, but the day after might bring unexpected repercussions.

In Brazil, millions of people were lifted out of poverty, creating a new “middle class” that rose from 38% in 2003 to over 54% in 2013.[2] One of many reasons is the financial support for families, including the conditional cash-transfer program (CCT) known as “Bolsa Familia,” which according to United Nations and World Bank researchers, serves its recipients better than other CCTs, and doesn’t lead to economic dependence.[3]

Another dimension to consider is the “emotional debt.” Brazilians are driven by sentiment. People who feel they have benefited from something are often left with a lifelong “emotional obligation,” which leads to a political system that has strong influence over society. Over time, this created turbulence that manifested itself strongly in 2015/2016, as voters began feeling the effects of having elected a president who cannot push Brazil to the next level. The perception is that many votes were based on gratitude for the social welfare reforms of the past that benefited them significantly.

Though poverty was reduced in recent years, the country is currently experiencing some of the worst economic, social and political crises in its history. Violence and unemployment are peaking, pushing many once again into new levels of poverty as social inequality grows.

That is why we need a neutral view to explore, research, identify patterns and embrace a holistic perspective. We accept that people in the future will have a different worldview, which we might not agree with. But if we intend to identify new opportunities, we must stay open minded.

After we neutrally explore the future realities, we turn subjective. Even if we stay neutral during research, when we create in the present, we influence the future as we would like to have it.

“Nothing in this world is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

William Shakespeare

[1] Michel, Godet and Fabrice, Roubelat. 1996. pp.164

[2] DataPopular/Serasa. 2013

[3] The Economist. Jul 20th. 2010 and Jan 8th 2015

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