Future Friday: The Paradox of the Present and how it keeps us from seeing the future

Our biology often prevents us from paying attention to the future.
Our biology often prevents us from paying attention to the future.

As I have mentioned numerous times I do a presentation called 7 Steps to being a practical HR Futurist. I also teach the HR classes in which we include “environmental scanning” as one of the key skill sets needed by HR professionals. People nod and agree that it is important to pay attention to the things that may affect their world of work yet they don’t. They may get excited about it for a while, but then their attention wanes. I have wondered why, after all I find it fascinating, but then I read about the “paradox of the present” and an explanation was offered.

What is the Paradox of the Present?

I am reading a fascinating book called The Signals are Talking, written by futurist Amy Webb. (Link below) Webb says that several factors are involved in our lack of attention. First is our basic biology. We have a “reptilian brain” that is important to our survival. It controls our “fight or flight” reaction. As a result, Webb says, “Adapting to big, sweeping disruption or taking risks on unproven technology causes that part of our lower brain to kick into gear. It’s more comfortable for us to make incremental changes…. Our reptilian brains sometimes tempt us into denying that change is afoot in any meaningful way.” In our history, or rather prehistory, it was more important to pay attention to the present lest we get eaten by a lion.
Secondly, in today’s world it is hard to recognize change. She says that “novelty has become the new normal.” After all how quickly does your phone change or your computer need to be upgraded? Webb says “The gravitational pull toward what’s new, what’s now, and what’s next has left us in a constant state of fight-or-flight.” As a result of this novelty and our biology we have a tendency to miss what is really important. We don’t pay attention to things that are developing, that will become the trends that will affect how we work and how we live.

Training is needed

Because of the overwhelming nature of the change that occurs around us instructions are needed to help us realize what might be important, help us recognize those trends that may rock our businesses and eliminate our jobs. Webb says “Without instructions as a guide, we face the same perceptual bias as all of the generations who came before us; we have a difficult time seeing how not only the far future will unfold but the near future as well…. Novelty is the new normal, making it difficult for us to understand the bigger picture.”
I am going to be reading and learning from Webb. I plan on bringing you along on that journey. In future installments of Future Friday I will be exploring Webb’s suggestions. I hope you learn along with me. So stay tuned. Don’t let your reptilian brain make you flee from reading this material.

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