“The future is a funny thing. Those who don’t like it will end up there anyways!” – Futurist Jim Carroll
Simply put, some people just don’t like what’s next.
This was the comment I made to the CEO of a client that just had me in for a talk. When he suggested that the audience of 300 would absolutely love my talk, I offered back my thoughts as to how I thought it would actually break down: 2/3 would absolutely love it, finding that it would provide a practical pathway into understanding what’s next; another 10-20% would react, “well, I knew much of that already.” But the remaining 10 to 20% would absolutely hate what I would have to say.
Why? Because they hate the future and what it represents.
As someone who spends much of his time with clients focused on ‘what comes next and what to do about it,’ I’ve long known that the world is made up of two types when it comes to the future. Forward-oriented people believe that new trends define new opportunities, and willingly pursue them. Laggards? They see a dark future, one full of negativity driven by fear of change or other factors.
My job has me dealing with both.
Why are some people more negative about the future? What is it with this second group?
First, there is ‘negativity bias.’ That is the built-in capacity we all have to let negative things impact our emotions much more than positive ones – remember that phrase, “joy can be fleeting” and contrast that with ‘the pain still lingers.’ We are more apt to remember the bad times and let that reinforce our negativity than we are to remember the good times and use that as a positive fuel for going forward. Those who don’t like the future have never managed to push through the boundaries of optimism and opportunistic thinking, and so the bias clouds their view.
Second, there is our tendency to focus on loss aversion. If we are already in a negative mind, we’ve already put ourselves into a headspace that tends to focus more on what we will lose, rather than being able to focus on what we might gain. That immediately puts our defenses up and raises our suspicion level – and causes us to view any new activity or trend with concern and worry. Take how some people have reacted to kids playing video games – someone with a loss aversion focus will think that kids playing Farmville and other virtual world games are wasting their time and losing their ability to learn! In my view, they are developing the skill to run the fast-emerging 24-hour farm for the future and other ‘virtual worlds’ based on digital twin technologies! That;’s a powerful skill! It’s not a loss, it’s a gain! But our loss aversion causes us to instantly focus on what we might lose, rather than spending the time to think about what we might gain.
Third, change weariness kicks in. As I often observe on stage, “Ogden Nash once observed that for many people, progress is great, but it’s gone on way too long.‘” People can easily become tired of change, and are often overwhelmed by the speed with which it is occurring – it can often seem that just as they have mastered one new trend or new issue, they have to deal with another. The global pandemic accelerated the overall pace of change that we have to deal with – business models changed faster, people adapted quicker, and radical ideas blossomed simply as a method to get by. If people were overwhelmed before, they were inundated by change throughout Covid – and many more reacted with negativity to what might come next. Alvin Toffler predicted this aversion to change in his book Future Shock when he identified the ” psychological state of individuals and entire societies; the perception of too much change in too short a period of time”.
Add these three attitudes together and you’ve got the recipe for massive change aversion – and dislike of the future! And some of the folks in my audience.
Despite all this, the simple fact is the future has no regard for these sentiments – it’s going to happen anyways, and it’s going to happen faster.
What can you do about this? Recognize it. Talk about it. Help people understand the opportunity, not the threat. Focus on change strategies.
Above all, share your optimism. Feed them hope.
All those things you find me posting on a regular basis here!