Designing Your Impossible Future: Why You Need One and How To Do It

Leaders I coach understand the importance of identifying a solid career goal to give themselves focus and direction. But the idea of developing an Impossible Future can often be overwhelming. This article outlines the concept and value of an Impossible Future and gives you eight steps for designing your own. Once you learn how to create one for yourself, you can easily apply the same principles to your organization.

What is an Impossible Future?

Robert Hargrove, in his book Masterful Coaching (pp.xiv-xvii), defines Impossible Future as an “extraordinary result…or transformational goal”. It moves you beyond goals based on a Predictable Future of incremental change and continuous improvement to reinventing yourself to achieve more than you thought possible. Designing your Impossible Future is about personal transformation. It requires imagination and an act of faith.

Here are some examples of what a Predictable Future (PF) career goal might look like:

• Finish university and become an engineer;

• Get a promotion within two years, or get promoted two levels within five years;

• Get a new job within one year, or become comfortable in my new job within six months.

Predictable Future goals are based on extending the present situation logically into the future if all goes well. They focus on the short to medium term and involve overcoming obstacles while learning and strengthening professional competencies. The goals are clear and measurable. Attaining a PF will give you satisfaction and build confidence.

An Impossible Future (IF) goal looks more like this:

• Meet the needs of serious woodworkers and gardeners as one of the leading mail-order and retail suppliers of woodworking tools, gardening tools and cabinet hardware (Leonard Lee, Lee Valley Tools);

• Better Leaders. Better World (Leadership coach Robert Hargrove);

• A computer on every desk and in every home (Bill Gates).

With an IF, you go beyond the limits of your personal achievements and focus on how you might make a larger contribution to your community and even the world. It seeks to answer questions of why are you doing this and what positive difference can you make to others. An IF is emotionally compelling and self-energizing. It inspires you to challenge yourself and go beyond your own expectations. It speaks to your deepest desire to accomplish something of value and give your life meaning.

At this point, I can hear you say, “But I’m not a Bill Gates or a multinational company! This is not something that applies to me”. My answer is that every life has value and meaning and every person of whatever skill level and experience has the ability to imagine a more positive and powerful future for themselves if they try. You owe it to yourself to be the best you can possibly be.

An Emerging New Paradigm

Changing the way we set personal and professional goals is based on a new paradigm called social constructionism. It is described in the book, Appreciative Coaching: a Positive Process for Change (p.23), by Sara L. Orem, Jacqueline Binkert and Ann L. Clancy:

“Instead of seeing an objective, predictable and controllable universe, scientists in the 21st century see a vastly different world based on the findings of quantum physics and the new sciences of chaos theory, self-organizing systems and complexity theory… Integral to social constructionism is the notion of individuals as active, independent and spontaneous beings who, consciously or not, form images of the future toward which they then grow.”

Dr. David Cooperrider, Fairmount Minerals Professor of Social Entrepreneurship at Case Western Reserve University and founder of the Appreciative Inquiry approach, says that to a far greater extent than is normally acknowledged, we humans create our own realities through symbolic and mental processes. Every goal has conscious and unconscious limits built-in by the person designing it. Many of these limits come from our own fears and negative thinking rather than anything that could really hold us back. So “dreaming big” can be a way to push past those self-imposed limits.

Designing an Impossible Future is not wishful thinking. It is a new way to set goals that reflects recent scientific findings about human strength and resilience. It is founded on the idea that your reality is yours to create. You can construct a small, safe, predictable future or something more meaningful and challenging. Your Impossible Future will most likely have a longer time frame, and one Impossible Future can lead to another.

8 Steps to Designing Your Impossible Future

1. Start by taking stock of your current reality, but with a twist.

Instead of focusing on what is wrong or missing, look for the best of what is now. Identify your current strengths. Reflect on your career high points, positive experiences and accomplishments. Find similarities, themes and lessons across your positive experiences. What is working well for you? What do you want to keep? Describe in detail your positive core.

2. Become an explorer into your future.

With your positive attributes and strengths in mind, imagine your ideal future in broad strokes. Generate images of possibilities. What would someone who respects and loves you want for your future? How would you express your highest and best self? If there were no obstacles, what could you accomplish that could make a positive difference for you and your community?

3. Paint a detailed picture.

Now add plenty of detail to your future. Define it as clearly as if you were standing in your Impossible Future now. Use present tense language. What does it look like exactly? Where are you? Who is there? What are they saying about you? What are you doing? How are you feeling? Make it real in your mind. Remember, you are forming the image of your future toward which you are going to grow.

4. Pay attention to the language you use.

Scientists today recognize that how we use language creates our social reality. Optimistic, possibility-generating language drives people to take action in a positive direction far more than negative, critical, cautionary approaches.

5. Declare your future to others.

It is important to give voice and intention to your future. You need to tell people where you want to go and what difference you want to make. Making your goals public will increase your commitment. As well, if people know where you are going, they just might help you.

6. Look for aspects of your Impossible Future that you are already living.

If you have a clear vision of where you want to go, your brain will unconsciously look for opportunities to move toward that vision. Doors will open that you did not see before. It is likely that you have already started on the path toward your future. It will give you confidence if you are able to notice what progress you are making now.

7. Develop a broad action plan but leave room for experimentation.

Turn your Impossible Future into a plan with stepping stones, but look for opportunities to experiment. The focus is to expand your capabilities and learn new things. This will mean looking at your beliefs and assumptions, getting help from others to see your blind spots, and trying new ways of tackling obstacles.

8. Stay flexible, persevere and celebrate.

Impossible Futures, like Rome, are not built in a day. Keep faith when the going gets tough and celebrate successes both large and small. This will help calm your doubting self and your inner critic.

Impossible Futures create momentum and excitement and can be life changing. The biggest hurdles you face are your own doubts and fears. You need to exercise your imagination muscle so that you can design your b

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How Can I Future Proof My Children?

We know that the future of work is so challenging for us and our future generation that parents today have no choice but to take a more active role in future-proofing their children and helping them to be future-ready and job-ready by acquiring employable and portable skills.

With the break down of social contracts between governments, businesses, workers and unions, we have no choice but to take things into our own hands.

We have to take charge of our future and help our children start right.

I am always reminded that people don’t plan to fail. Instead we worry, procrastinate, and fail to plan for our future. We just don’t take action now but wait for things to happen.

Let’s take the example of an aircraft emergency.

Parents are required to put on their own air-mask first before putting on masks for their children.

It is, therefore, vital for parents to be equipped with the required knowledge and understanding to future-proof themselves first.

Knowledge is king.

Once they have acquired and applied that knowledge for themselves, they are in a better position to future proof their own children, to guide them, and to show them what to do.

It’s so important for parents to future-proof their children now

There are many research conducted and papers written on the topic of how automation and robots will eliminate and create jobs in the future.

The predictions of how many new jobs are created and how many existing jobs will be eliminated in the future because of automation, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are varied. Some are pessimistic. Some are optimistic.

Regardless of what you think, what’s certain and inevitable is the fact that there will be new jobs created and existing jobs eliminated.

What’s important is that people need to be adaptive and willing to change and acquire new or different skills and experience.

Fear is okay, but complacency kills jobs.

Our children must not be complacent about the future. They should be future-proofing themselves now so that they can remain future-ready and job-ready.

As we rely on machines and automation to replace and augment our work, workers are expected to do more complex task and perform more interactions with people.

We are using machines to take over manual, repetitive or dangerous tasks from us.

This effectively means that our children will be moving up the value chain, doing much more complex task, doing more intellectual things, and doing more creative things.

To do higher value work and more complex tasks, they will have to aim for the highest possible educational level.

In my book, Shocking Secrets Every Worker Needs to Know: How to future-proof your job, increase your income, and protect your wealth in today’s digital age, I have documented 62 scary facts facing workers today.

These facts are equally applicable to our children.

Key things for them are housing affordability issues, the lack of or decreasing wage growth, and the decreasing real incomes when compared to our time.

It is only through proactively planning for our children’s future that they can future-proof themselves.

What is future-proofing?

Future-proofing is about anticipating the future and taking proactive steps to mitigate or overcome challenges now. The aim of our planning and action is to be future-ready and job-ready.

People don’t plan to fail, they just fail to plan.

Future-proofing requires the commitment to acquire the right knowledge and to know what’s happening in today’s workplaces and what’s predicted for the future of work, work of the future, and future workplaces.

When our children are future-ready, they can remain employable to meet the demands of the future workforce and employers.

They are also job-ready for specific jobs and employers when vacancies do come their way.

Skills of the future

Skills of the future will focus on those skills that machines, robots and artificial intelligence cannot do.

When people acquire these employable skills, they are more than likely to future-proof themselves from any negative effects.

Without a doubt, our children should be focusing on acquiring these employable skills now.

There are three broad categories of employable skills that our children should acquire in order to remain employable in the future.

1. Enterprise skills are required in many jobs. These are generic skills that are transferable or portable across different jobs and are in demand by employers.

a. These skills enable workers to engage with the complex world and effectively navigate the challenges they will experience and inherit in the future.

b. They are categorized into:

Thinking skills – includes sense making, computational thinking, cognitive flexibility, critical thinking, complex problem solving, and judgement and decision-making.
Interacting skills – includes Emotional intelligence, social intelligence, working with others, people management, virtual collaboration, service orientation, negotiation, persuasion, oral and written communication, organization, new media literacy, and technology literacy.
Creation skills – includes novel, adaptive, and situational thinking, creativity, curiosity and imagination, agility and adaptability, initiative and entrepreneurship, design thinking, and systems thinking.
Learning skills – includes continuous lifelong learning, teaching others, and coaching others.
2. Technical skills are skills that specifically relate to a particular task, role or industry (e.g., science, engineering, humanities and business studies).
3. Foundational skills cover various forms of

a. literacy,

b. numeracy, and

c. language.

First off, perform a gap analysis of what skills your children have and what skills they need in the future.

Then develop plans to bridge these skills (and knowledge) gap.

There are many free online courses that your child could enrol in for free or at very little cost. This is the easiest way to dip their toes into the water.

My daughters have done a number of these online courses and found it useful to supplement their school subjects and personal understanding.

Broken education systems

It is unfortunate that the current education systems are modelled on the industrial age or post-war requirements. These education systems are not effectively producing workers with skills of the future.

Many of them will not be future-ready and job-ready.

Years of study upfront, tens of thousands of dollars in course fees or student loan debts and an outdated Factory Model of Education that has barely changed for decades make less sense when technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship are forcing skills redevelopment, in shorter cycles, across more professions and jobs.

Parents have to proactively oversee their children’s education in order to future-proof them.

They have to take a keen interest in the skills their children acquire in school and university.

I have enrolled my children into after-school coding clubs and Lego building classes just to build their interest in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects in the future.

Jobs of the future

As mentioned earlier, automation will either eliminate jobs or create new ones. The net effect will depend on a number of factors.

Our children will most certainly take on jobs that do not exist today.

So, how do our children prepare for jobs that do not exist today?

The only way is to equip them with portable skills that could be used across different jobs within the same cluster.

The good news is that our skills are more portable than we realize.

There are seven job clusters that our children can fall into.

The Carers cluster has a strong future prospect. It comprises of jobs that seek to improve the mental, physical health, or well-being of others.
The Technologists cluster has a strong future prospect. It comprises of jobs that require skilled understanding and manipulation of digital technologies.
The Informers cluster has a strong future prospect. It comprises of jobs that involve professionals providing information, education or business services.
The Designers cluster has a moderate future prospect. It comprises of jobs that involve deploying skills and knowledge of science, mathematics, and design to construct or engineer products or buildings.
The Generators cluster has a moderate future prospect. It comprises of jobs that require a high level of interpersonal interaction in retail, sales, hospitality, and entertainment.
The Artisans cluster has a weak future prospect. It comprises of jobs that require skill in manual tasks related to production, maintenance or technical customer service.
The Coordinators cluster has a weak future prospect. It comprises of jobs that involve repetitive administrative and behind-the-scenes process or service tasks.
As full-time employment gets replaced with part-time, casual or freelancing jobs, our children have to learn to be adaptive and change.
We already know that job security is dead.

It is without a doubt that our children will have to work for more than one employer.

It is predicted that 63% of the American workforce will be freelancing instead of having single employer jobs.

As such, we have to prepare our children for freela

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