#CODES & NARRATIVES

Europa Bendig
Managing Partner STURMundDRANG
10.01.2022 | reading time: 3 minutes

CHANGING CULTURES MAGAZINE > CODES & NARRATIVES > The Sense for Possibilities

The Sense for Possibilities

This article first appeared in the September 09/21 issue of "absatzwirtschaft".

The times, they are a-changing. And 'the time for change is now' – as we read on many political signs around election time. Germans have always highly valued continuity, but now it poses a major risk for our economy. Many top corporate executives have said in interviews that what their job demands above all is vision, which challenges them to find a flow enabling them to move forward into unknown territory.

 

FROM THE FUTURE BACKWARD

The term future literacy has been coined to denote the kind of skillset required in our volatile society. “As we contemplate future periods that are further out, the picture we get is more reliable. Thus we start from there and think backwards in systematic fashion,” as one highly ‘future-literate’ CEO explained to us in an interview on the new normal in the wake of a leadership paradigm shift.

Everybody expects politicians and business leaders to make “the right” decisions for the future, but without accepting that they may need to play through scenarios that seem too far out or far-fetched. Along the lines of what popular German politician Helmut Schmidt said, “If you're having visions, best go see a doctor.”

But we need to peer into and explore spaces of possible futures where we can try before we buy, allowing our minds to consider and think things through. In his tour-de-force novel The Man Without Qualities, German writer Robert Musil coined the phrase sense for possibilities as a human sensory capability that exists in juxtaposition to its counterpart, the sense for reality.

 

 

"As we contemplate future periods that are further out, the picture we get is more reliable. Thus we start from there and think backwards in systematic fashion.“

 

To make it career-wise into German corporate boardrooms the traditionally valued mindset was to be ‘fact-oriented’, ‘realistic’, and ‘objective’. Today, however, it is seen as important to cultivate one’s sense for possibilities. And this means daring to think about what else could be. We enter this kind of ‘what if’ mode when we sit down together to sketch and flesh out desirable futures in lively dialogue.

Some managers have told us that throughout the pandemic they have used group-editable documents to develop future narratives as a tool for managing their teams “from the future backward”. This in contrast to merely “extending the past”, acting on the insight that “what got us here won’t get us there”.

 

SPACES OF POSSIBILITY

The complex issues and conflicts of our times will certainly require both creativity and boldness in playing through potential alternatives. Such spaces of possibility are not a place where many people feel comfortable, leaders in particular. Failing to develop this sense for possibilities leaves us exposed to being continuously caught off guard by whatever develops.

I think of spaces of possibility as a training camp for learning how to take a pro-active stance toward the future. Starting out you makes mistakes, there’s confusion ... but in time you get the hang of it more and more. Working through today’s disturbing realities to move beyond will pay off, enabling us to write hope into the narrative of our time that will unfold within the emerging reality of tomorrow.

 

 

This article first appeared in the September 09/21 issue of "absatzwirtschaft".

Image references: Image 1: "Header" // Image 2: "Stairs" // Image 3: "Woman" // Image 4: "Butterfly"

 

 

Author: Europa Bendig

STURMundDRANG founder and General Manager Europa Bendig has been consulting on innovation processes for NGOs and international enterprises for 18 years, primarily in the luxury goods, health, services, beauty, living and social businesses. She specializes in cultural codes and narratives that give brands and portfolios cultural relevance and promote customer loyalty.