I writing to you from the future and want to tell you how successful you’ve been…
Many psychologists know that it’s much easier to describe something that has already happened than to describe something that is going to happen in the future.
For some reason, it’s just much easier to describe things in the past tense. It’s one of the reasons why most people find it so difficult to answer those horrid interview questions like: “What do you see yourself doing in five years’ time?”. In fact, it’s amazing how many people can’t answer that question when I talk to them about their business. Everybody hates those questions, not because we don’t all have dreams and ambitions, some of which might be crystal clear in our internal world, but because they are so difficult to render into words and sentences without somehow losing their reality. Trying to describe the future can be like trying to describe a dream. But somehow, before we can go much further with going a business or a brand, it is important to capture that vision of the future which is skipping dreamlike through your head.
At the weekend I was asked to draw my future. For some people that is easier said than done. I’m fortunate that I can doodle to a fairly good standard, but on the flip side of things, those that can’t don’t take the exercise seriously because it looks like a five-year-old that wants to go to the toilet has had ‘ a moment ‘ on a piece of paper. They can’t take it seriously, even though there is sound science behind the activity. Another way to do this quickly and effectively is to write yourself a letter from the future. It’s not a new idea, but I’ve used it many times to capture the emotional and imaginative aspects of business-building, and it works. Here’s how.
It’s something you might want to do completely in private. And whether you ultimately share it with others in your family or team is up to you. You might want to take the ‘facts’ that emerge and share those, or you might want to inspire others with your rich personal vision. That’s what I recommend, but really it’s up to what suits you personally.
So, grab yourself a notebook or an A4 pad (I’d urge doing this by hand rather than on the computer, just to slow your writing down to allow your thoughts the time not to have to rush).
You are simply writing a letter, to yourself. Mine would begin, “Dear Marc”.
Put a date at the top which is two, three, four or five years in the future. (I recently saw two presentations which queried the validity of the 5 year one, but I’ll run with it now, while I consider their points of view!) Now just describe from this future perspective what’s going on in your life and business. Whom have you just hired? What kind of premises are you working in? Which products or services have taken off? Which have turned out to be disappointing and have either been dropped, re-configured or sold off? What’s actually piled up on your desk right now (right now in the future, that is)? How will you spend the rest of your day? Where are you going when you finish work today?
Don’t forget to describe your family and friends, your successes and failures over the past few months and years. What does your business look like now? What’s the competition like? Have you achieved some of your ambitions? What challenges remain to be conquered?
You get the idea. Something about this act of describing the future as though it had already happened makes it come to life more vividly and more profoundly than any amount of more formal (and drier) ‘planning’ or ‘forecasting’. Of course, once you’ve written your letter (or letters; you might enjoy this process so much that you write a sequence of letters from different dates, or covering different topics or aspects of your life and business), then you need to leave a little space for reflection.
Are there elements which have come out in your letter writing that alarm you? Things about your life in the future that make you wary or anxious or give you pause for thought? Are there elements of your future-reality which excite you more than others? Things you’d rather be doing than the things you’d previously thought you were aiming to do? That’s all good because it will give you a richer perspective on where to go with your brand and help you to make good decisions when we get to the ‘strategy’ stage.
Don’t be afraid to be imaginative and to tap into your emotions in this exercise. Remember, businesses and brands are made by humans for humans. Imagination and emotion, and the ability to picture the future are all elements that define our humanity and make us into brand-creators and brand-consumers.