Success in the future is directly related informed preparation and hard work, right? And the futurists who succeed got the best training and work the hardest, agreed? But what about the role of luck? I’m finishing a year-long training on leadership. I’ve enjoyed it, but one thing that has bothered me. As we go through many different leadership theories and approaches, we’ve received no small dose of heroic success stories. Remarkable leader xyz does some remarkable things remarkably that we humble apprentices should emulate. The underlying concepts are typically excellent and useful, but my disconnect is the neat-and-tidy hero stories used to sell them. After a couple-dozen years working in various capacity with and for leaders to change the future, I see very few neat-and-tidy explanations behind success in the real world.
I just finished one of Malcom Gladwell’s lesser-known books: Outliers: The Story of Success. Here’s the short version. Indeed being smart, educated, and well-trained are common traits of successful people. But there is more, and it’s often missing in discussions of success. Let’s call it “luck” (“favorable circumstances” also works) in general and describe it a bit. We need to look around the successful person, as well as within them. Family, culture, class, and timing are important external factors that figure into one’s success. He then analyzes, and to some degree debunks, the stories behind several successful individuals, noting where one or more of the external factors is a significant factor behind the success. [this post on “success” for futurists might be helpful]
It’s not just chance or external factors either. A key aspect of his argument is that luck favors the prepared mind. He advances and supports the notion of 10,000 hours of practice being a common denominator for the successful. Where luck plays in here is that some people in favorable circumstance get the opportunity to do the 10,000 hours. Now, they still have to do it, and it’s a lot of hours, but often small advantages early in life give some people a head start that enables them to stay ahead.
I think this idea is useful for us to keep in mind as foresight practitioners. We need to put in the hours to master our craft [see post on Mastery and Foresight practice]. The Houston Foresight Master’s program consists of 12 courses. We estimate each course takes about 10 hours of work per week over the course of 15 week semester. Multiplying that out, we have roughly 1,800 hours of practice over the curriculum. So, even with a full Master’s degree, we’re still 8,200 hours short of mastery. I have occasionally heard that one doesn’t need education to be a futurist, that one can be self-taught. I agree. But I submit that those who are suggesting that the 1,800 Master’s is overkill are really off-base. I cringe when I occasionally run into someone who heard about foresight a few months ago, took a workshop, and now consider themselves a futurist. I suppose we could say 9,925 hours to go! Andy Hines