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Foresight

The path forward is often illuminated by a clear vision that both directs and energizes required effort. This nation entered spring fueled by a recovering economy and the promise of a return to vitality and stability. Signs continue to point to new options and opportunities, albeit with fluctuations indicating entrenched caution and timidity. Emerging opportunities are especially alluring if balance can be achieved among competing economic, nationalistic, political, social and cultural forces that can simultaneously energize or inhibit. The challenge is one of application, which requires foresight – a precious commodity these days.

As community and business leaders stand on their tip-toes seeking enlightenment about the future, it is wise to consider the destination. Vision requires some idea about where we are going rather than wallowing in detailed analysis of the anticipated journey. The underlying questions to all planning are: Where are we going? and, How will we know we’ve arrived?

Human nature leads us to action plans that describe the strategies and initiatives required to achieve progress. Unfortunately, there is rarely enough time dedicated to understanding current status and considering an ideal vision based on where we are and where we want to be. This nation and many institutions are struggling with the concept and purpose of clear vision…the pursuit of which requires a commitment to foresight.

A vision is not a mission. Very simply, a mission expresses why the organization or institution exists and perhaps what it does. A vision reveals an organization’s heart and soul, while sharing information about its desired destination. In a sense, vision is somewhat spiritual, in that it reflects the idealistic aspects of both leadership and institutional purpose. From a practical standpoint, a vision defines aspiration and helps distinguish between where we are now as opposed to where we want and intend to be.

While some would argue that a vision, whether personal, community or corporate, should reflect some grand design, I see it differently. Irrespective of origin or purpose, visions should be practical and mirror reality. This is not to say you cannot have a grand, idealistic vision, but at least temper it with foresight steeped in reality.

As we look forward, I encourage every public and private business leader to consider the future in a context that includes the authentic aspirations of an entire community. Whether personal, professional, organizational, or financial, take time to quietly reflect on a vision that defines and constitutes sustainable business and community prosperity. Consider where you want your organization and community to be in clear, specific terms. And, of course, consider where you would like to be relative to health, capability, financial well-being, relationships, and self fulfillment. Once again, I am talking about legacy…your vision of the future, what you wish to leave behind, and your role in making it real.

Foresight is a learned skill that requires a combination of reflection, good data, experience, and intuition. Taking time to think about community, personal and organizational futures and to clarify visions that define the various aspects of your legacy will perhaps be one of the best investments you ever make.

You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.

                                                -Woodrow Wilson

With over three decades working in and with federal, state and local government, John Luthy understands public agencies.  Known for his real world, straight talking style, he is a leading futurist specializing in city, county, state, and federal long-range thinking and planning. John is the author of Operations Planning: A Guide for Public Officials and Managers in Troubled Times, and The Strategic Planning Guide, both published by the International City/ County Management Association (ICMA). His new book, Planning the Future – A Guide to Strategic Thinking and Planning for Elected Officials, Public Administrators and Community Leaders, was released in October 2010. An innovative and dynamic presenter, John is frequently asked to speak and consult on how to prepare public organizations and communities for emerging challenges (public futures at http://www.futurescorp.com).

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