Category: Hope Theory


I really like this cartoon from Zen Pencils based on a quote from Helen Keller. I think we often are focussed on the things that are ending rather than what could be beginning. There are many people who face the end of their current job due to the economic times we are living in, and for many of us the work that we do is our defining characteristic. Some people in this situation have an ability to pick themselves up and re-focus their efforts into other avenues. Others, like the man in the cartoon, ignore all the opportunities around them and close their eyes to what could be possible because they are unable to conceive of new futures for them, they literally can’t see them. Hope theory would say that people with high hope are able to re-goal and move on to other things and this is one reason why I use it in my work. It is an explanatory framework for why some people take a closed door as a challenge to move into new areas, while others stop and bemoan what has passed. This isn’t to say that those who move on don’t mourn the change – Kubler-Ross’ grief model is another useful explanatory framework.

So what has this got to do with the future? One of the things that can happen when doing foresight work with a group is that people can see closing doors in the future. Being represented is one requirement of becoming engaged in an image of the future – Can I see myself in that future? Do the things I value appear in that future? Many rejections of futures images are a reaction to not being represented. People can’t believe in the image because they do not align to it. Futures images, at their core, are representations of our aspirational values. It might be that the future direction doesn’t suit their values, or they are getting to the end of their career, or they may be feeling like the future being created just doesn’t include them. The reactions to this type of activity can range from disengagement to more active forms of undermining. When a person is resisting a future it is always a good idea to check in with them, sometimes best done in a light-hearted way, whether they are represented in that future.

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I have been thinking about the individual and the collective over the past few days. The individual is in the ascendant at the moment in many Western countries, and becoming more so in some collectivist cultures. The political discourse in Australia and the US, in particular, focuses on the rights of the individual and the responsibilities we have to bootstrap ourselves in the world. Mitt Romney is quoted saying he can’t and won’t help those who refuse to help themselves, here is Oz, Tony Abbott runs a similar line. The ideas of ‘entitlement‘, ‘making it’, ‘doing for themselves’ etc are pervasive. There is a similar discourse in the everyday world, kids being encouraged to beat the bully, adults exhorted to work hard to build individual emotional maturity and the accepted expectation that we control our reality through our choices as consumers via the market.

The rewards society bestows are on those who have maximized their personal position. Taking one for the team is not rewarded. A ability to work through ego to achieve a personal goal is much more valued than the ability to engage and motivate a group to act. Now part of the problem is our measurement systems as to a large extent in organisations, and increasingly in society, what gets measured gets done and it is very difficult to evaluate the individual’s input in a group. Our reward systems of pay and promotion are reliant on us being able to evaluate an individual’s performance, so we look for leadership rather than evaluating followership.
What if this is the wrong way to go? A thought piece by John Crowley suggests that the future is more likely to be the complete opposite of the present rather than a continuation of it. What if we need to be developing more collective ways of being in the world? Much of the emerging work around wicked problems is group based, there is a recognition in many areas that we will need to work together in the face of descent scenarios, but what if we are actually training ourselves out of the core skills and attributes we will need? For many of us, the requirement to subsume our ego needs to those of a group is extremely difficult. We all want to be individual and stand out from the crowd, but a leader without followers is just someone out for a walk. In all groups, someone has to come last, not everyone can lead and there is always a number of roles that have to be fulfilled in order for successful group achievement, most of which involve following at one time or another. So if our systems, personal preferences and accepted behaviors counter this requirement, where are we left? I think part of our future challenge will be to learn to work effectively in all types of groups, organizations and communities. It will be those people who do not seek to lead who will be followed.

The archetype of the strong, decisive leader who has all the answers is not useful in the face of wicked problems, instead we will be searching for a leader who is comfortable with not knowing, able to work with people and follow when required. Greenleaf’s servant leader idea is along these lines, as is Sarkar’s Sadvipra. This goes further than being able to put up with people whilst working in a team, or just engaging in community when you feel like it, this is fully authentic person to person relationship and that it hard work. The requirements for the role will be an ability to overcome ego, to be present to the moment, knowing your moral stance and being curious and interested in others. How we learn to work together and give to each other without expecting payment is shaping up to be a challenge for the future.

Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul – and sings the tunes without the words – and never stops at all.

Emily Dickinson

As outlined in a previous post, to have hope is to be powerful. Many wonderful things are achieved by people simply acting from hope. Hope can be seen in foresight workshops when people have the opportunity to envision their preferred futures, when they are still in the ‘what if’ phase, invigorated and energised by what could be. From experience, it is clear that to have a vision is not enough. Leadership and change require individuals to act in the present to bring about the future that is desired. A theory of Hope was developed over 30 years ago that aims to explain the agentic and goal directional qualities of hope through cognitive psychology. Though probably not the whole answer, it has been rigorously studied and appears to hold up under a number of different scenarios. According to this theory, Hope can be learned and its qualities taught to those who do not already have them, and it can be passed on to children. It is this ability to be learned, and the positive correlations with psychological health and enhancement, that makes Hope Theory such an attractive framework for futurists.

Futures Studies, especially when developing images of preferred futures, inevitably falls across the concept of hope. Part of the work futurists do is facilitating people, both individually and in groups, to develop positive images of the future that then move them to action. The conventional view of positive images of the future is that it is the image itself which harbours the agentic qualities. The well-trained futurist is expected to work with a client to generate such a compelling vision that the client will move towards it of their own volition; however this may only be half of the story.

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On core purpose

In a world that seems to require us to be acquisitive and driven to succeed, how do we know what we actually need as opposed to what we might want? I think one answer to this is ‘core purpose’.

Do you know your purpose for action in the world? Think about the idea of being able to express your purpose in 6 words. This idea comes from a friend, Stephen Johnson, who wrote the book ‘What do you do for a living?’ in which he talks about leadership from purpose. Having just been appointed as CEO of a large company, he was showering before his first day of work and it struck him that he didn’t know what he was here to do. He asked his wife (who works a paediatric doctor in a hospital) to express what she did for a living, she replied, ‘I make sick children well’. He found he didn’t have the same clarity of purpose. Do you?

Being able to encapsulate your reason for action in a mere six words is an injunction. Having a core purpose delivers clarity around what we should be doing on a daily or hourly basis. Asking ‘does this fit my purpose’ is an injunction, a pause for reflection and re-orientation. The use of injunctions comes from the wisdom traditions, to give us a reason to stop and reflect upon our actions. Action without reflection and understanding is blind, just as theory without action is meaningless.

My core purpose for the past 3 years has been to help people consciously develop their innate foresight capacity. I can feel that there is another purpose starting to arise for me as time and experiences are accumulated in the service of my purpose. I find this idea interesting, our core purpose can and will change as we change. The challenge is to have enough stillness in our lives to allow core purpose to emerge. I think we also need ritual as part of this process. A way of allowing the future that wishes to emerge through us a voice that we can hear.

Give yourself time and space to listen to your core purpose as it tries to emerge through you. As someone once advised me ‘get out of your own way long enough to hear what is being said to you’.

Actionable Foresight operates from the premise that in order to usefully use foresight we need to:

  1. Understand as best we can what is the fundamental issue we face;
  2. Find new pathways of thinking about the situation, the circumstances and ourselves in order to expand the future option space;
  3. Generate working models of those future options – including what happens to the fundamental issue, what happens to the circumstances, what else emerges and, very importantly, what is the pathway to that option; and finally
  4. We need to choose an option and then commit to its future pathway.

This approach is consistent with our understanding of how people utilise ‘hope’ in order to transcend difficult circumstances and to find purpose. It is also a process that creates the favourable conditions for also ‘finding’ hope and purpose. So our approach bootstraps itself onto our innate capacities and also develops those capacities. Yet this approach is quite different to what most people would understand as the most useful way to use the future – making a forecast and then acting on the basis of what the forecast says. Does this mean that we don’t think forecasting is useful?

To answer this it is best that we ensure what it is we mean when we use the term forecast.  A forecast does attempt to make use of the future (like foresight does). A forecast:

  1. Starts with a question or problem about the future – “will it rain tomorrow?” “how many people are going to need a hospital bed in ten years time?” “how much food are we going to need to produce on the planet to feed the estimated population a hundred years from now?”
  2. Next you collect data that you think is relevant to the question you are asking;
  3. Then you build a model of how the future will work itself out based on the data you are using. This model can be as simple as how you think the world works (“Give people more education and they will become more responsible citizens”) or as complex as a detailed computer simulation (The World3 simulation used in the Limits to Growth, the Climate Change models used by the IPCC or the Meteorological models used to forecast tomorrows weather);
  4. Next you test your model on the only hard data you have of how the world really works – the past. You run your computer simulations time and time again, changing variables and weightings to reduce your forecast error or you use your memories of what happened in the past in order to test your ideas about how the future works;
  5. Now you reach the big decision point – “Is my model valid based on all my testing against the past?”  If you answer “yes” then your answer to your initial question is what your model tells you the future will be based on the most current data you have. You have faith in your model – faith in your judgement of the past, faith in the past as a reliable predictor of the future – and so you act accordingly. If you say “No” then you doubt your model – you doubt your judgement or you doubt the past as a reliable predictor of the future – and so you need to do something else. Build a new model or try something different.

So, do we think forecasting is useful?

Employing a forecasting approach to the future gets you to a clear decision point. It closes down the potential future option space to a single point – “this will probably happen, so you should do this”. For issues that employ solutions that have very long development times – (the new Hong Kong International airport took 17 years to be fully built) a forecast is very useful otherwise how does it every get started. For issues that do not have a huge consequence effect if they are wrong (it will be fine tomorrow so I won’t take an umbrella) then a forecast is good enough. The most useful point about forecasts is that they are deeply compatible with conventional thinking. You don’t need to explain to most people how to use a forecast. Give a person a forecast then if they have faith in it (and you) then they may well act accordingly.

So forecasts are useful. Sometimes, but we believe they are also fraught. Everything up to step 5 in a forecast is a mechanical, logical process that is as good as the person doing it and the process being used. But the 5th step is the critical one. “Do you have faith in your model – faith in your judgement of the past, faith in the past as a reliable predictor of the future?” If you have faith, then forecasts will be useful. If you have doubt, however, then we would suggest that Actionable Foresight might be useful. We do not say that Actionable Foresight will necessarily cause you to rediscover faith in your judgement or faith in the past as a reliable predictor of the future. But you might discover hope or purpose and we think they are very useful.

So when we say hope – what do we mean? This isn’t the hope that is expressed when looking for a car park or trying to win a lottery. This hope is all about having a goal, working out how to achieve it and staying the path until you get where you are going. Hope Theory developed by Prof CR Snyder shows us how to develop this capacity within ourselves.

Coming out of the positive psychology domain, Hope Theory is a cognitive theory developed over the last 30 years by Prof CR Snyder. It has been rigorously and widely tested all over the world, and has been shown to positively affect life and health outcomes in children, adolescents and adults. “Hope is an active, learned process – a way of thinking that activates an ensuing set of behaviours.” (p3)

Hope Theory outlines a goal setting process that includes evaluating pathways thinking (‘waypower’) and ‘willways’ or levels of empowerment to reach those goals. High Hope thinking will result in better outcomes than will low Hope thinking. Hope levels can be influenced by ‘learning Hope’.

In developing images of the future, we are asking people to develop goals, either at their individual level (personal futures) or at a societal level (social futures). This goal setting is best done when buttressed with pathways and willways thinking. Those studying Hope Theory have developed a number of processes through which this type of thinking can be supported.

Process

Once shared images of the future have been developed by a group, especially those which are reflecting a preferred future, a number of questions can be asked about the image and action plan to ensure that it is a ‘High Hope’ image.

Goal

  • Is the goal (image) clear and well-defined?
  • Is it a long or short range goal?
  • Is the goal large or small?

Pathways

  • Can the goal be broken down into small steps?
  • Can the person (with or without help) identify the large and small steps to the goal?

Willways

  • How much does the person really desire the goal?
  • Can the person imagine themselves achieving the goal?

Having the participant answer these questions will help them tease out the differences between the image (goal), pathways to achieving it and the level of empowerment they feel.

If the goal is ill-defined, focus can be put towards re-defining or better explaining the goal which has been set. If it is too nebulous or difficult to attain, then small sub-goals should be set.

If pathways thinking is lacking there are a number of strategies that can be used to build it. Knowing what to look for is important, hence high ‘waypower’ in  characterised by:

  • Breaking large goals into small parts
  • Asking for help
  • Self initiated skill building
  • Being willing to bend
  • Learning from mistakes
  • Willingness to rehearse

If these pathways thinking skills are not evident, they can be learned through behaviour modelling.

If willways thinking is missing or weak this can be tackled through a combination of praise and empowerment techniques. Issues such as a person’s family environment, health and self confidence will affect their ability to feel empowered about achieving goals. Negative self-talk is one of ways that willpower is destroyed, so teaching people to identify and combat negative self talk will help them build their willways levels.

One of the main ways Hope can be taught is through stories and narratives. These can be done either through the way in which goal selection and setting are done, and the language used by people when working together, or by utilising stories written for the purpose of illustrating High Hope behaviours and thinking.

Source: McDermott, D and Snyder, CR (2000) The Great big Book of Hope, New Harbinger Publications, Oakland.