There’s a Scientific Reason Thinking About the Future Is So Hard


It’s hard enough wondering what the next 24 hours will bring, so why do leaders so often think about the next five years?

The answer: Humans crave certainty. The same impulses that caused ancient species to care whether that rustle in the grass could eat them for dinner now cause modern humans to stress about next year’s revenues.

Indeed, threats to our sense of certainty register as actual pain in the brain.

This need for certainty makes thinking about the future harder because the future is inherently unpredictable, yet the demands of business call on leaders to be certain. When employees and shareholders ask questions, they expect leaders to have the answers. In turn, leaders expect it of themselves.

Leaders can resolve this paradox, but only with a keen understanding of the brain.

To start with, leaders should focus not on certainty, but clarity. According to Bob Johansen, author of Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World, agility rests on values. Organizations can adapt quickly to challenges when leaders align to the purpose of that organization.

But as our work with Microsoft has shown, the brain can only keep so many things clear at one time. Make too many demands, and you may end up forgetting it all.

To learn more, check out our article in Quartz, “Why it’s so hard to think effectively about the future,” or click below to learn more about how NLI is helping organizations build a better future.

Author: Chris Weller

Want to know more?