6 years is a long time


Tasshin is a good friend, in every sense. We’ve talked much over the years about strategy and intentional being and doing.

In the latter link, he discusses Power, Maximum Deep Benefit, Cynefin, Iteration, Conditions/Consequences, The Expected and the Unexpected, Wardley Mapping, Burja Mapping, The Theory of Constraints, The Logical Thinking Process, Alliances, SWOT, Westrum Typology, and Commander’s Intent. It’s worth the read!

All this to set the context for a question he shared with me yesterday:

What are 1-5 strategy models or ideas that have you learned since 2017/2018 which have been especially valuable to you?

6 years is a long time, and one idea stands out above the rest.

The easy answer for me is Jabe Bloom‘s Ideal Present Design (short video, long video).

Ackoff’s Idealized Design

When he explains it, Jabe often starts with Russ Ackoff’s “Idealized Design” which compares different ways we mess up planning for the future:

  • Recreating the past: Things will never be better than the “good old days.” So obviously we want to go “back” to that time by recreating it in the present.
  • Preserving the present: Things will never be better than the way they are right now. So we must keep things the same at all costs! No change!
  • Predicting the future: Things will never be better than some far-off future we’ve predicted (or more likely just made up). So we must do everything we can to get ready for that particular future! (Like prepping for the apocalypse, or colonizing mars to preserve the light of consciousness or whatever.)

Ackoff proposes a fourth option in contrast. It rejects the recreation of the past and the preservation of the present. It also does not assume that the future can be predicted and will automatically be better. Instead, this fourth way of planning aims for a better future by seeking to create the best possible version of today and continuously adjusting based on what we learn in the present.

Jabe’s background is Transition Design, which seeks to enable the possibility of intentionally-designed change over multi-hundred year timespans. So when he thinks of planning, he’s thinking of not one future but many potential far-off futures. Futures that make more futures possible (particularly ones where humans continue to be around). Talking about Ackoff is just an easy way to get us thinking in that direction.

There’s a really interesting digression here about time philosophy, process philosophy, futuring, and everything else Jabe has explored in his PhD work to bring him to this weird and different thing he calls the Ideal Present. For more of that background, I recommend the “long video” I linked up above. Related to it all is also the idea of conditions and consequence, and for that I’ll point you to Tasshin’s write-up.

Bloom’s Ideal Present Design

Here’s a rough idea of how Jabe describes Ideal Present Design, as part of his PhD work at Carnegie Mellon.

There’s a Current State that produces a Default Future.

However things are today, the present conditions, that’s the Current State. The good, bad, ugly, etc. This is where our complaints go. “What’s wrong with today?” These present conditions will, as a result of time and the natural unfolding of the situation, produce the future. So we can anticipate that future somewhat by asking, “What will plausibly happen next?”

Good things might happen, and bad things might happen. But let’s focus on the bad. We want to know what to avoid. So we ask, “What negative consequences are we likely to experience by default if nothing changes?”

Next is the Ideal Future. What would we like to see instead? Jabe is often careful to emphasize that our Ideal Future should contrast both the Current State and the Default Future. “How would our Ideal Future be different from the Current State and different from the Default Future?”

This Ideal Future is not a prediction we’re making nor a commitment. It’s just an imagined future that we’d like to see, and that we’ll hold onto lightly.

So now we have the Current State, the Default Future, and the Ideal Future all defined or imagined. What comes next is an intensely rewarding move that usually unlocks and compels immediate action. It’s the Ideal Present.

The Ideal Present is an alternate envisioning of “right now” that synthesizes the Current State, Default Future, and Ideal Future. It asks, “How would things ideally be today, if we were already solving the problems of the Current State, already diverting away from the problems of the Default Future, and already well on our way towards the Ideal Future?”

The way I try to think of it is by imagining an alternate reality or universe where all that work is already in motion. What would that look like? (If it helps, imagine beaming yourself Rick and Morty style to another universe where you get to study a version of yourself that’s already doing all these good things.)

From here, the trick then is to take all your effort and point it towards creating that Ideal Present, NOT the Ideal Future. We can almost reach out and touch that alternative, and what action we must take in that direction becomes extremely clear (or at least much clearer than if we were trying to plan our way towards an Ideal Future instead).

Here’s an example about fitness:

  • Current State: I never exercise. I’m weak and easily fatigued.
  • Default Future: I’ll only continue declining. The fatigue will get worse.
  • Ideal Future: I want a ripped bod, with muscles for days. I want to feel fit and energetic.

Now imagine the answer to the question. “How would things ideally be today, if I were already solving my problem of not exercising, already diverting away from the Default Future where things get worse, and already well on my way towards getting that ripped bod?”

I can imagine all sorts of things now. I would already have my pull-up bar installed above my office door. I would be using the stairs in my place for cardio (I mean, they’re right there). And I would already use any negative feelings in my body (like anxiety) as an excuse / trigger to put on music or a podcast and avail myself of those two options to get my blood pumping.

(Fun fact, I paused in the middle of writing this post to install my pull-up bar and do my first pull-up in months. THAT’S the power of Ideal Present Design.)

The other thing to mention about the Ideal Present, is that as soon as something about the Current State changes, it’s a good idea to run the full exercise again. If the conditions in the Current State have changed, then the Default Future has likely changed, and that might have implications our Ideal Future and definitely for the Ideal Present. So the whole thing loops!

I guess this is the part of the post where I prompt you to do some Ideal Present Designing for yourself. If you want to give it a try, grab this canvas, print it out or throw it into Miro, and see what actions you unlock for yourself in the present moment. The short video I linked above is a helpful guide.


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