Four Futures Challenging Leadership
scenarios written by Wendy Schultz and Michele Bowman
For the next hour, we will explore scenarios portraying four different
possible futures, approximately thirty years from now. YOU HAVE
BEEN ASSIGNED ONE OF THESE SCENARIOS. These four scenarios emerge
from intercombinations of the possible primary, secondary, and tertiary
impacts of emerging issues of change visible today.
In this context, any
one of the four scenarios described is possible. DO NOT DISCUSS
ITS RELATIVE PLAUSIBILITY OR PROBABILITY; SUSPEND YOUR DISBELIEF
-- a context exists; simply consider how you would cope most successfully.
After reading your scenario, address the following discussion questions:
- what values seem
to drive this future? do you find this future challenging
to your own values? which ones, and how?
- what challenges
and opportunities does your scenario present to policy-makers,
business leaders, and communities?
- who in your community
would gain the greatest advantage in the context of your scenario?
who would be marginalized?
- what "vision"
(preferred future) might you try to bring about, given this
- does your scenario
require a leader have certain qualifications or a specific
knowledge base to lead successfully? would conditions require
coordinated leadership by several people with different skills?
- what skills would
most contribute to successful leadership -- that is, organizing
transformative change -- in your scenario?
Corporations and governments
that had reaped the greatest benefits of prosperity clung to outmoded
and dysfunctional value systems throughout the late 1990's and early
twenty-first century. People accustomed to being in command adjusted
poorly to collaborative decision-making: the necessity to share participation
in both the power and the profit across class and national boundaries.
Ever in the minority, the old profit mongers were the target of the
pent-up frustration and anger of millions of workers across the globe.
Resentment built, at times unfocussed and wild. The murder of Alan
Greenspan in 1999 by a disgruntled manager who had been the victim
of corporate downsizing triggered a number of violent outbursts as
people turned against not only the wealthy elite, but also against
"others:" communities, religions and other racial groups.
Trouble and violence seeped into virtually every major city and disrupted
the flow of high technology goods, goods that were necessary to sustain
not only economic growth and development but also the little conveniences
of life to which people had grown accustomed. Jobs began to disappear.
People began to disappear. The high tech luxuries that seemed poised
to dominate life in the twenty-first century became unattainable.
People have banded together in small, ethnically-based groups to gain
access to the food and natural resources they still need to survive.
Though some industry remains viable, much of its output is controlled
by loosely organized paramilitary groups. Bill Gates is General of
the largest one.
Around the World in Eighty Seconds
From the Komatsu factory
in Sioux City, Iowa, to the Deutsche Bank branch in Kuala Lumpur,
to crisp, golden McDonald's french fries in Shanghai, the global economy
has co-mingled and integrated until consumers see the same thing wherever
they go. International markets led companies to tap into the developing
world's growing labor force, helping to equalize wages and standards
of living across national boundaries.
As food and natural resources seem abundant in the short-term, international
relief organizations now focus on issues of "relative poverty," addressing
those disadvantaged segments of less-developed countries that are
still technologically illiterate. The Internet Relief Fund provides
individuals and companies the opportunity to help a technologically
disadvantaged person by pledging five dollars a month towards Internet
The roots of transnational corporations have increasingly intertwined,
making it difficult to sort out corporate citizenship from national
identity. And as the net worth of the transnationals now exceeds the
GDP of most countries, and the amenities offered transnational employees
continue to expand, people acknowledge their corporate ID is more
valuable than their passport. Even those in small, independent businesses
now rely heavily upon outsourcing from, and alliances with, global
organizations. Employee ideologies reflect industry-based perspectives
more than geographically organized political systems. The rice growers
in Alabama and Vietnam collaborate to promote their products, sensing
virtually no affinity at all for the steel producers in Mobile or
Hanoi a few scant miles away.
Electronically-shared research and development coupled with a continuously
operating global transportation system generates a never ending stream
of technological innovations, which are manufactured simultaneously
at the site of the needed materials. Whatever consumption of the planet
takes place is balanced by the occasional environmental technology
breakthrough in the endless need to force-feed the global economy.
L'art pour L'art
Developing countries discovered
new economic leverage in the sense of "enviropreneurship" at the end
of the twentieth century. As more lands and resources were depleted
in the industrial countries, their populations finally understood
the real cost of their rush for economic supremacy. Consequently,
developing countries found new sources of income as a ecotourists
and ecology trusts poured money southward.
Ever eager to follow shifts in social values, multinational corporations
now implement true cost pricing for their goods and demand that production
footprints be made as small as possible. The practice of reverse manufacturing
is commonplace as corporate planners design their products with the
view that they are merely borrowing the earth's resources and are
obligated to return those resources in the most efficient manner possible.
More and more new materials are biochemically engineered from renewable
resources and designed to degrade into "greenfill" for farms and gardens.
Landfills are being reclaimed with nano-fullerene "micro miners" which
recover strategic resources efficiently with no disruption to the
land. Information technologies enable employees and work cooperatives
to disperse jobs throughout habitable territories.
This shift has encouraged many people to become self-sufficient in
many of their small produce needs. Emptying high rises have been converted
into vertical farms, using solar power to permit year-round food production.
With the dispersal of the population, people lost their sense of hyper-urgency
and now focus on the more natural rhythms of life. Closing ten deals
over lunch became a lost art, while art once again became found. Even
Al Gore learned to finger-paint.
Designer Kids R Us
As services to genetically
design your children became cheaper and more accessible, the global
population started to drop. Initially a service marketed only to the
wealthy, global elite, "designer kids" have made future generations
smaller in numbers, but vastly more valued - and valuable in their
skills and potential. Many adults have also discovered the joys of
re-engineering their bodies for different activities and environments.
With the help of DNA-altering "cosmetic viruses" the "four hands,
no feet" micro-gravity environments of orbital production facilities
and pleasure parks are now accessible to all.
People have embraced technology and now enjoy unprecedented freedom
from mundane tasks and planning. Political and economic decision-making
is handled by specialized "knowbots," cousins of the "intelligent
agents" originally designed to filter information from the Internet.
Companies, governments and even personal relationships now form and
reform in fluid, virtual structures as "cybership" has become more
important than citizenship. The development of "Just In Time Corporations"
allows workers from different companies to collaborate on projects
on an as-needed basis: technical specialists spin out of their work
teams at Nikon, DuPont and John Deere to create a Mars rover with
which school kids can run remote experiments on Olympus Mons, and
then spin off again separately to other work groups. Hawaii, the Commonwealth
of the Marianas and Japan work together on an agreement of North American
Parents create a different set of "extended family relations" as a
unique "village" in which to raise each child they have. The hottest
vacation spot around is your own living room lounger, as more and
more people take vacations as well as work in virtual reality.