What does it mean to lead from the future?

How important is it to develop the skill of leading from the future?

Well, first of all, what does it mean to lead from the future? It means

  • developing a clear picture of the future one prefers
  • cultivating the action-mindset to create it
  • calling on others to join you

An essential aspect of this skill is the ability to describe the present. This is not as easy as it might seem, especially in our time of exponentially rapid change. But without cultivating the ability to describe the present, leaders will not be able to anticipate the future.

That’s a skill the prophets of old developed to a high degree.

Many think of the prophets in the Old Testament as soothsayers who could predict the future. But they were mavens at describing the present. They had the courage to open their eyes, see what was really going on around them, and say something about it.

The prophet Nathan rebuked David for the murder of Uriah. The prophets of Israel pointed out the mistreatment of the poor, widowed, and orphaned. Jesus himself read the signs and anticipated the destruction of the Temple.

Twenty-first century leadership needs to hone the ability to describe the present.

In Makers of Fire I talk about three sets of triads or triangles:

  • The triad of fire,
  • the triad of change, and
  • the triad of leadership.


The Triads of Making Fire
Fuel | Oxygen | Heat = Fire
Artifacts | Meaning | Choice = Change
Describing | Discerning | Discovering = Leadership

from Makers of Fire: the spirituality of leading from the future


Leaders need to be able to fearlessly describe the world as it is, wisely discern the meaning in the moment, and creatively discover paths forward towards the world as they prefer it.

I mentioned in my last post that if I had to describe the present in one word, it would be that we live in a time of Redefinition. Makers_WordPressThe meaning of fundamental societal structures such as marriage, family, and even gender are being redefined.

We can be grateful for the real opportunity these redefinitions give us to re-engage our story. For one example,

  • What do we make of the fact that Jesus speaks about marriage being redefined at least once already?
  • How do we integrate the fact that polygyny seems to be an acceptable marital structure in the Old Testament (David, Abraham, others)?
  • How do we account for animal suffering and death before the “fall” of man?

Leaving the scripture for the world of science, our DNA tells us that polygyny was a more  common marital structure than one man and one woman. We have more “Moms” than we do “Dads” in our genes. We know today that animals lived, suffered, and died for millions of years before humankind appeared on Earth.

This kind of new data creates problems for those who read Genesis chronologically as a history. The way they read it, the first families were made up of marital units comprised of one man and one woman, and after “the fall” everything got screwed up. And, Adam and Eve’s sin allowed death to enter the world.

  • How can we understand the scriptural story of marriage, family, and sexuality as well the existence of death and suffering before the “fall” alongside a genetic and historical story that starts off messy rather than perfect?

Maybe it’s time to rethink our story, and make it bigger so that it accounts for deep time as well as the new data about life on Earth. How can we do this while being true to the biblical story that  we’re in?

Perhaps the vision of the garden and of the man and woman are not about the past at all. Perhaps they are a vision of the future, a future which no culture has yet attained, but towards which we are moving.

This is just one small example. And this one word, Redefinition, describes only one stream within our 21st century culture.

A second descriptor of our time is Exponentially Rapid Change. The Pew Research Group’s findings indicate that the rate of change in the 21st century would be a thousand times faster than in the 20th. And change in the 20th century was blazing fast. Not only are we defining and redefining, we’re doing it at lightning fast speed.

Are you ready?

In Makers of Fire, I offer a dozen descriptors of the present. Redefinition and Exponentially Rapid Rate of Change are two of them. I’ll offer the rest in posts to come. We’ll also be discussing this in the Master Certificate portion of the IMN 2015 Immersion in Orlando. Hope to see some of you there.

As you look around, what is it that you see?

Order your copy of Makers of Fire on Amazon.
Enroll in IMN 2015 in Orlando, Fl February 2-6. Click the link for more details.

Three Aspects of 21st Century Leadership

Leadership in the 21st century has three aspects:

  1. Fearlessly DEFINING Reality
  2. Mindfully DISCERNING the Meaning in the Mix
  3. Creatively DISCOVERING New Paths Forward

In my new book, Makers of Fire, I layer this TRIAD of defining, discerning, and discovering on two others. The triangle of combustion and the triangle of social change.



FUEL            |       OXYGEN        |    HEAT                    = FIRE


Leaders have to stare reality in the eye. What’s out there? What’s really happening? If I had to give a one line description of reality I would say that we live in a time of “redefinition.”


“If I had to give a one line description of today’s reality
I would say that we live in a time of “redefinition.”

(Click to tweet)

Marriage is being redefined. Gender is being redefined. History is being redefined. Identity is being redefined. Nation States are being redefined. Right and wrong, good and evil are being redefined. In this time of redefinition, sources of authority are challenged. Standing on the Bible, the Constitution, an interpretation of history, a tradition, or even on “what works” are no longer credible supports for what is good, right, and true.

All of these are “Artifacts,” things humans make, ways humans think, patterns in which human organize themselves. They are future artifacts. Future archaeologists will study the things we make today and try to understand us. We can also study them as a way of studying the potential futures we are making possible.


I wrote Makers of Fire to help reorient the church towards the future that it might better influence the present. Preorder your copy today.

I wrote Makers of Fire to help reorient the church towards the future that it might better influence the present. Preorder your copy today.

To make our time of redefinition even more complex, media keeps everyone alert to the fact that there are contrasting “redefinitions” emerging. Not everyone agrees on what marriage means, whether the United States is right or wrong, whether murdering infants in the womb is good or evil. Not everyone even agrees that there is such a thing as good and evil.

Leaders must look for meaning and purpose within this chaos. They must create compelling narratives, which give context and meaning to human existence, in which others can see themselves fitting and belonging and becoming the people they desire.

For Church leaders this means learning to be comfortable in a setting in which their narrative is not the narrative of the majority, but of a niche. But “narrative” doesn’t mean just a tagline. It means telling a story one deeply believes and believing the story one tells enough to inhabit it.


Leaders must nurture new communities which will create new ways forward. For church leaders and churches this will mean “living out” their story with daring and risk. Rather than seeing the Bible or tradition as a limiting factor, it needs to see these as launching pads for improvisation. There’s an old joke that if, while playing a guitar, you hit a bad note, it’s a mistake. If you hit two bad notes, again, it’s a mistake. But of you hit three bad notes, it’s jazz.

Well, no. It’s not.

Improvisation is not just hitting any random note, as if anyone can do it. Improvisation is best accomplished by those who know the fret board best. When you know how a line is supposed to go and you deviate from it in search of something new and fresh, then you’re improvising.

Our season of “redefinition” is not always one of improvisation. We’re often just hitting bad notes.

Leaders and communities who know their story well, believe it, and live it out, will need to improvise… will want to improvise …even if we hit a bad note here and again, in the pursuit of their mission.

To make gains in the public sphere, leaders will need to become media savvy because “social” is the new campfire around which the stories that shape us are being told. Story telling and story tellers will open up possibilities for the future. Communities that live out the future they prefer will redefine the world. (Click to tweet)

Future Skill #4: Connect

Another skill needed to lead from the future is systems thinking, the ability to connect the dots.

Just as a reminder, the four skills (we’re looking at) needed to lead from the future are

1) SIMPLIFY: the drive to simplify
2) MAKE: the instinct to make
3) THRIVE: the hunger to make the world thrive
4) CONNECT: the imagination to connect seemingly unrelated dots

When thinking about the future, it is not enough to ask what happens next? We must also ask, what happens because of what happens next?

At the personal level this means reconsidering any idea that goes something like this: Well if it doesn’t hurt anyone else, what’s wrong with it? The idea here assumes a nonexistent isolation, and extreme individualism that fails to recognize that we are all connected. The creation is an interconnected system made up of interconnected systems.

At the environmental level, it means seeing the big picture in little actions. For example, recognizing that littering plastic in my neighborhood may end up fortifying the Pacific Garbage Gyre.

I think the science of evolution, the merger of man with machine, the race for genetic enhancements, and the full mapping of the wild and largely unexplored universe we call the human brain will create new ways to think about God.

I think the rising tide of those who are exploring how to be spiritual without being religious will highlight just how religious the human species is. Yes, even the nonreligious, the secularist, and the atheist.

And these are the obvious connections.

Here are a few others that may be less obvious …

What’s happening? We are developing the world’s first affectionate robots.

What happens because this happens? MIGRATION. The affectionate robots being developed in Japan (that will be commercially available next year) may eventually ( say, 5-7 years) lessen demand for filipino migration to Canada.

What else happens because this happens? CHURCH. Pastors of filipino churches in Canada, pay attention. If you depend on these migrant workers for your membership roles, start working on your plan B.

What else happens because this happens? SEXUALITY. Affectionate Sexbots will end human sex trafficking. Or, at least, put a huge dent in it. At the same time, as  human “sex work” goes mainstream, prostitution will go upscale as sex therapists — think of the consort on the popular television series, Firefly — or as technology “pimps.”

The list goes on. Start with any change and, with a little imagination, you can begin to map, hundreds of other resulting changes. (One tool we use for this in our IMN training is the Futures Wheel.) You get the idea.

Leading from the future will mean stepping back and seeing the Big picture. It means thinking in systems. It also means understanding the small picture, the little things, and recognizing how a little action may impact the whole.

At the theological level, remember the profoundly “systems thinking” element of the cross of Christ. We need to ask, How does the death of Jesus on the cross impact the world? And, for a spiritual reflection, think of how Jesus’ words might impact the whole world: “love your neighbor as yourself.”

All things are connected.

Alex McManus

Author, Makers of Fire: the spirituality of leading from the future

Preorder your copy now.

Thanks for Tweeting about this post. Here are some ready to go Tweetables made just for you:

Yes, go ahead and click the blue bird… (if you have twitter, that is)

Future Skill #3: Thrive

Four skills needed to lead from the future are

1) SIMPLIFY: the drive to simplify
2) MAKE: the instinct to make
3) THRIVE: the hunger to make the world thrive
4) SYSTEMS: the imagination to connect seemingly unrelated dots

Today, I want to draw again on MAKERS OF FIRE: the spirituality of leading from the future for a third skill:

The hunger to make all things thrive

GENESIS CHAPTER ONE: The Poem of Thriving
One way to describe the Creative persona of Genesis chapter 1 is – The One who makes all things thrive.

Everything he touches flourishes.

He is so full of life giving energy that even the things he creates create.

“Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” (Genesis 1.11)

And so the land itself began producing vegetation. The same goes for the fish of the sea and the birds of the air. The process of life begetting life is the result of being touched by a creative force so potent that life kept emerging from within the chaos.

“In the view of the genesis poem, our world of living things regenerates itself as an act of God. They are at once and the same time, the same thing. The discoverable mechanics of the natural world, the evolution of life, are all fingerprints of God at work in our world.” -from Makers of Fire

Towards the end of Genesis chapter 1, God creates a creature in his own image.

“And we, along with the other creatures, continued the creative work. And the biosphere continued to blossom, to open like a flower revealing layer after layer of beauty. According to Genesis chapter 1, God is at work when life thrives. Thriving must be the metric by which human rulership can be measured. Every creative act made by any creature that makes the world thrive is at one and the same time an act of God.” -from Makers of Fire

The third skill required to lead from the future is the hunger to make things thrive. This requires the development of new a discipline: self control. Our rapacious hunger, magnified by our technologies, have demonstrated our capacity to wreak havoc on the world around us and even on each other.

In the last 100 hundred years, we have all but eradicated wild Atlantic Salmon. The passenger pigeon went from being the most abundant bird in North America to extinction in 50 years. From billions to zero. When the first Europeans arrived, the pigeon was here, along with the America bison and the peoples of the First Nations, the Beringians, who had resided here at least 18,000 years since their crossing over the Bering Straight during the most recent ice age.

When the technologically advanced cultures entered the North American space, the wild things, valuable things, began to disappear. And, as our technology evolves at an even faster rate than our culture and our wisdom, we must learn from our past and step into the future wary of our own powers and of how our current choices may impact future generations.

How can we best make our biosphere thrive? How can we best make our society, our neighborhoods, our neighbors, our family and friends thrive? How do we become a species known for how it makes all things thrive?

Making all things thrive is a calling which can have many expressions. These expressions can become the fountainhead around which healthy communities can form. Imagine communities committed to making a world that works for everyone. Imagine that these communities start by making a world that works for their neighbors. This might mean an end to mindless consumption at the expense of others. It might mean we’ll need to simplify. It will mean that we’ll need to understand that everything is connected. Which leads to us the fourth skill we’ll need to lead from the future.

Alex McManus

Author, Makers of Fire: the spirituality of leading from the future

Preorder your copy now.

Thanks for Tweeting about this post. Here are some ready to go Tweetables made just for you:

Yes, go ahead and click the blue bird… (if you have twitter, that is)

Tweet: Skill #3: The Hunger to Make Things Thrive. @alex_mcmanus - http://ctt.ec/_F4w2+

Future Skill #2: Make

My last post began (this series of four short articles) with a suggestion on how to deal with the complexity of our age: simplify.

As a reminder, the four skills we’ll need to lead from the future are

  1. The drive to simplify
  2. The instinct to make
  3. The hunger to make the world thrive
  4. The imagination to connect seemingly unrelated dots

Today’s future skill is the “instinct to make.”

This instinct is suggested in the title of MAKERS OF FIRE: the spirituality of leading from the future

In Makers of Fire I suggest that the discovery of fire was humankind’s breakthrough technology. As the 22nd century approaches there is a growing distance between what we as humans can do (technologically) and what we can do (actually). For example, we can start a car, flip on a switch and light a room, browse the internet, share a post  – amazing. And we have little to no idea how that happens. We shop at the market for meat and veggies and yet have little knowledge of the journey those products endured from earth to market.

There is a growing distance between what we can do and what we can do. But in the beginning, we made fire. We made fire with our hands and nothing more than the raw materials we could find in our environment. And we have still have that instinct to make. The growth of the Makerfaire is one indication of this instinct.

Leading from the future will require harnessing the “instinct to make” again. Rather than waiting for something to happen, we want to make things happen. Rather than waiting for lighting to strike, we want to make fire. There’s a growing interest to farm, for example, among the emerging generation. They want to grow their own vegetables. They want to know where their meat comes from. Both of my sons – 26 and 20 – are tapped into this instinct. And I’m not sure how that happened.

My grandparents left the farm for the city. My mother left Central America to fly the friendly skies as a flight attendant and lived in NYC, San Francisco, and Miami. I thought we had left our rural past and were headed to an urban future. But now, my oldest son now owns dogs, sheep, and horses. He prefers meat he himself hunts and butchers. My youngest son, wants to farm, build his own log house, and fish and hunt for his food. He wants to know how to survive in the world (by which he means the natural world) and live sustainably without such a heavy dependence on the processes on which we are all so dependent and which we increasingly distrust.

We don’t just want to consume things, we want to grow them. It’s not enough to buy organic, we are reconnecting with the instinct to grow things ourselves. It’s not enough to use a robot, we need the instinct to make one. It’s not enough to live in a home, we need the instinct to dig a footer and pour a foundation… and to connect with other humans in the growing and in the making.

Making fire can be a tribal activity.

Even societies and communities are made. Makers of fire need the wisdom and skill to make a society that works for everyone. Making a community is not just a complicated task. It is a complex task. Recently, a leading scientist in the UK, Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society, stated:

“Today we have those who like to mix science up with ideology and politics, where opinion, rhetoric and tradition hold more sway than adherence to evidence and adherence to logical argument.” Offenders, he said, ranged from politicians and religious figures to industrial leaders, NGOs and charities.

Sir Paul wishes that our complex world could be reduced to being merely a complicated word. In a complicated world everything can be reduced to a logical argument. Everything is formulaic, predictable, one size fits all. It’s no surprise, then, that, according to the Guardian, Sir Paul urged

“…researchers to forge relationships with politicians, lobbyists, religious figures and leaders of organisations in the hope that they might feel ashamed to misuse scientific evidence.

But if that approach failed, Nurse urged researchers to call offenders out in the media and challenge them in the strongest way possible. ‘When they are serial offenders they should be crushed and buried,’ Nurse said.”

Shame, crush, then bury. I suppose this is an attempt at leadership in a complicated world, where conformity rules. In a complex world, it’s not leadership. It’s abuse. Scientists are not above personal and political bias. The proverbial “follow the money” applies to them as it does to anyone else. Science is also built on tradition and traditions can become layers of knowledge that blind us to new ways of thinking. Take, for example, Sir Paul’s advice that we shame, crush, and bury those who do not conform to our knowledge. That’s a very old way to treat those who think differently. Foolishness follows a society that has lost its instinct to make.

Not everyone is a farmer, robot maker, or scientist, but we are all becoming human. Making a robot is complicated. Building human community is complex. Becoming human requires that we reconnect with the instinct to make. Leading from the future calls upon us, at very least, to make community.

But how can we best make community? That takes us into skill #3: the hunger to make the world thrive.

Alex McManus

Author, Makers of Fire: the spirituality of leading from the future

Preorder your copy now.

Thanks for Tweeting about this post. Here are some ready to go Tweetables made just for you:

Yes, go ahead and click the blue bird… (if you have twitter, that is)

Future Skill #1: Simplify

“Leading from the future” is the tagline of my new book, MAKERS OF FIRE. As we make a turn towards the 22nd century, what are some of the leadership skills we’ll need to navigate our rapidly changing world?

Four of the skills we’ll need are

  1. The drive to simplify
  2. The instinct to make
  3. The hunger to make the world thrive
  4. The imagination to connect seemingly unrelated dots

One of the characteristics of our age is that of increasing complexity. It’s not that our age is complicated. Our age is complex. The difference is that in complicated systems one can predict the outcomes by understanding the starting conditions, while in complex systems outcomes are unpredictable. For example,

  • Building a Rocket is complicated
  • Formulaic
  • Linear
  • Static
  • Leading a Community is complex
  • Self evolving and determining
  • Multi-dimensional
  •  Dynamic

If you build one rocket, you can build another one exactly the same way, and get the exact same result. If you lead a group of people to live in healthy community, and you lead another group exactly same way, anything can happen.

Our complex age resists linear, one size fits all, and formulaic strategies for success. In order to lead in a complex environment, an important skill we’ll need to develop is the ability to simplify. To simplify is to clarify. We live in a world so obsessed with consumption that we lose the ability to know what we want and don’t want. We don’t know what we need and don’t need. To lead in a world of such clutter, we’ll need to see through the commercials, conflicting truth claims, alternative strategies, and opposing demands that clutter the world around us to a future that others can not yet see.

Describing that future — a skill which in the leadership literature is called casting “Vision” and in the discipline of Strategic Foresight is called creating the “preferred future” — until it becomes the north star within a world of tempestuous change simplifies the world. Others may become paralyzed or frazzled by all the contradictions and competing demands, but leaders must keep their eyes on that star. This will help simplify things without being simplistic. Getting there becomes the goal. That’s tight. How to get there can vary as widely as the conditions dictate. That’s loose.

Hold tight. Hang loose. Make Fire!

Alex McManus

Author, Makers of Fire: the spirituality of leading from the future

Preorder your copy now.

Thanks for Tweeting about this post. Here are some ready to go Tweetables made just for you:

Yes, go ahead and click the blue bird… (if you have twitter, that is)

On Preparing for Change…

In 2008 the Pew research group asked a group of us how much change we thought there would be in the 21st century compared to the 20th century?

We were given three options. How would you have voted?                                                           

UnknownChange in the 20th century was rapid. Think of the fact that at the beginning of the century, we could not yet fly. The Wright Brothers had their first successful flight in 1903. Then, 63 years later in 1969, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. That’s blazing fast change happening. How many of you remember the world before email?  How many of you have actually used a landline to make a call? How many of you used to read an actual newspaper with your morning coffee? Those things all seem so long ago. When it comes to change, the 20th century was a blur. How fast will change come in the 21st century?

I think that “We will see more change in the next 100 years than we have in our first two million” as a species (from Makers of Fire, June 2014). The technology behind drones is outpacing the technology behind mobile phones. (And think about how they changed in the last five years). Soon, UAVs (think flying robots) will take to our commercial airspace. The race for genetic enhancements will be for the 21st century what the space race was for the 20th. And much, much more….I’m not sure that we’re prepared for the changes we will see in the next 10 years much less 100. How are you preparing for change?

What do you think?

(PS. I’ll post the answer the Pew Research Group gave us on the follow up post, On Preparing for Change – 2.)

Relevant vs Trendy

1960sHave you looked at a photo from the 60’s and the 70’s lately? A couple of months ago, I stopped by Starbucks with my wife, Niza. Starbucks had recently begun an emphasis of getting back to their roots. In conjunction with that theme they had a photo from the early 70’s of their original Starbucks store.

We stopped to look at the photo and Niza made an interesting observation. Of the customers that stopped by to get coffee on that day in the early 70’s, some were wearing typical business suits or mainstream clothing. That’s when she opened my eye to something interesting. Continue reading