Hope & Agency for Better Futures

May 24, 2021
What Do Hope and Agency Have to Do with The Future?
Hope is not just a fluffy feeling used in personal development. Hope is actually a tool and a skill all people can use to create better futures for themselves and their organizations starting today! Agency is most simply put as a person’s capability to affect the future. Using hope builds the human brain’s muscles around gaining agency and achieving goals. Hope is all about having a positive mindset. Unfortunately, the mind can also be a hindrance in creating the future if there is too much negativity and/or a lack of understanding of how one’s mindset about the future impacts today’s decisions.
The ability to use the future by understanding how human perception of the future(s) impacts our thoughts and decisions is called Futures literacy. The two most important skills to be capable of futures literacy are imagination and anticipation. Imagination is the ability to be creative and imagine concepts not previously present in our minds. Anticipation is an emotion that occurs while awaiting something. Anticipation can illicit anxiety or hope. Both can be useful at times. Anxiety can lead to more cautious decision making and conservative risk averse strategies. Hope on the other hand creates an open mind capable of developing new pathways of thinking and doing to reach an anticipated destination or goal.
The definition of hope as listed by Wikipedia is an optimistic state of mind that is based on an expectation of positive outcomes with respect to events and circumstances in one's life or the world at large. As a verb, it's definitions include: "expect with confidence" and "to cherish a desire with anticipation.
Hope as a Means to Goal Achievement
Hope theory as developed by world renowned positive clinical psychologist and Professor Charles Richard Snyder, looks at hope from the perspective of its applications for “doing” versus hope’s more commonly thought of state of “being.” Hope as a capability for “doing” leads to goal achievement when three key factors are in place.
  • First, there must be a specific goal in mind.
  • Second, multiple pathways to reach the goal must be developed.
  • Third, agency which is the motivation, intention, and belief in the ability to achieve the goal via one or more of the pathways must be in place.
Hope and agency are much needed states of both being and doing necessary to work towards achieving goals and brining about better futures. How many goals really get accomplished in situations where people feel both hopeless and unempowered? The reality is there are many people in general and employees within organizations who may not feel they have agency over the future. If and when agency is low, a most effective strategy is to start small and make it personal. One may not have agency over the future of the world, however, can have agency over individual actions to achieve small personal goals. Even very small amounts of agency can feed hope. That hope leads to more agency as the more positive mindset boasts confidence in figuring out the pathways to achieve goals. It soon becomes a cyclical pattern that can start to resemble the chicken and the egg not knowing which came first, hope or agency.
Any one of the three key factors in hope theory can be developed and bolstered by strategic foresight tools. In the Discover phase of the Natural Foresight® framework developed by Kedge and The Futures School, current ways of thinking are challenged creating an environment ripe for more open mindedness and hope. In the Explore phase, new information is detected setting the foundation for building possible pathways in the Map phase. Agency grows during the Create phase as new strategies are developed and executed to achieve goals. The four Natural Foresight® framework phases also become cyclical as they interact with increasing one's hope and agency in creating better futures. This is really where innovation can begin to emerge, and resilience is established. Getting there can start simply with determining the starting point with the following exercise.
Test Your Mindset About the Future
Mindset is critical in allowing hope to be a tool for achieving goals and growing agency! To get there, explore your own thoughts on the future with this exercise answering the following questions to find out where you stand on the future.
  • Is your outlook of the future of the world 10 years from now positive (smiley face) or negative (sad face)? Y-axis
  • How much agency do you feel you have over what the world will look like 10 years from now (no agency - or lots of agency +) ? X-axis Remember: Agency is most simply put in this context as your capability to affect the future.
Based on your answers to the two questions, take a moment to determine where you would place a dot for yourself in the above graph. Where your dot falls within one of the four quadrants of these questions has significant impact on how you feel about the future. Do you feel defeated, helpless, empowered, hopeful, anxious, or something else? Do you have hope and agency regarding the future?
There is always room for more hope and agency to achieve better futures for the world and individuals. Collaborative and collective hope would be the ultimate goal within society. For today, start with you.
  • Set a goal, even a small one.
  • Determine pathways to achieve the goal.
  • Believe the goal can be achieved.
Where Does Your Organization Stand?
What does all this mean in terms of teams or organizations? The Where Do You Stand? exercise can be conducted for teams and organizations too. Teams and employees that do not feel hopeful or feel they have agency within their role will not be as motivated to find the best pathways to achieve necessary goals for organizations to succeed. Organizations want to be successful, but not all employees and teams have the hope and agency they need to innovate and achieve success for their organizations. Amazingly, strategic foresight tools using the Natural Foresight® framework can be used for personal development, organizational strategy, and change management to impact organizational culture for better innovation. Strategic foresight can go a long way in bringing about the hope and agency needed to have a Joy Forward Strategy!

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