The Futures Wheel

No one can see the future – right? Well, no, nobody can actual predict the future with perfect accuracy, but that is exactly what you are asked to do as a business manager. You have to make decisions on a daily basis based on a future that you can’t possibly know for sure. So, how do you deal with that challenge? Well, you do the best you can to foresee the outcomes that will result from changes that you make. You aren’t going to be correct 100% of the time to be sure, but even being right most of the time can lead to excellent results.

The Futures Wheel

Of course, predicting the future is never an easy task, which is why you may choose to use the help of a decision making tool such as the Futures Wheel. This is a tool which was created in the early ‘70’s and remains very much relevant today. Before you make your next big decision, consider putting together a Futures Wheel to decide if you are heading in the right direction. The content below will help you understand exactly how to use this simple tool.

It All Starts with Change

The whole reason to think about how the future is going to be affected is the fact that you are considering a change of some kind. Maybe this is a change that is being forced upon you by market factors or other conditions, or maybe it is a change that you are initiating as a way to improve your organization. Whatever the case, you need to have a change in the middle of your wheel to make this tool work for you.

To get started, take a piece of paper and write your proposed change in the center of the sheet. It doesn’t particularly matter what the change may be, as long as it is going to have an impact on the organization in a number of ways. For the purposes of this article, we will use the example of a salary increase for your employees as the proposed change. In the center of our Futures Wheel will be the potential change of increasing salaries by 10% across the board.

Consequences and the Futures Wheel

The First Level of Consequences

With your change in the middle, you can now begin to list out the changes that you expect to occur as a result of this change. At first, this can be a bit overwhelming. To be successful, you need to take a deep breath and slowly go through all of the major outcomes that you can foresee. Don’t go into too much depth at this point – simply think of the biggest things that you would expect to happen if you do go ahead with the proposed change. These are known as the first-order changes in the context of the Futures Wheel.

So, if you decided to proceed with a wage increase for your team, what kind of first-order changes would be expected? Well, happier employees for one thing. With a more satisfied team, you might be able to expect an uptick in productivity in the office. Of course, there would also be the impact that this change would have on the finances of the organization, as you would be spending more on payroll. Another potential first-order change could be an increase in job applications from people who have learned that you are now paying a higher wage.

Moving On

Once you have a rind of first-order consequences around your main change, you can then proceed to go into deeper and deeper levels. From each first-order consequence, try to find some second and third-order consequences to list as well. You can go out to as many levels as you would like depending on the complexity of the situation.

Examples of Consequences

Take your time as you go through the process, and try to think of every possible eventuality. To make the chart easier to read, you may wish to do something like color coding the various levels as you go. You might be surprised to find just how large this ‘wheel’ can become once it is completed, so keeping things as organized as possible is a good idea.

Do Some Analysis

With the wheel completed, it is time to take a look at what you have created. How is this change looking overall? Are there more positive or negative consequences expected if you decide to go ahead with the change? Specifically, you want to think about exactly how you are going to deal with the negative consequences that you expect to follow. Are you prepared to handle those negative outcomes in a way that mitigates their impact on the business? If you decide that the negatives outweigh the positives around the wheel, it may be best to take a pass on implementing this particular change. Or, at least, you may need to modify the change you are making up front in order to take away some of the negative potential.

Assessing Impact Using the Futures Wheel

You aren’t always going to like what the Futures Wheel has to say – but it is important to be honest and open with yourself while going through the exercise. It isn’t going to do you any good to manipulate the results in order to have the wheel tell the story that you want to hear. Think thoroughly about the outcomes expected and assess the change overall from both the positive and negative perspective. Whatever your choice happens to be in the end, you can feel good about the homework you have done by going through this process.

The Futures Wheel is a helpful tool whether you are planning a change that is going to have long-lasting effects, or one that is only going to impact the business for a short period. Since it should only take a modest amount of time to prepare a Futures Wheel, this is a tool that you should feel free to use in a variety of situations when a potential change is on the table.

You can read more about the Futures Wheel in our free eBook ‘Six Key Decision Making Techniques’. Download it now for your PC, Mac, laptop, tablet, Kindle, eBook reader or Smartphone.

Key Points

  • The Futures wheel is a method for graphical visualisation of direct and indirect future consequences of a particular change or development.
  • It consists of a term describing a change that is positioned in the center of the page.
  • Consequences following directly from the change are positioned around the change and linked to it.
  • The consequences of those first level direct consequences are positioned at the next outward level and linked to the first level consequence.
  • The result is usually a series of concentric circles that are interconnected.
  • The use of interconnecting lines makes it possible to visualize interrelationships of the consequences of the change.
  • The Futures wheel can help you to develop concepts about possible change by offering a futures-conscious perspective.

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