The standard wisdom for planning the future has been to look at past results. Studying metrics that included past revenue, sales, customer purchases, market reactions and recent technological advancements have been great indicators for future planning and strategies. For the larger, more advanced companies, looking into the past could help project up to 10 years into the future. 

But this method is starting to become less and less effective, as we’ve seen from the sudden shifts in business practices during the unpredictable, world-shaking shutdowns of 2020 and 2021. This perpetual focus on the past not only provides a very limited view into the future, but it also doesn’t foster the creative and innovative thinking required for the breakthrough results necessary to survive or optimize new-world realities. 

Learning From The Past Gives Us Choices — If We Are Open

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The cold front that froze most of Texas in February 2021 and caused a major breakdown in the power grid, causing tragic deaths and major disruption, was not really an anomaly or unpredictable event. A similar cold front took place 10 years ago in Texas that also shut down the state.

Ten years ago, it was clear that the power grid was frail and not prepared for such a cold front, but it would cost millions to invest in improving the energy infrastructure, so in the short-term, lawmakers didn’t make it a priority. Now that it’s happened again, we must ask ourselves: How have we been prioritizing based on our beliefs, personal (or political) agendas and shortsightedness, and how can we learn from our past to plan for our future using creativity and collective problem-solving, openness to new data and differing belief systems and a focus on desired outcomes rather than immediate gratification?

Beliefs Get In The Way Of Critical Thinking

Beliefs often get mistaken for facts, and because of this, they can get in the way of critical thinking. Everyone has beliefs, and they vary from person to person. Some people believe in God; others don’t. Some people believe that the world is round; others don’t. These are extreme examples, but nonetheless, they illustrate that you get to believe whatever you want to believe. Believing something doesn’t make it true. I can believe the world is flat, but that doesn’t mean the world is actually flat. No matter how much you are convinced of your perspective, it doesn’t make it true. It’s also important to recognize that many beliefs are born from fear ­­ — fear of being manipulated, of being harmed, and the ultimate fear that plagues most people: the fear of being powerless or out of control.

Unfortunately, politics and religion can sometimes promote beliefs over factual data. Can data be wrong? Sure it can, but then you collect new data to replace inaccurate data or you find ways to collect and analyze data to be more effective. It’s a process of improvement — not an excuse to ignore all data.

There are people who don’t believe the science of climate change because they mistrust science due to politics or religion. There are some who don’t believe in or want to invest in alternative sources of energy like wind or solar for political or financial reasons.

As millions of Texans struggled to stay warm, some leaders blamed the breakdown on frozen wind turbines when only about 20% of all electricity in Texas comes from wind sources. They ignored the root systemic cause of the problem in favor of their beliefs. 

It’s hard to learn from the past when we have personal agendas that blind us from the truth of the situation.

Breakthrough Thinking To Shape Your Future

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While it’s critical to learn from the past, we must have our main focus be on creating our future. In other words, we must imagine it — not only as a wishlist based on our dream of what could be, but also as an exploration of opportunities. This is done by looking at current trends and finding new solutions to address old limitations (Netflix versus Blockbuster), imagining a better future (Steve Jobs and Apple) or creating new businesses to meet the need of a rising trend (TikTok).

As mentioned, ten years ago, not only did Texas have a severe cold front that demonstrated their vulnerability to extreme cold weather, but they chose to ignore the probability that it would happen again, even though the science of climate change predicted the extreme weather patterns that would make the freeze in Texas a certainty, just without a timeframe.

While it’s always an expensive venture to invest in infrastructure to support growth and change, every organization must make the same investment if they plan to grow and be more profitable in the future. This is true whether you are leading a government institution or a corporate business. When you don’t invest in maintaining your equipment, updating your technology and training and responding to a changing society, you may optimize profitability in the short-term but may incur debilitating costs in the long run.

Planning Your Breakthrough Future

There are three major steps for planning your future: learning from the past, imagining new possibilities and translating your desired future into optimal execution habits needed to achieve your future breakthrough state, or what I call your “B STATE.”

Ultimately, the speed at which changes are happening in the world, in society and with technology is making historic data less reliable for predicting future reality. It’s time we learn faster, imagine more and prepare for the future based on trends in all aspects of societal, natural and business changes. If we aren’t prepared, we can find ourselves reacting to crisis rather than investing in preparation for the future.

(This post previously appeared on the Forbes Coaches Council and the B State Blog.)


  • Mark Samuel is a transformative leader with over 30 years of experience in the business world. He has helped hundreds of companies overcome stagnation, transform their businesses, and eliminate toxic work cultures to increase profits, morale, and customer experience. Mark trains leaders on how to implement sustainable changes within just one or two months--a revolutionary approach that he's pioneered with his team at IMPAQ. Mark writes frequently for Forbes and Thrive Global, and hosts the Conscious Leadership with Mark Samuel podcast. He is the author of 7 books, including his newest book, the USA TODAY / Wall Street Journal Bestseller "Reimagine Teams".