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Are you presentologist or a futurologist?

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Presentology or futurology?  Which is your pick?

I think most of us think that it is good to defer gratification. Well we know it is.  We all know by now the story of the kids given a marshmallow and told they will get another if they leave it untouched until the experimenter gets back. The 30% of kids who resist the urge to wolf down the marshmallow do better in life.

So it is better to be a futurologist?  Not so?

But what is the future?

Our fascination with the future rests in a great part on a fallacy of prediction.

Since mankind has kept records we have been pretty keen on consulting oracles, reading the tea leaves, listening to the weather reports ~ anything to allow us to know what will happen and to be on the right side of history.

We desperately want to know and we desperately want the world to be as predictable as the sun coming up in the morning.

Some predictability is good

I see nothing wrong with that.  Personally, I like my keys to be where I left them.  And I quite like it if my black dog doesn’t lie in a dark passage way for me to trip over him.

Here in lies the important point.  It is not forecasting the future that is important.  It is understanding how the world works that is important.

If there is no one else in the house it would be jolly strange if my keys moved from where I put them.  If there is anyone else in the house, even a black dog who likes keys, some dogs do, then my keys might not be where I left them.  It is the mechanism not the prediction that is important.

When we know the mechanism, then we can do something about it.  We must know the mechanism and all the mechanisms that are relevant. Keys rarely move by themselves but other people might move them without telling me.  Mechanisms introduce randomness and it is better to allow for randomness than get fixated on certainty.

Let’s take my dear black dog as a second example.  He might lie in the dark passageway quite often, but I can’t predict when he will.  I can only allow for the possibility that he might and either walk more slowly or whistle and hope he moves and makes a noise so I can hear him.  Knowing how the world works and the range of possibilities we might encounter is what matters.

So what is better: presentology or futurology?

Now I have explained this like this, it seems quite obvious but what does this affect the choice of presentology or futurology?  How does this relate to the kids and the marshmallows?

I need to know the mechanisms to know what I  can do now, RIGHT NOW.  Because the future follows from now, I want to know how I can change now.

  • I want to change now so that now is better.
  • And I want to act now because now is the only time we can act.
  • I want to act because I like action. Action makes us feel good.
  • And I want to change now because it makes the future more interesting!

Instead of worrying whether or not I will trip over my black dog, I ask myself what mechanisms I can manage to walk safely to my destination.  Calling to my dog is one of them.  If I want to get to the end of the passage safely, I must manage all of the mechanisms, on their own terms, as they come up.

Knowing that I want to get to the end of the passage safely or knowing that I get to the end of the passage safely 90% of the time simply doesn’t help me.

But knowing that a black dog tends to lie there quietly, and knowing that dogs do respond when you call, knowing these mechanisms helps me manage possibilities and helps me rearrange NOW, in this case what is going on in my head.   By understanding now and rearranging it, I allow possibilities to evolve that I might enjoy.

Presentology : the art of now

What needs to be done now?

We are all talking about now. Personal kanbans, productivity, mindfulness, solidarity, happiness. It is all about being master of the present ~ master of what is happening this minute!



Note:  The late Russ Ackhoff used the term presentology to describe his philosophy of management




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