Pierre Wack was the first leader of Shell’s scenario planning team in the early 1970s. But his work was not about predicting the future. He described his role as like leading a pack of wolves, scouting ahead and helping the pack get a better understanding of the landscape around them. He called this the gentle art of re-perceiving the present.
When things change there is a natural tendency to read the new environment in terms that are reassuringly familiar. In orienteering this is called ‘bending the map’. Those who admit early that they are lost have a greater chance of survival.
We cannot hope to make perfect sense of the buzzing confusion around us, but we can do a much better job of finding our bearings. We can take a longer term perspective – recognising that our sense of the future and of the past inevitably colour our reading of the present. And we can start to see and take notice of more of the context around us.
Most of us are unaware how much we limit what we notice through preconception, inattention, mindset and cultural habits. Our reliance on numbers and objectivity has downplayed other ways of knowing that are more subjective: knowledge gained from experience, from intuition that we cannot justify, from emotional response, from esoteric levels of consciousness, from the aesthetic arts, poetry and music, from the science of qualities rather than the science of quantities.
It is no accident that the root of ‘ignorance’ lies in ‘ignoring’ what we cannot or will not see. Knowledge lives in the darkness and the mystery as well as the light. And it lives, vitally, in relationship and context. In order to know better where we are, we should strive to see as far, as wide and as deep as possible.