There is an important distinction between a prediction of the future and a forecast of the future. Predictions are guarantees from the guarantor that a certain thing will happen. A forecast is an examination of the components determining change—drivers—and a range of estimates in the form of scenarios describing how different quantities of the drivers will interact to form different future outcomes. If one has working knowledge of the forces shaping change, one can better anticipate the outcomes. Preparing for the future as a range of options rather than a string of specific events allows people and organizations to better adapt to reality as it unfolds. As a result, scenario planners attempt to provide their clients with a mix of certainty and uncertainty, creating novel stories that allow their clients to imagine a wide range of futures and plan accordingly.
Trends are only one form of drivers that effect the future (Hines & Bishop, 2006). Long-range futurists consider the interaction of trends in increments of 10, 20, or even 50 years. There are enormous complexities when forecasting a future using such a long time horizon. As the speed of information discovery and technological advancement increases, it seems the audience for longer time horizon forecasts grows ever smaller.
The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) (2006) conducted a survey of strategic practices used by associations and found less than 3 percent of the 459 respondents reported using planning horizons of 10 years or more. The majority of respondents reported horizons of two years at most. The ASAE determined traditional “strategic planning” efforts had transitioned to a constant process of adaptation called “strategic evolution” (American Society of Association Executives & The Center for Association Leadership, 2006, p. 3).
Before considering the time horizon most relevant to particular associations, a thought-provoking question may help. “What year is it in your association?” If your association and its members use current technologies, innovative methods, and operate from the perspective of contemporary paradigms, the year in your association is either the same as reality or possibly even a little in the future. In those associations whose members operate in older paradigms for whatever reason, serious effort should be expended to determine how old the mental models are, and what the implications of innovation might be. For instance, in areas of considerable ethnic diversity, if the association is just beginning to see diversity among its members or feel the need for services in languages other than English, the “year” in the association is in the past compared to other associations that have been addressing diversity for years. If the association has members just now considering an entity web page, it is doubtful that reaching them through means of social media will be successful.
There is nothing to fear about bringing the “year” in the association closer to reality, provided that sound leadership is exercised throughout the process. In fact, companies seeking to modernize have an advantage in that companies that modernized before them offer examples of successful and unsuccessful strategies. Those associations living in the current year have no such examples, and must innovate going forward with a higher degree of uncertainty. Leaders should take care to bring associations along at a speed that the members can handle, meaning there is a balance to be found between what the members will not tolerate—and thereby abandon the process—and a speed that is too slow to achieve the desired results. To borrow a horticulture reference, culture and paradigms have deep roots. Rather than leaving some of the old soil intact when moving a plant to a new location, simply pulling a plant out of the ground and attempting to plant it in completely new soil is traumatic to the plant and counter-productive to seeing fruit come from the transition.