When Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial fifty-two years ago and spoke to a great people about their greater future, he didn’t say, “I have a plan.” Instead, he shared a dream that provided a vision of equality and hope for a struggling nation. His dream was not to get elected and not to become rich; it was a dream that was to and for everyone—one meant to elevate the national conversation by providing a goal that at the time seemed impossible but would be worth achieving for all.
In the months, years, and now decades that followed that amazing speech, his dream became our dream and great strides forward happened and continue to happen every day.
Whenever I think of the “I Have A Dream” speech, I can’t help but think of another great speech that shared a dream and that became a vision that shaped our nation.
As you have most likely guessed, I’m referring to the 1961 “Special Message to Congress on Urgent Needs” speech, where a young president Kennedy painted an insanely bold picture of our future in the language of a dare: “We’ll put a man on the moon and get him back safely—within the decade.”
The truly crazy thing, of course, is that we did.
What Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy employed was what I call Futureview, and right now it may be our most pressing national challenge.
Futureview is your ability to project yourself into the future and then look back at your present position from that future point of view. Futureview is not the same thing as a goal, plan, ambition, or aspiration. It is not something you hope for or try for. Futureview is the picture you hold, for better or for worse, of what you expect and believe about your future.
How you view the future shapes how you act in the present; how you act in the present shapes your future. Your Futureview determines the future you.
My concern is that for many Americans today, the Futureview is bleak.
In India and China, the prevailing Futureview is positive. Young and old alike are actually excited about their future. The atmosphere crackles with an optimistic, can-do energy.
Visit the airport in Beijing and ride the train that transports passengers from terminal to terminal. On its walls you’ll see posters highlighting Chinese entrepreneurs, their dreams and accomplishments. Get off the train and into the city: everywhere you look, you’ll see evidence of seemingly impossible ideas becoming reality. Dreams are everywhere.
The result? These people are moving forward, proactively building their future. They see a bright tomorrow. So they’re creating it.
And here in the U.S.? The American Futureview is mostly negative, filled with apprehension and fear. This is the first generation of parents since World War II who do not believe their children will have a better, richer life than they did.
Making the Impossible Possible
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to converse with Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon. He said that in the years following Kennedy’s articulation of that goal, NASA engineers would periodically hit a major roadblock and declare the goal impossible.
Each and every time, the response from those in charge was the same: “We’re going to the moon.”
So the engineers would go back to their benches with a renewed determination to do the impossible. Every time they hit a snag, that unshakable Futureview held them to their task.
“They kept solving those unsolvable problems,” Armstrong added, “until one day, there I was—walking the lunar surface.”
And here we are, fifty years later. Who is standing up to paint us an insanely bold picture of our future? Who is calling out that impossible dare, naming it so we can all go about the great work of achieving it?
So far, the answer is, “nobody.” Everyone seems too busy casting blame and keeping their eyes glued to the problems.
Here’s the good news: the potential for real innovation, growth, and new prosperity in the United States is vastly greater than the prevailing Futureview suggests. We are in a time of massive, technology-driven, transformational change, pregnant with opportunity. Realize it or not, we have an unprecedented ability to create new products, new services, new markets, and new careers — provided we exercise the Futureview it takes to see them.
If we don’t, they will remain invisible. And you can’t build what you can’t see.
The problems we face today are not economic or technical in nature. They are largely in our minds. We need to take a fresh, close look at what it is we’re looking at.
What is your Futureview? What is the Futureview of your organization? What is the Futureview of the leaders you report to?
From a national perspective, the sooner we start looking at the extraordinary opportunities before us and seeing a picture so insanely bold that we feel compelled to reach for it, the sooner we can get about the business of seizing those opportunities and transforming our society—for generations to come.