Avainsana-arkisto: futures resilience

When visionary leadership works or does not work?

Key variables and aspects of change management and real-life implementation of strategic visions

Jari Kaivo-oja:

In politics and economics, the aim is to strive for visions and for a high level of strategic excellence. Whether it is managing climate change, managing the coronavirus crisis, dynamic industrial policy, political parties or business models of firms and corporations, we have to pay attention to visionary leadership and the operating styles that are in line with it.

Most of organisations in business and society are interested in change management and implementation. In the field of futures research, there has always been interest in visions, missions and strategies. The aim has been to identify visions, targets, goals and means to achieve these.  Goal rationality and instrumental rationality are central to all human activities. How goals and means are combined determines value rationality of organisations and all human agencies in political, commercial and social life.

Niccolò Machiavelli noted a long time ago:

“It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them.”
(Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, year 1513).

One key aspect of future oriented change management is to understand that there are push and pull mechanisms of change processes. Steve Morlidge (Satori Partners ) and Director, C.P.A. Steve Player (Beyond Budgeting Round Table, BBRT) have presented the Change Equation:

D x V x S > R,

where D stands for dissatisfaction, V stands for vision, S stands for first steps and R stands for resistance. We must think about V, D, S and R together as interrelated variables.

V = Vision for the future
D = Sense of dissatisfaction with the present
S = Knowledge of first steps, and
R = Sources of resistance.

This Change Equation is interesting in the sense that it contains a strong statement of the basic prerequisites for the success of visionary leadership. Visionary leadership literature has placed quite a lot of emphasis on the design of the vision itself, as it has been seen to act as a resource magnet and facilitate the mobilisation of tangible and intangible resources for the desirable future. Less attention has been paid to the basic variables of visionary leadership defined in the Change Equation.

Defining the Change Equation is perhaps more important than previously understood in the field of management sciences. The Change Equation states that dissatisfaction, vision and initial steps should be able to reverse the forces of resistance so that the desired vision itself can be realised with some time delay. Poorly defined vision, misjudged initial steps, poorly understood level of dissatisfaction and misconceptions about resistance to change prevent visionary leadership goals from being achieved.

Perhaps increasingly important it would be to be able to assess the relative weight of the three critical variables to the left of the change equation, because if one of the three variables has a high weight in relation to other variables, it should be invested more in management and in visionary leadership than other less weighty variables.

A good definition of vision alone is therefore not enough as a preconditional term for successful visionary leadership. In general, it is therefore important to understand that the vision itself does not yet determine a full success of the visionary management model alone. Dissatisfaction and initial steps are really relevant variables in visionary management process of organisations, whether we discuss about leadership models in companies, political parties or other social organizations.

It is time to rethink the processes of futures orientation and foresight.  

Jari Kaivo-oja

Research Director, Adjunct Professor, PhD
Finland Futures Research Centre, Turku School of Economics
University of Turku

Manufacturing 4.0 – strategies for technological, economic, educational, and social-policy adoption (MFG 4.0) & Transition to a Resource Efficient and Climate Neutral Electricity System (EL-TRAN). Both projects are funded by the Academy of Finland’s Strategic Research Council .

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Background literature

Holstius, Karin & Malaska, Pentti (2004) Advanced Strategic Thinking. Visionary Management. Publications of Turku School of Economics and Businss Administration. Serie A-8:2004. Turku. Web: malaska (utupub.fi)

Kotter, John P. (1996) Leading Change. Harvard Business School Press: Boston, MA. Web: Leading Change – Book – Faculty & Research – Harvard Business School (hbs.edu)

Machiavelli, Niccolò (1513) The Prince. (Orig. De Principatibus / Il Principe). Web: The Prince | Treatise by Machiavelli, Summary, & Facts | Britannica

Manyika, James (2008) Google´s View of the Future of Business. An Interview with CEO Eric Schmidt. The McKinsey Quarterly. September 2008. Web: (5) Google’s view on the future of business: An interview with CEO Eric Schmidt (researchgate.net)

Morlidge, Steve & Player, Steve (2010) Future Ready. How to Master Business Forecasting. John Wiley and Sons. Chichester, United Kingdom. Web: Future Ready: How to Master Business Forecasting | Steve Morlidge, Steve Player | download (b-ok.cc)

Welch, Jack & Byrne, John A. (2001) Jack: Straight from the Gut. New York: Warner Business Books. Web: Jack: Straight from the Gut by Jack Welch (goodreads.com)

Picture: Jan Vašek in Pixabay 

The Pandemic Triggered a Futures Tsunami

Professor Emerita Sirkka Heinonen:

Systematic thinking about futures has been practiced in our society at various levels – in the academic world and in educational institutions, in the field of public administration at the state, regional and municipal levels, as well as in companies and non-governmental organisations. However, it is the pandemic that has now unlocked the heavy gates to the futures realm – opened the eyes of actors to see the critical nature of foresight and the exponentially growing need for futures work.

Anticipating the future is no longer a luxury in ivory towers or a proactive preoccupation for the few, but simply a categorical imperative for us all to survive in a turbulent world. My blog title is ambiguous – first, it means this wide-ranging and dramatic “reawakening to the futures” triggered by a tsunami-like pandemic – all organisations should have a strategy for the future. A forward-looking futures strategy means that, in addition to and on top of a normal strategy, a longer-term strategy is developed that looks at issues and causal chains broadly and using peripheral vision. Let us look at what is happening in the world around us and in the operating environment beyond our own domain. The long term can boldly reach even a hundred years from now (Heinonen et al. 2018).

Organisations need to create future trajectories, firstly, on how to cope with the conditions of a pandemic and on what all the entangled effects it will have in the short and long term. Second, the blog title suggests that the future will come as a surprise – i.e. it is pregnant with wild cards and black swans. Surprises are the new normal (Heinonen et al 2017). Like a tsunami, traditional practices and accustomed ways may turn upside down or towards totally new paths. Such a tsunami of the future can also mark the beginning of a new “good” – the budding seeds of development are strengthened with flexibility and perseverance. At its worst, a future tsunami could mean that the “futures Angst” suppresses hope for the future (Interview of Steinmüller). Concerns about illness, death, and livelihoods can blur the future into non-existence. This should be prevented in every way, and education, research and scientific communication have a serious role to act here. (Ministry of Education and Culture)

We cannot avoid uncertainties and surprises, we cannot control them, but instead we can use futures knowledge to anticipate them, to prepare for them, to make them less harmful and to become futures resilience. The actual surprises may still be coming and rise from the multifaceted effects of the pandemic on society. A pandemic is like an earthquake – its aftermath is at least equally unpredictable.

A Pandemic is Testing Future Resilience

The pandemic caused by the corona virus shook and will shake Finland and the whole world for a long time to come. It acts as an epochal divider in the pre-pandemic and post-pandemic periods. The progression of the pandemic and its consequences, as well as the measures and attitudes triggered by the crisis, appear to be quite different in different countries. A pandemic tests society’s futures resilience – how well society is able to react to a situation, decide on relevant measures and emerge from a crisis. Futures resilience is first and foremost about how society emerges from a pandemic-induced crisis and how the factors that led to it are identified and managed. Second, and at least as important element in futures resilience, is to learn from what has happened and from the cause-and-effect chains of events for the future – through systematic forward thinking and holistic proactivity, and anticipation of uncertainties and risks.

The pandemic converges with the basic principles of thinking about the future – it stops us to reflect things in a broader and longer perspective, and calls into question many things: efficiency thinking, global production chains, free movement, air travel, and eating habits – to name a few.

This pandemic struck like a tsunami, it took us by surprise, although in several foresight studies and scenarios, a pandemic has been brought forward as a standard example of a surprising event that, when realised, has dramatic effects. However, scenarios generally have not delved deeper into the consequences of a pandemic for society. But now the pandemic itself has also caused a “scenario tsunami” – scenarios about the pandemic, its effects and survival have been constructed around the world. The newly released COVID-19 scenarios of the Millennium Project (Millennium Project COVID Scenarios Team 2020) were commissioned by the United States Red Cross. They can be modified and used for deliberation of coronavirus scenarios in different contexts and countries. The set of traditional three scenarios (BAU, pessimistic and optimistic) is based on the results of the four delphis (MP RealTime Delphis), which are annexed to the report. The confidence of the general public and the cohesion of society turned out to be the alleged necessary criteria for surviving the pandemic with decency. The risk in the combat against the virus is to compromise freedoms – especially that of assembly and mobility. At both national and global levels, there is a need for strong and wise leadership that distinguishes between what is known, what is assumed, and what is mere disinformation or purposeful misleading.

For the first time, the summer seminar of the Finnish Society for Futures Studies (FSFS) “The Future on the Watershed” was organised completely virtual. As part of the FSFS’s 40th anniversary, a short film competition was also held to visualise life after the pandemic. The winner was the dream-like work “Isolation 3.20” by Amanda Gutierrez and Tuomo Tiisala, which evoked diverse thoughts and images. As a kind of sparring (outside of the competition) from the organising team, I made my own video manifesto about life after the pandemic “We will Survive”. Visualisation of foresight material is becoming an important channel for futures communication and interaction. I call for bold efforts for visualisation of scenarios, for example in the form of videos.

A Place to Stop and Rethink

With the limitations caused by a pandemic, it is good to stop to think about what you consider important in life. This pause also gives way to the cultural model of slow life. Not everything needs to be done efficiently and on a tight schedule. A slow life model forced by a pandemic leads many to virus-free summer cottage living. The periphery can become a refuge for densely populated city dwellers. Indeed, one of the effects of the pandemic may be linked to the rethinking of rural / urban stances and the dismantling of the dichotomy. The importance of the natural environment such as forests, parks and coasts is gaining momentum. Reducing physical contact for fear of limitations and infection has opened windows and doors to nature and physical exercise. If outdoor activities in nature remain a permanent form, even for those who did not do so much before the pandemic, one can even talk about the effects on public health. There will also be new demand for space design and landscaping. For urban planning, the pandemic will be an interesting and urgent challenge – how to add green spaces to the urban structure and how to enable citizens to move around in natural sites and urban spaces, even in the conditions of a viral epidemic. As the latest “discovery” washed ashore in the pandemic tsunami, i.e. as a recent new research topic, the forms, ways and innovations of using a safe urban space for a pandemic or other emergency come to mind. The same applies to the possibilities offered by the use of geographic information systems (GIS) and artificial intelligence (AI).

During the coronavirus pandemic and its worrying economic and social impacts, humanity has received its first global “timeout”. We should rethink all institutions. Can we use the time of this stop wisely? Let us think about what does not change and what we do not want to change? Humans are social animals. Our need for human interaction and connection to natural will not diminish. Solidarity, helping and caring are the qualities that make a human being truly human.

This blog post is based on a longer statement I was invited to write to the Committee for the Future of Finnish Parliament where I also included a PESTEC table on the effects of the corona pandemic. The Committee for the Future has compiled all the expert opinions it has requested on the good and bad consequences of the coronary pandemic in the short and long term published in June 2020.

Sirkka Heinonen
Professor Emerita
Member of the Club of Rome
Chair of the Helsinki Node of the Millennium Project

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Heinonen, Sirkka (2020) The pandemic tests the futures resilience of Finnish society – Peeks into the consequences of the corona pandemic in the short and long term, p. 21–30. In: Report of the Parliamentary Committee for the Future TuVJ 1/2020 The good and bad effects of the corona pandemic in the short and long term. (In Finnish)

Heinonen, Sirkka – Kurki, Sofi – Ruotsalainen, Juho – Salminen, Hazel – Kuusi, Osmo & Zavialova, Sofia (2018) One hundred years of blame or clay – why and how to anticipate one hundred years? Futura 1/2018, 5–18. (In Finnish)

Heinonen, Sirkka – Karjalainen, Joni – Ruotsalainen, Juho & Steinmüller, Karlheinz (2017) Surprise as the New Normal – Implications for Energy Security. European Journal of Futures Research (2017) 5:12.

Heinonen, Sirkka (2020) Interview of Karlheinz Steinmüller on the deepening VUCA World and Surprises by Sirkka Heinonen at the Finnish Futures Research Centre (FFRC), Helsinki 2020. Audio and text.

Millennium Project Covid Scenarios Team (2020) Three Futures of the COVID-19 Pandemic in the United States January 1, 2022. Millennium Project. Washington D.C.

Ministry of Education and Culture (2020) Researchers’ views on the effects of the corona epidemic and the measures needed. Ministry of Education and Culture, 3 April 2020. Sirkka Heinonen / FFRC one of the authors.

Finnish Society for Futures Studies (2020) We Will Survive – Life Post-Pandemic. Organizer’s PR contribution video to the Call for short Films by the Finnish Society for Futures Studies (FSFS).

Tsunami photo: Smim Bipi at Pixabay.com


Sirkka Heinonen:

We are living in a rapidly changing world, and the future holds more and more uncertainties, risks and surprises. In order to understand the complexity of the world and its futures, we need foresight at all levels of society – from basic education to universities, from businesses to whole industries, especially for decision-making, in public administration and government, as well as in the private sector. When considering, for example, the futures of education, it is necessary to evaluate how other sectors are changing and how the whole society will evolve.

The best thing about futures thinking is that anybody can develop his or her skills – anywhere and at any age! You can either explore the futures yourself or choose to study the field of Futures Studies. The foundation of the academic university-level Futures Studies lies in systematic thinking and complexity approach. Futures thinking, on the other hand, is a universal human attribute that has always existed in us. Only the time horizon, principles and methods of futures thinking have changed and developed over time. However, as an academic discipline, Futures Studies is based on completely different futures thinking than what was practiced in ancient times in Rome, Greece, and other civilizations such as Babylon, India and Mexico. Nevertheless, there are multiple commonalities between the two, such as the burning desire to learn more about the future and all information and insights related to it.

In fact, I wrote my licentiate thesis about time and future – in the light of the ancient Stoic philosopher Seneca’s production (Heinonen 1990). There were already over a hundred different specific techniques for exploring the future in ancient Rome – from bird watching to the observation of internals and the interpretation of futuristic signals and omens. The scientific study of the future is of more recent inception and originated in the United States and Europe in the 1940s. The most distinctive difference to the ancient futures thinking is that in contemporary futures studies the future is anticipated, not predicted. The future is no longer seen as a deterministic cloud that hovers over us, but rather as different development scenarios, stages of future drama, the plot and elements of which may be affected and adapted. Nowadays, more than thirty scientific methods are being used, of which there are methodological manuals published by both the international think tank, Millennium Project, (Glenn & Gordon 2009) and the Finnish Society for Futures Studies (Heinonen, Kuusi & Salminen 2017 [1]). The field of Futures Studies spread to Finland in the second half of the 1970s and the 1980s, and has since then developed into an active Society for Futures Studies with over 700 members, many of which work in the field of education.

The basic principles, approaches, tools and methods of futures thinking should be incorporated into our education system at all levels. This could be accomplished through combining futures thinking and learning into almost any subject. History, social studies, geography, biology and psychology are examples of subjects that fit particularly well for futures thinking. Brain researchers have interestingly indicated that the human brain uses the same part of the organ when remembering the past and when perceiving the future. In fact, my German Futures Research colleague Kerstin Cuhls uses mental time travel as a method to allow people to immerse themselves in the future by closing their eyes and observing the details and phenomena of the future through their thoughts and silence (Atance & Mahy 2016).

As stated, futures thinking can be incorporated into all school subjects, to varying degrees. In arts, portrayed themes may for example be about the future of housing, transportation or technologies. In music, students may learn about future-oriented productions or discuss the production and role of music in the future. In literature, the writing topics may be related to the future. In drama class, the students may write and perform a play or produce a short film about the future. Furthermore, it is possible to arrange Futures Study courses or a whole new subject on futures thinking itself, from primary school to high school. As has been done in some parts of Finland, it is particularly advisable to organize a future-oriented event on the International Future Day, which has been celebrated for several years, on the first day of March. The Finland Futures Research Centre has prepared educational materials to University, University of Applied Sciences, and High Schools levels. The materials include a lecture package with exercises for small groups (45 min + 45 min) as well as the main principles of future thinking and recommended reflections about scenarios on renewable energy and peer-to-peer society (Heinonen & Karjalainen 2018 [2]). The ultimate goal might be presenting scenarios as videos, which would require co-operation of futures researchers with video artists.

Future thinking can be systematically strengthened by everyone – resulting in futures literacy. Futures thinking empowers individuals, communities, as well as entire societies to steer the future, by creating desired futures through concrete action. UNESCO Foresight Expert Riel Miller often talks about futures literacy – the ability to use the future in the present. In other words, this means making use of future scenarios in decision-making. Furthermore, I have been recently developing the concept of futures resilience, which can be defined as the ability to cope with the uncertainties, challenges, threats, and surprises of the future. How important would it be to include such futures resilience as one of the comprehensive learning goals of our entire school system? This is an element that needs to be heavily featured in early childhood education. We have a longing for a wholesome human being – the fragmented present-day way of life must be replaced by a holistic approach and long-term thinking. Children should be educated in an environment that combines humans, nature, technology, physical and virtual worlds, learning from the past, as well as responsible, ubiquitous and proactive futures-oriented education. Especially in early childhood education, futures learning can and should take place in the form of play, exercise and enjoyment. On the other hand, it is never too late to start futures learning. Futures thinking is an age-neutral capacity and skill.

Sirkka Heinonen
Professor Emerita
Finland Futures Research Centre, Helsinki Office


© Picture: Maria Heinonen



Atance, Cristina M. & Mahy, Caitlin E.V. (2016). Episodic Future Thinking in Children. Methodological and Theoretical Approaches. In: Michaelian, K., Klein, S.B. & Szpunar, K.K. (eds) Seeing the Future. Theoretical Perspectives on Future-Oriented Mental Time Travel. Oxford University Press, 449 p.

Cuhls, Kerstin (2017). Mental time travel in foresight processes – cases and applications. Futures 86 (2017), pp.118-135. DOI: 10.1016/j.futures.2016.05.008

Glenn, Jerome & Gordon, Theodore (2009). Futures Research Methodology Version 3.0, Millennium Project. Washington D.C., cd.

Heinonen, Sirkka (2018). Futures thinking empowers us towards making the futures (In Finnish, Tulevaisuusajattelu voimaistaa tulevaisuuksien tekemiseen). Rihveli 2/2018. Helsinki teachers’ association, 16-25.

Heinonen, Sirkka (1990). Time and Future in Seneca (In Finnish, Aika ja tulevaisuus Senecan tuotannossa). Acta Futura Fennica No 1. Finnish Society for Futures Studies. Valtion Painatuskeskus, 153 p.

Heinonen, Sirkka & Karjalainen, Joni (2018). Electrification in Peer-to-Peer Society – New Narrative for Finland’s Futures, (In Finnish, Sähköistyminen vertaisyhteiskunnassa – uusi tarina Suomen tulevaisuudelle). TUTU-Publications 1/2018, Finland Futures Research Centre, Turku. Forthcoming in English.

Heinonen, Sirkka & Ruotsalainen, Juho (2013). Futures Clinique – method for promoting futures learning and provoking radical futures. European Journal of Futures Research (2013) 15:7, DOI 10.1007/s40309-013-0007-4, 11 p.

Heinonen, Sirkka, Kuusi, Osmo & Salminen, Hazel (eds.) (2017). How Do We Explore Our Futures? Acta Futura Fennica no 10, Finland Futures Research Centre. Helsinki.

Kuusi, Osmo, Bergman, Timo & Salminen, Hazel (toim.) (2013). How Do We Explore Our Futures? (In Finnish, Miten tutkimme tulevaisuuksia? Acta Futura Fennica no 5, Finland Futures Research Centre. Helsinki.

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[1] The original methods book was published in Finnish (Kuusi, Bergman & Salminen 2013).

[2] This teaching material will be published in English as well.

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