We need not get into great platitudes about change for you to recognize just how much is changing right now. Everybody can feel it every single day. With our changing environments comes the instability of not knowing what the future is going to look like. Today, in particular, we’re left wondering: when will there be a COVID-19 vaccine? When will we be able to go to concerts again? Will our gathering experiences ever be the same? It can be unsettling to have so many unanswered questions, to feel so unclear about what’s to come.
We spoke with futurist Cecily Sommers, whom Forbes named one of the top 50 female futurists in the world, about how she’s looking to the future as it pertains to the current global pandemic. As a futurist, Cecily doesn’t predict the future; she studies systems and patterns of the past to help create what she calls strategic foresight for the future. One of the patterns she’s looking at right now is the four phases of change; a paradoxical pattern which remains constant when everything else is in flux.
From the formidable futurist Cecily Sommers, here are the four phases of change:
Similar to the way the medical world uses this term, triage is the phase in which we determine what (or who) needs to be addressed immediately, and make a diagnosis based on that information. This is the information-gathering phase in which we learn everything we can about what is happening around us. In the case of COVID-19, this phase is focused on understanding everything we can about this disease, where it came from, what its implications are, and how far it is projected to spread. Right now, as the pandemic is calming down in most parts of the world, we are graduating from the triage phase.
The phase we are now entering with regards to COVID-19 is the experiment phase, where we are testing and getting feedback – and repeat. COVID-19 is new, and the only way to learn about how to live with it is to get curious, experiment, and learn. As the turbulence we’re living in keeps jostling everything around us, the best we can do is keep exploring forward. Such explorations are vaccines, antibody tests, and other treatments. This phase is likely to be long-winded, Cecily says, but eventually we will figure some things out; we will find a vaccine that works, we’ll find new ways of treatment – and once we do, we will move into the third phase.
The hard work of experimentation will start to pay off once we begin to bring the experiments into scale. People and businesses will adopt the newfound practices and policies created in the previous phase, and they will implement them, turning what at once was an experiment into a reality.
Finally, we will eventually stabilize. This could be years from now, but this is the time when we’ll start to get a sense of what the future is going to look like. This is when the experiments that went into scale are now normal; we’ll be able to see them and feel their effects on us daily. We’ll be getting familiarized with all of the new business models during this phase. Inevitably, once we spend some time in the stabilizing phase, we will experience another change and will end up back in the triage phase. This is the way it’s always been, and as far as futurists are concerned, this is the way it will always be.
Cecily jokes that the only trend worth studying right now is constant turbulence. This bumpy road we’re on is going to be a long one, but if we get curious about what the future will look like, and we understand the four phases we’ll be going through, we can explore our ways forward with confidence.