Stay up to date on the latest learnings from the Round community by subscribing to our newsletter. Subscribe

Lessons on Long-Term Thinking From a Futurist

Round Editorial

Humans might crave instant gratification — that quick dopamine hit when we check our phones or eat the last cookie in the box — but that doesn't mean we're not equipped to think beyond the here and now. Bina Venkataraman says we're equally wired to plan ahead as we are to satisfy our immediate desires. After all, she points out, civilization and cities grew from the human capacity for long-term thinking. In conversation with Round, Venkataraman, a futurist and author of The Optimist's Telescope, shared insights and strategies for thinking long-term with particular emphasis on what that means for those of us in tech. Here are three key takeaways.

1. Doomsday fears keep people stuck in short-term thinking

​​​Outside of Silicon Valley’s utopian bubble, predictions for the future often skew toward doom and gloom. While some might argue that dystopian visions of climate catastrophes, super-pandemics, and unruly AIs prepare us for realistic, worse-case scenarios, Venkataraman argues that focusing on our fears about the future keeps us stuck in the present tense. She says what we all need to act and plan ahead is a sense of agency (and a little bit of optimism). Why? Because without it people feel like their actions don’t have consequences. If a chaotic and catastrophic future is inevitable, what difference do our choices as individuals, communities, or corporations make?

2. Optimism is essential in planning for longevity but naïveté is dangerous

Venkataraman believes in a healthy level of optimism when thinking ahead, but she cautions against creating sanitized visions of the future. “We cannot assume that the future will be good no matter what,” she says, pointing to the tech space as one that could benefit in particular from more tempered expectations. Consider, for example, the tech entrepreneurs who ushered in social media. They were confident that these platforms would change the world for the better, and in certain respects, they were right — social media allowed people across the globe to connect on an unprecedented scale and facilitated political movements like the Arab Spring. However, these tools and platforms have also generated a host of other problems and social ills. Today, says  Venkataraman, there’s a sense that the technologists who built these products, and the policymakers who were supposed to regulate them, didn’t express enough skepticism about them or spend enough time anticipating their potential harms. We shouldn’t make the same mistake in the future, especially when considering rapidly advancing technologies like artificial intelligence.

3. Preparing for the future requires imagination

Like all animals, humans are viscerally driven, says Venkataraman; that’s why the here and now captures so much of our attention — we can perceive it with our senses. If people need a sense of agency to think long-term, then they also need the ability to conjure the future in their minds. Venkataraman recommends the following tools to help people anticipate threats and envision future possibilities or opportunities.

Try role-playing: Assemble a group of people to try and imagine everything that could go wrong in a given situation without dismissing any outcomes the group wants to avoid. The game should also include a designated bad actor whose goal is to wreak as much havoc as possible.

Use history as a guide: Venkataraman says that our risk modeling needs to include large data sets. When planning for the future, we should look to longer spans of history for examples of what went wrong in similar situations.

Consider diverse perspectives: People who think differently can come into a room and anticipate different kinds of dangers than other people.

Conduct a premortem: By imagining that an event has already happened, a premortem engages in what Venkataraman calls “prospective hindsight.” Companies can use a premortem to anticipate all possible outcomes for a product (both positive and negative) before it launches. ​​​​​​Think of yourself as an ancestor: If you regularly think about your life in terms of your legacy (and how the young people in your life will remember you), Venkataraman suggests you’ll make choices with more awareness of their long-term impact.

Recommended Articles

DEIB Is At a Crossroads—It’s Time for Bold Action and Clear Metrics

Shujaat Ahmad
March 1, 2024
View Article

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) is at a critical juncture. Here is what boards, leadership teams, and investors need to measure to ensure they drive DEIB with the right intentions and execute the right way.


From Tension to Trust: Building a Successful Partnership Between Product and Sales

Mansi Kothari
January 18, 2024
View Article

Some tension can be healthy and productive, but a lot of it can negatively impact culture and collaboration within the organization. Mansi Kothari, VP of Product at Parently, discusses building successful partnerships between product and sales teams.


Your Network Is More Important Than You Think

Ryan Fuller
November 27, 2023
View Article

Our network, the relationships we build and maintain, is one of the biggest factors impacting our job, financial prospects, career progression, and even how we feel about the world around us.

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

© 2023 Round. All rights reserved | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service