A third of children born today will live to 100. That’s 23-25 years more than most of us can currently expect – depending on whether we are male or female, living in the city or the country, in an affluent postcode or a less expensive one. But let’s imagine that the world is equal, and our children are healthy. Imagine too, you know in advance that 100 is the optimum age for shuffling off this mortal coil. What do you do? Well, probably the same thing we do now, knowing that 86 is the Big Day. Very little.
While 100 seems a more magical and mythical figure than 79 (men) or 82 (women), there is no reason to suppose that living to 100 will make us any wiser, richer, or more determined to live a fuller, more strategic or legacy-rich life. If anything, we’ll probably be exhausted by 80, bored by 90, and more than happy to go gently in to that good night by the time we reach 95 plus.
But it doesn’t have to be like that. What if, for example, we looked at life in reverse? Or more specifically, created one of those year plans we stick in the front of our diaries every January, on the office wall or on the fridge door, but did it for one hundred years, rather than for one year. A daunting prospect, you’ll agree, but this is exactly what we’ve created for guests staying at Corinthia London as part of our ongoing Futurists-in-Residence programme. A 100 year life planner, with every day carefully plotted out, and each day ready and waiting for a guest to diligently fill them in to map out their future.
When viewed it looks awesome, but also daunting, frightening, and almost impossible to complete. And yet, this is the lifespan that many of our children will certainly enjoy as science, tech, robotics, AI and bio-engineering come into their own.
And if we take a few years towards the end of this rather large and grand looking fold-out it is the life we ourselves have lived, with perhaps a half, or a third of it yet to come. So why the fear? The doubt? The uncertainty? Simple.
We are looking at the plan, and indeed at our lives, from the wrong end of the telescope. In essence we’re looking at a day, a week, a month, a year and so on, and planning ahead, rather than looking to the last day of our lives and looking back. The first approach is better known as forecasting – where we extrapolate forward from what we know, to what could happen. While the second approach is called backcasting – where we look at where we want to be, and what we want to achieve – and work back. Oddly, perversely, as Futurists-in-Residence the latter works better than the former, especially when it comes to legacy building, life-fulfilment, even planning and running your own company.
Developed by the University of Waterloo’s John B. Robinson, backcasting encourages you to define an ideal or desirable future – the achievement you want to be remembered how the success of your company should be viewed – and then to work back through the many technological, social, societal and legislative changes it would take to get you to this point from today. In this sense, backcasting is a diametrically opposed version of forecasting; the latter requires you to base your future possible scenarios or alternative futures on known trends, drivers and early-to-market technologies, while the former requires you to consider unknown trends, drivers and values to work your way back to the present. Since the future is still an unwritten book, backcasting calls on us to agree on a long-term plan first and then to use this to determine how proactive we need to be as guests, brands, businesses or organisations to bring this desired future into being.
Our 100 year life planner encourages you to do this. It allows you to lift your head above the parapet of the everyday, and take a more rounded and open approach to the future, as you work back along your timeline, from what you ultimately want, to the steps you need to take to achieve it.
You need to do this incrementally, and in stages, perhaps dividing your timeline into decades or five-year cycles (if you are working back from long-term to medium-term forecasts), so that you can deep dive into the many circumstances that will have undoubtedly coalesced or conspired to create this future you are hoping to achieve. Done well, backcasting – with our 100 year life plan – allows you to identify, unpack and fully understand what you or an organisation needs to do to make your stated vision of tomorrow a reality.
Simple questions can now be asked: Do you have the right tools to do this? The required stamina? The best kind of imagination, and determination to do what is needed, to keep that end goal in your mind’s eye? Finally, you should ask yourself is this a belief worth fighting for? A legacy worth leaving? And if it is, you need to begin your journey – but from the end, not the beginning!
Working back, creating goals, and stepping stones, you can then rush forward to score and use to move on to your next target. This way, there is a daily marker, a yearly target, and decade’s achievement, and finally, a life’s legacy created in the way you want to create it – strategically, clearly, and with all of your senses and ambitions in place. That’s 100 years worth looking forward to.