Today, 10/21/15, is the day Marty McFly arrives in the “future” in Back to the Future II. When I watched the movie in 1989, I was really excited about the possibility that “in the future” we would have all those cool gadgets, like self drying clothes, flying cars and hoverboards. In 1989, 2015 seemed so distant… A lot of websites are popping up today with scores of hits and misses. Yes, the movie got a few things right, like the virtual reality goggles and smart watches. Back to the Future, of course, wasn’t the first or last movie to imagine how the future would look like. Most of the time, these movies suffer from a “distorted view of the medium term”. Ok, what? We know that we wouldn’t have a sci-fi future in 5 or 10 years, maybe a better Apple Watch?! But beyond the 15 year mark, we start dwelling into fantasy territory. 26 years? Oh wow, that’s so far that we might as well assume we’ll have flying cars by then!
I remember that in the mid 80s some folks thought that by the year 2000 we would be flying to the Moon and Mars for tourism – and in 1985, were weren’t that far from 2000! If people can’t wrap their heads around a 15 year time frame, how are they supposed to think about the mid to long-term in their own lives? Most people just don’t! They don’t think about their own future because they assume things will be so different, that they couldn’t possibly plan for it. It’s just so far away!
That’s a big, big mistake! Not only because things don’t change that much in a 20, 30 year time frame, but also because those changes usually don’t affect the challenges and problems that we face in our own lives. We’re getting older regardless of flying cars or smart watches. We go through the phases of live just as people did 100 years ago. Yes, we live more now and we’re healthier for longer thanks to technological advances. That’s awesome, but still doesn’t change the fact that our own private lives and our individual challenges won’t be that different from previous generations.
So what does this have to do with Back to the Future? We tend to think about the “distant future” – more than 10, 15 years from now – as something so far away that we just assume that everything will be different. If that’s the case, how could we plan for it if we don’t know what’s going to happen?
Of course, not everybody does that and a lot of people plan, especially financially, for the long-term. But our lives are not confined to retirement and financial security. Those who plan (and reach) bold goals tend to feel happier and more satisfied with life. Big goals require planning that extends through the course of many years, sometimes decades. It takes someone with a clear view of the future (not a “futuristic view”) to conceive the possibility of continuity beyond the threshold of the short-term. Yes, that sounds confusing, I know! But that’s what happens to most of us. We are perfectly capable of planning for the short-term, but things start to get confusing once we extend the time frame beyond 10 years. Those who try to get too specific, tend to fail, since the world changes and it affects our opportunities, resources and perception. Those who don’t plan get stuck.
Planning for the medium to long-term requires vision, purpose and persistence. Think about Steve Jobs. Of course, he didn’t have a “plan” in the mid 80’s to launch the ipad some 20 years later. What he had was a vision, a purpose and a persistent personality. He knew what he wanted without exactly knowing what he was going to do or how. He could conceive the idea of “future” without getting into futuristic fantasies that block the regular guy from imagining how the world is going to change. And that’s big! If you’re too grounded, all you can do is plan financially for retirement. You’re destined to be a middle class senior that does projects around the house. If you’re head is in the clouds, you don’t plan at all, not even financially, you’re destined to become a loser.
The “Back to the Future syndrome” keeps a lot of people from imagining a real life beyond the short-term. If we can’t imagine, we can’t plan. Let’s learn a lesson from all the futuristic movies from the past century: the world is not going to change all that much in the next 20, 30, even 40 years. Yes, we might have some better tech and better communication, and hopefully, some of the worst diseases that have plagued us so far will be eradicated. We will still be same, though. The challenges that we’ll face in this time frame are not going to change and most of our dreams could strategically be planned to be conquered regardless of the new gadgets that may popup in the years ahead.