September 16, 2012 10:15 pm

Future imperfect

When it comes to the future, do you have a) a clear plan, b) a vague vision or c) a strong belief that planning ruins the romance of life? If the answer is c), you are in need of Tamar Kasriel’s book, Futurescaping: Using Business Insight to Plan Your Life (A&C Black, £12.99). Even if the answer is a) or b) she still insists you buy the book, because the business consultant believes individuals should enhance their “future quotient” – in other words, planning.

To achieve this the author suggests adapting ­scenario planning tools used by companies to our personal lives. Too many people, she argues, ignore the impact of macro and micro-economic factors on their personal lives. To cite one example she highlights, might an oil price rise mean the price of travel increased to the point where it became too expensive for a couple living apart to visit each other?

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The pacy text brings together ideas from self-help and business books. Kasriel’s experience as a futurologist and founder of Futureal, a consultancy that helps companies forecast consumer trends, led her to believe there was a gap in the market – to help “individuals build a model for their future, showing them how to keep a smart, watching brief on the outside world and how to identify relevant changes and frame a logical model to combine them, just as we do for business”.

She suggests getting a few advisers or even a panel to consult on your plans. We could all learn, she argues, from companies’ objective scrutiny. The book shows how to configure maps for various scenarios – for example, whether to have a child or to get a dog – which seems to be rather an elaborate list of pros and cons.

The book’s tone is pragmatic and mercifully steers clear of the embrace-your-dreams-and-become-anything-you-like self-help territory. While fantasies are important, the author writes, in helping people focus on improving their lives, there comes a point where these are delusional and “resource-sapping”. This is not a popular message, she concedes – “it goes against a powerful meme around the importance of shoring up self-esteem and the empowerment message of popular self-improvement insists that one should see no limits on one’s potential”.

 

While Futurescaping is an enjoyable read, the timing of its publication is bizarre. When so many companies are crumbling it seems peculiar to run your personal life along corporate lines. It is a point Kasriel acknowledges. Companies that are not good at planning for the future may manage to “bumble along, but not for long before they die or get swallowed up by a smarter, or at least bigger, entity (think of Kodak, Cadbury …)”, she writes. “Rather we want to turn our attention to companies which can do future planning well and from which we can learn.” She does not name these successful businesses, possibly for fear they too might fall apart.

Nonetheless she perseveres with her thesis: “In amongst the blame, culpability and dirty corporate linen, there remains utility and ways of working which allow businesses to be highly functional and deliver products or services to (largely) satisfied customers.”

Also unconvincing is the rationale for the book. Kasriel says: “It’s amazing how many people who are extremely successful at work seem to suspend their critical planning faculties when it comes to their personal lives.” But many successful people have success in their personal lives and many who seem a bit hapless at work lead perfectly happy home lives.

Moreover, when it comes to planning one can never underestimate the importance of luck, which she concedes when quoting J Paul Getty, the oil baron, on the secret of his success: “Rise early, work hard, strike oil.”

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