Future State Targets: Plans
Future state targets, often referred to as objectives or plans, provide orderly direction for the various actions taken by individuals or organizations. They are most useful for providing direction for transactional change. Plans for future states are most useful to companies in which transactional or managing processes predominate rather than transformational processes. The planning perspective tends to deal with answers to the What? question – that is, with the actions required to achieve future, usually short-term, goals and objectives.
An engineering contractor working on a project to build a bridge is focused on doing the job for the city very eficiently. That means building the bridge on schedule, at cost, and safely, without injuring any of the irm's people or the city's workers. These are the planning goals and objectives – the future state plan. The future state plan will be provided to the company as well as to the city's managers so that everyone involved will be able to plan and execute to achieve the future state goals.
Future State Targets: Aspirational
Aspirational targets are very different from planning targets. They are relatively vague, and thus they provide considerable freedom of action for those being guided. They are also much more challenging, for they often require work of a superordinate nature in order to move in the direction of the aspiration. “Superordinate” targets are challenging, beyond-the-ordinary targets. They involve work that requires large amounts of mental, emotional, and physical energy. Aspirational future states are deined by the beliefs and philosophy the leader holds. The answer to the question of why a cause is important is embedded in the aspirational future state.
Future states are planned largely through the management of processes, which in turn involve setting objectives and developing ways to achieve them. By contrast, aspirational future states can be implemented successfully only when those leading and those following share a common understanding of and belief in the cause. This often makes things dificult for the leader who must inspire the followers to dedicate themselves to that cause.
But once this has been achieved, the aspiration, or, the cause, becomes a force that commits the followers and that will continue to inspire them. Committed followers with shared values become almost fanatical in service of the cause. In this way, a developmental culture evolves.
An earlier example used a proposed aspirational future state that we at DuPont referred to as “Our Goal Is Zero Injuries.” Obviously, this described a theoretical state of perfection – one, however, that we all believed in and were inspired to bring about and experience.
Another example of an aspirational target relates to the work of a former microbiologist at DuPont named Norman Borlang. He left the company, developed an aspirational future state target, did many wonderful things, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 as a result of his groundbreaking work. Borlang was a plant scientist who did more than anyone else in the twentieth century to help the world feed itself. In doing so, he saved millions of people from famine. In his 1970 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, he described his aspirational future state:
Almost certainly, the essential component of social justice is adequate food for all mankind. Food is the moral right of all who are born into this world. Yet today ifty percent of the world's population goes hungry. Without food, man can
Borlang inspired his followers to implement many projects that gave life to this cause. The instruments that he and his followers used were science, engineering, and various technologies. He and his followers developed disease-resistant varieties of wheat that enabled food production to be made enormously effective. Ultimately, his work saved millions of people from starvation. Borlang's work was driven by science, by his leadership competence, and by his dedication to an aspirational future state.
Another example: If you were to list the most amazing engineering feats in history, what would they be? I suggest that one – on a very short list – would be landing a man on the moon.
That engineering project involved new science, a multitude of complicated inventions, and multiple sets of problems solved. It required many dedicated engineers, scientists, and technologists, all of them working energetically together and all of them motivating themselves, leading, and inspiring others to accomplish the impossible.
And this work began in 1961 with a speech by an amazing leader who understood that this engineering miracle would inluence the world's people to see the United States as an admirable nation and one worth emulating. In that speech, President John F. Kennedy deined the aspirational future state:
Time for a great new American enterprise – time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth … I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.3
Those words captured the hearts and minds of a nation and its scientiic and engineering community. The aspiration provided the inspiration that fuelled the accomplishment – an extraordinary future state.
2 Norman Borlang, “The Green Revolution, Peace, and Humanity” (Noble Peace Prize lecture, Oslo, Norway, 11 December 1970).
3 John F. Kennedy, “Landing a Man on the Moon” (Address to a Joint Session at the Congress of the United States, Washington, DC, 25 May 1961).