Start with the end in mind

In The Art of Possibility, Ben and Roz Zander write:

“Each student in this class will get an A for the course,” I announce. “However, there is one requirement that you must fulfill to earn this grade: Sometime during the next two weeks, you must write me a letter dated next May, which begins with the words, ‘Dear Mr. Zander, I got my A because . . . ,’ and in this letter you are to tell, in as much detail as you can, the story of what will have happened to you by next May that is in line with this extraordinary grade.” 

In writing their letters, I say to them, they are to place themselves in the future, looking back, and to report on all the insights they acquired and milestones they attained during the year as if those accomplishments were already in the past. Everything must be written in the past tense. Phrases such as “I hope,” “I intend,” or “I will” must not appear. The students may, if they wish, mention specific goals reached or competitions won. “But, “I tell them, “I am especially interested in the person you will have become by next May. I am interested in the attitude, feelings, and worldview of that person who will have done all she wished to do or become everything he wanted to be.” I tell them I want them to fall passionately in love with the person they are describing in their letter.

In Diaminds, Roger L. Martin and Mihnea Moldoveanu writes of a solution to solving a common MBA interview question:

Look upon the present as if it were the past. Then look back and – by eliminating all the paths you could not have taken – figure out how you must have travelled from the present to the future.

In Creativity Inc., Ed Catmull writes of a prompt from 2013 Notes Day: 

The year is 2017. Both of this year’s films were completed in well under 18,500 person weeks…. What innovations helped these productions meet their budget goals? What are some specific things we did differently?

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