Something amazing happens in that wonderful brain of yours when you temporarily withdraw your attention from your current reality to mentally simulate a vision of the future. Some studies* have highlighted the adaptive value of envisioning as it helps us consider future needs that require change in the present; changes that may be essential to our survival. Envisioning is more than just considering what will happen in the future. It is imagining future possibilities and visualizing their purpose and meaning. When you “envision” (from the Latin en-, which means “cause to be,” and visionem, meaning “a thing seen”) you bring into being in your mind’s eye something that could save your business, your family, and even the world. You construct the future, then return to the present to fix its weakest foundations.

The Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience refers to envisioning as a vehicle to “mentally simulate virtually infinite future possibilities**.” Unlike fantasizing about innovation or wishful thinking about change, Envisioning is fundamentally goal-directed. Envisioning is the art of seeing the near-future possibilities and using that vision to honestly and realistically evaluate what you have to change in the present.

In my book I speak about envisioning your relationships with customers. What do amazing customer relationships look like? I ask the same question about employee and other business stakeholder relationships. What could those relationships become with the right focus? What mutual benefits could emerge if they had greater clarity and expectation-setting, more relevance, greater accountability and transparency, and a fertile ground for growth? Then returning from envisioning that future, what must you do NOW to make that vision a reality? How will you measure these accomplishments? How will you remove the barriers that keep that future from happening?

At work I am part of an amazing team that helps leaders see what’s possible through a framework that leverages visualization and collaboration to paint a picture of the future. We use that picture to discover necessary changes to your current operating models and strategic initiatives. The outcome is a set of actionable steps to make that future a reality. That outcome also serves as a foundation for innovation and design thinking teams to do the “deeper work” of designing and prototyping tangible solutions.

I encourage you to embrace the mental exercise of envisioning great futures for your relationships with people at work… and beyond.

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*D’Argembeau, A., Xue, G., Lu, Z., van, d. L., & Bechara, A. (2008). Neural correlates of envisioning emotional events in the near and far future. NeuroImage, 40(1), 398-407. doi:http://dx.doi.org.library.capella.edu/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2007.11.025

** D’Argembeau, A., Stawarczyk, D., Majerus, S., Collette, F., Van der Linden, M., Feyers, D., … Salmon, E. (2010). The Neural Basis of Personal Goal Processing When Envisioning Future Events. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience22(8), 1701–1713. https://doi-org.library.capella.edu/10.1162/jocn.2009.21314