Renowned journalist and Director of Strategic Initiatives for the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University, Frank Sesno, shares insights on how asking questions can help us imagine and prepare for the future.
I think a lot about the future. I meet that future every day when I engage with college students who will live it. I ask about the future obsessively because as a prof, journalist, interviewer, and storyteller I ponder what it will look like, how we are shaping it, where it will take us.
Sometimes the future looks incredibly daunting. There are so many problems out there. But it’s also mind-bendingly fascinating because the human story is constantly evolving and filled with surprises.
How do we influence the future and bend it in a positive way? I love asking big questions like this, and I’ve been fortunate to have a career where I’ve been able to do that for a living. As a journalist, I’ve interviewed presidents and prime ministers, heroes and villains, CEOs and celebrities, the young and the old. I wrote Ask More, a book about questions, because they are the jet fuel for learning, leading, and innovating. I teach a class where students learn how to become purposeful questioners and committed listeners.
As I question the future, I dive deep into a few things. Generational change, for one. How are new attitudes and approaches shaping the workplace, our social compact, families, and communities? Today’s young people view the world differently, connect differently, and seek different purpose in work and life. It’s changing just about everything.
The planet is another obsession. I think of it this way: When today’s students come back for their 25th reunion – and that will happen faster than anyone expects – the world’s population will be pushing 10 billion. We’ll need about 50% more food, water, and energy than we have today. Add in the challenges climate change will pile on. How will we invent and innovate our way into and through this future? How can we stay hopeful along the way?
Which brings me to leadership. I’ve reported on it and studied it. From the White House to the board room. In this big, polarized world, filled with so much noise, social media distractions, and damaging disinformation, how can we foster common cause? What will it take, in our businesses and communities, to build diverse and cohesive teams that pursue shared missions?
I am realistic about what we’re up against, but I’m a stubborn optimist. Because I see what people can do, how innovation can change culture. I spend a lot of time talking to business leaders and policy makers, educators and engineers, scientists and stargazers. I appreciate their brilliance and determination. I see how they apply human ingenuity to meet epic challenges.
So, back to those questions again. We can apply them in our work, relationships, and lives. We can ask bold questions, strategic questions to catalyze leadership, creativity, and empathy. We can communicate, across differences, to help us navigate our challenging future.
Our fascinating future.
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