Understanding your Past-Present-Future Orientation


Where is your future?

Here is a quick exercise to demonstrate what I am talking about:

  1. Stand up

  2. Now point to the future

Most people point in front of them, towards the front right. It is very unlikely you will be pointing behind you. Over the years, we have asked hundreds of people this question and if you have been culturalised in the West, your past present future timeline will most likely be:

  • Past = Behind left

  • Present = Where you are standing

  • Future = Front right


Why is this relevant?

It is relevant because you can use this spatial orientation to check where you are predominately thinking and hence acting from.


We are unable to change the past, therefore engaging with yesterday's thinking limits your organisation's ability to adapt to the realities of a rapidly changing environment.

To operate today, with your future vision in mind, is the most productive place to be.

At Waterfield, we call this Outcome Thinking - famously captured by Steven Covey’s succinct statement “Start with the end in mind.”


To further experiment with this we have recently asked large groups of participants at the beginning of a session to point to where their thinking is on a complex issue. We usually observe people pointing to the past, behind them. After an interactive, facilitated process using outcomes thinking we ask again, and the whole group sees a shift to pointing towards the future. Focusing on where they want to be going is a more productive and a more motivating place to operate from.


This diagram shows the areas you can pay attention to;


1. Outcomes

2. Planning

3. Details

4. Problems

5. Drama





Using this approach, consider where:

  • you predominantly operate from: past, present or future?

  • your team predominantly operates from?

  • your organisation predominantly operates from?

  • your sector predominantly operates from?

This allows insight into the overall orientation for thinking in the past, present or future, and where you would like to shift your awareness to.


If your answer is heavily influenced by the past, then this is the time to shine as a leader and paint the picture of an inspiring future and engage:

  • Yourself

  • Your team

  • Your organisation

  • Your sector

In designing and creating a new and better future.


Kevin Nuttall

Director, Waterfield

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Designing, facilitating and realising shared outcomes

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