The Power of Intention: Steering Towards a Future by Design, Not Default


If you’ve ever attended one of the strategic conversations I’ve led, you’ve likely heard me share this profound insight: “The future is not some place we are going to but one we are creating. The paths to it are not found but made. Humans can work to build a future only if they can first imagine it,” as wisely stated by Peter Ellyard.

I sometimes use a metaphor to illustrate this concept. Imagine your journey through life as floating down a braided river. You can either drift along with the current, getting randomly stuck in eddies, side branches, and smashed in rapids, or you can purposefully navigate your river journey. Being intentional about your path empowers you to deal more effectively with the obstacles that emerge along the way to your imagined destination.

You might wonder what prompted me to write this post at this moment. It’s a good question! Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to reunite with the ThinkPlace team in LA, including Michelle Carrillo, whom I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic. Our conversation led to a discussion about the Yurok tribe, with whom we both had the privilege of working. We reminisced about the remarkable achievements of the Yurok tribe and the impact they’ve made.

For context, the Yurok have called the Klamath River and its surroundings home for thousands of years. In 2017/18, we had the honor of working with them to co-create an insight report that informed their refreshed strategy. During our work, we found ourselves standing at the confluence of the Trinity and Klamath rivers. This location inspired a powerful metaphor: the tribe had been caught in a whirlpool since first European contact around the 1500s. This whirlpool symbolized a time of destruction, affecting their people, river, fish, animals, forests, language, and culture. It was essential to halt this decline and intentionally enter a period of restoration termed “Returning to Balance.”

During our conversation, I asked Michelle about a concept that Josh Norris had come up with during our collaboration. The question that inspired this concept was, “How might we celebrate and protect their culture, create economic development, and support our youth?” What Josh imagined was the reintroduction of traditional dugout canoes, with the tribe offering canoe tours during times when the canoes were not in use by the tribe. Michelle excitedly pulled out her iPhone and showed me a photo that spoke volumes. The Yurok tribe now possesses four magnificent, handcrafted canoes, each with its own unique history. It’s a testament to the power of imagining a better future and taking steps towards restoring balance.

This image brought me immense joy, perhaps more than any other co-designed service or strategy I’ve been a part of. It’s a vivid illustration of the impact of envisioning a brighter future and taking tangible steps towards it.

So don’t drift into the future, be intentional about imagining it together and creating the paths towards it. Strategy is about aspiration, imagination, and choice!

By Jim Scully