Skip to content

Why the “future-ready mindstate” is the best operating system for your work-life

Google’s first Chief Innovation Evangelist — Frederik Pferdt — lays out a map for navigating unprecedented change and innovation.
Close-up of a vintage coin-operated binocular viewer with a "Turn to Clear Vision" label, set against a colorful, blurred background.
Key Takeaways
  • The uncertainty of the future represents an opportunity.
  • When the future is coming at you hard, you make a very personal choice: ignore it, resist it, or embrace it.
  • The future-ready mindstate enables you to navigate ambiguity and uncertainty with intention.
Excerpted from the book What’s Next Is Now: How To Live Future Ready by Frederik G. Pferdt. Copyright © 2024 by Frederik G. Pferdt. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

One evening in August 2020, I prepared to leave my home in the Santa Cruz Mountains in California, not at all sure it would be there when I returned. Fierce lightning storms had caused wildfires to break out across the county, and for more than two weeks I watched the fires coming closer every day. I wasn’t surprised when a sheriff rang my doorbell and handed me an evacuation order.

With just ten minutes to get out, I had a decision to make that I knew would have a lasting impact on myself and my family. There was nothing I could do to stop this fire from taking our home. The only thing I could control was my attitude toward what we were about to experience. In this urgent moment, I decided to focus not on my fear but on the opportunity in front of us.

I have always lived according to the belief that change is constructive, not a threat. We had long before identified the few things each of us would grab in such an emergency. We had what we needed to get through the days to come. In spite of the high probability that we would lose everything, we could choose how to orient our thinking. If change was coming, we’d be mentally prepared to do something about it.

We got in our camper van and drove down the mountains to Silicon Valley, staying in different friends’ driveways and other places over the course of eleven days. We could see from news reports that the situation was not improving, but focusing on what we were learning from the experience increased our confidence every day that however things turned out, we’d be okay.

There was no question that the climate crisis had contributed to what happened. A years-long drought in California and a record-breaking heat wave that summer created conditions that were like a welcome mat for the wildfire that knocked at our door. By the time the fire was contained and we returned home, we were already shaping a very different path for ourselves that was focused on the meaningful, measurable impact we can have—just us—on the environment. Instead of settling back into the lives we were living before the fire, we were headed with determination toward our future.

Try Big Think+ for your business
Engaging content on the skills that matter, taught by world-class experts.

I led the programs and initiatives to build a culture of innovation at Google for more than twelve years, working with thousands of Googlers, CEOs, government executives, start-up founders, nonprofit leaders, and students around the globe. My work is entirely focused on the future—how to see potential and solve challenges in situations we haven’t yet encountered. I am drawn to the ambiguousness and uncertainty of the future because I see the opportunity it represents.

But the future is approaching faster and more intensely than ever before. When the future is coming at you hard, you make a very personal choice: ignore it (head in the sand), resist it (fight to maintain the status quo), or embrace it (make it work for you). I couldn’t ignore the fires—I had a family to care for. I guess I resisted it for a few hours as I hosed down my house, an effort I knew was futile even as I was doing it. When I decided to welcome whatever happened, though, a door opened in front of me. Being prepared for the future—developing the muscles necessary to ride the gnarly wave headed straight for you—allows you to make something out of the future that wasn’t there before.

To be clear, being prepared for the future does not mean having your go bag packed in case of emergency (although I can say from experience that’s not a bad idea). It means being mentally poised not just to survive whatever comes your way, but to influence what happens to effect a different outcome.

I believe that the perspective I observed in thousands of innovative Googlers—what I call the future-ready mindstate—is the secret to igniting the potential the future represents.

I believe that the perspective I observed in thousands of innovative Googlers—what I call the future-ready mindstate—is the secret to igniting the potential the future represents. And it has nothing to do with technology. This fluid, highly engaged state of mind consists of particular dimensions that enable you to navigate ambiguity and uncertainty with intention. When these dimensions are dialed up, you make impactful choices that are focused more on people and less on process, that are more circular and less one-directional, more equitable and less biased, and more purposeful, natural, even spiritual. 

The future-ready mindstate is an inner compass that leads to outer transformation. It’s a prism that allows you to see problems and challenges as profound opportunities to innovate and effect change. You create the narrative and determine how the story unfolds.

The future is plural. Countless possible futures exist for you and the communities of which you’re a part. Your future-ready mindstate fuels collaboration and partnerships with others that can have an exponential impact on the future you share.

The passive question is “What will the future bring?” The future-ready question is “What future do I want to create?” The future-ready mindstate enables you to test your future, trying it on for size over and over again to shape the path you choose. It’s your operating system, your engine, your divining rod. It radiates energy and inspiration that leads you toward the future you’re crafting every day.

Unlock potential in your business

Learn how Big Think+ can empower your people.
Request a Demo