Organizational learning and the leadership skill of time travel

Thomas N. Gilmore (Centre for Applied Research and The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, USA)
Gregory P. Shea (Shea & Associates and The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, USA)

Journal of Management Development

ISSN: 0262-1711

Publication date: 1 June 1997


The turbulence enveloping so many organizations today makes it increasingly likely that learning from one’s experience may be both too slow and too embedded in rapidly obsolescing frameworks. Addresses the dilemmas of learning under such conditions of rapid change. Presents an argument for the need for leaders to time travel, to link the future, past, and present to each other even as those links seem frail, even ruptured. Explicates a technique called “histories of the future” that has people locate themselves at some distance in the future (five to ten years), in a specific context and imaginatively look back over the time period. By having several people improvisationally develop a “history of the future” the organization can often invent options that are a rich mix of serendipity and rational thinking. Vivid histories of the future enable people to construct rich narratives, to look at imaged actions, mistakes, successes, moves and countermoves, threats and opportunities in the wider environment, then to step back and connect current points to these possible futures. Reviews the literature on organizational learning that is relevant to the issue of learning for the future in dramatically different environments and suggests why the time travelling skills of leadership are key to helping people prepare for novel challenges.



Gilmore, T. and Shea, G. (1997), "Organizational learning and the leadership skill of time travel", Journal of Management Development, Vol. 16 No. 4, pp. 302-311.

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Copyright © 1997, MCB UP Limited

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