The Good Ancestor

We are in the midst of a cultural revolution with people and organizations orienting themselves to making a positive impact on the planet. This revolution is being carried out at cyber-speed, leaving some left out if they haven’t discovered their purpose and their massively transformative project. With our desire to make an impact, there is one looming question:

How do I (we) make the greatest impact given our resources and time?

The first part of the answer to this question from the perspective of Generative Futurism is to look at investments that make that pay off over time. In the year 1790, Benjamin Franklin left $2000 sterling to Philadelphia and Boston with the stipulation that after 100 years 75% of the gift could be used to help educate young trades workers. After 200 years the remainder could be withdrawn. In the late 1990’s the value of that gift was $6,500,000. Over the past 130 years many people in these cities have benefited from the education programs provided for by these gifts. Through compound interest over a long time the gift was 3,250 times more valuable not including the value of grants given. Take away, investing in impact that grows over time is incredibly powerful.

The second part of the answer is in the mathematics of generations. Currently there are about 8 billion people on the planet. Those 8 billion will have 8 billion children at a minimum not including population growth. So with every generation of those unborn you have 8 billion more people’s live you can impact. At the 200 year timeframe that Benjamin Franklin chose, you will have 7 generations of descendants with 57 billion lives you can impact. Going out a thousand years you can reach 8 trillion 160 billion people lives. A bit of a mind blowing math here is that at about 900 years you will personally have 1 billion direct descendants. Take away, if you focus your work at long timeframes the mathematics of generations will exponentially amplify your impact.

The most effective way to impact the lives of billions of people is to work at multi-generational timescales.

Combining the two aspects, compounding interest and the mathematics of generations we can get some guidance on what kinds of projects we should focus on or how we might reshape our current projects and businesses to the long term future. This means moving goals beyond the typical 1 to 5 year timeframes to 25 to 100 year timeframes. That might sound daunting to most given the extreme short term thinking we grew up with. In my work with social ventures I’ve discovered that it is far easier to imagine a long time frame than to get short term strategy right. At a long enough term we become free from the current circumstances, and can invent powerful outcomes and solutions. Standing in that future the current steps are much clearer.

This is a competency that we are all building. Climate change alone is forcing this shift to long term thinking. We have to imagine desirable futures to realize them. We call this Future Searching. You can learn more here.

Being a good ancestor includes the question of making the greatest impact but it’s really much more. We need to ask ourselves at every decision point: What would a good ancestor do? or How would a good ancestor do this thing? In return for a life lived as a good ancestor we gain a profoundly fulfilling life, secure in the knowledge that we are leaving this world better than we found it.

Just imagine for a moment — if everyone redefined success to mean being a good ancestor -how then would our world be? I think you know the answer. And just being able conceive of such a future is indeed PROOF of a Thriving Future.

Check out the rest of this issue of PROOF here:



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