3 ways to use Futures Thinking
“Futures thinking is just voodoo and hocus pocus”.
“I could do that too. It’s just like fortune telling in coffee or in tea leaves.”
“So, tell me (giggles), can you predict the future?”
Maybe you have had similar reactions yourself, or have heard them? Admittedly, years ago I was skeptical too. However, diving into the science and the practical application of futures thinking has broadened my mind and altered my stance.
Futures thinking has nothing to do with fortune telling or supernatural forces. It is very much rooted in the present, in embracing and understanding our approach to assumptions and anticipation, in flexing our imagination, and in a facilitated conversation about preferences for the possible futures.
Let’s look at three concrete ways to use some of the many mechanisms and tools from futures thinking in your daily work.
Maybe you’ll get inspired?
By Erik Korsvik Østergaard
8th of September 2022
1: Creating your own “Huh, that’s odd” database at work
I bet you already do this with your friends, with your team members, or over dinner with your family:
You share odd things that you have found online.
“See, I found this pair of glasses that Google has made. It listens to our conversation, translate it in real time, and shows the result on the inside of the lenses. In that way I can have subtitles on the conversation with Mårten when he speaks Swedish.”
Your reaction might be “Hehe, that’s crazy” or “oh, that’s utterly useless” or “wow, that’s surveillance!”
Whatever your reaction, you have just found a signal: A concrete example of something that might grow and snowball into a trend. This is what we futurists do when we scan the news, scroll through our feeds, and look at societal behavior: We look for anomalies, for things that make us go “huh, that’s odd”.
Here’s what you can do: Make it a habit that each of you in your team bring a signal to your next monthly team meeting. Share them with each other and collect your emotional responses. Over time you end up having a signal database within your professional domain, being the future of food, the future of TV, or whatever is your industry.
Also, in this way you build a habit of scanning for signals everywhere, all the time. It has absolutely become a habit of mine. I use 5-8 hours per week to scan for signals, consciously or subconsciously. ????
Oh, by the way: The signal with the Google glasses is real.
Breaking down language barriers with augmented reality | Google – YouTube
2: Playing “if this, then that, and that, and that”
Another game that futurists play is to let a signal unfold, and unfold, and unfold.
You have maybe tried the “yes, and”-improv mechanism when brainstorming a solution or as an icebreaker at a business event.
This is the same thing: To build upon the existing idea with yet an idea. Just, this time the seed for the conversation is the signal.
Let’s take the Google Glasses again.
“If that becomes reality, then people that are in multicultural suburbs can understand each other. People that speak Danish can understand the Arabs, who can understand the Germans, who can understand the Swedes. This may lead to more relationships being build, to friendships, and to a more peaceful world. Maybe we get subtitles to what our cats and dogs try to say to us. And people that are deaf can listen in on all conversations and be a stronger part of society. Maybe my old grandma with Alzheimer’s can get hints on who she’s with (her sons and grandchildren), so she doesn’t feel so isolated. Maybe the glasses can interpret facial expressions and help people with autism who have a harder time doing that. And maybe the glasses can mouth read too? Oh, but then people can eavesdrop on my whispering conversations with my business partners and steal our business ideas. Or use it for surveilling me?”
This technique strengthens your imagination and is a well-known way to poke around with possible consequences, that is, with possible futures. Futurists call this game “The Futures Wheel”, invented by Jerome C. Glenn in 1971
3: Playing “this is good news for ???”
There is a big difference between these possible futures and the preferable futures.
Not all the possible futures are likable to YOU. We all will prefer a certain flavor or variant of those possibilities; a preference that is preferable to YOU. A future that YOU would like to see unfold.
A classical mechanism for evaluating signals is to sort them in a 2-by-2 matrix according to likelihood of impact and likability of the effect. (This is the mechanism we introduce in our Horizon Scanning Document, and use ourselves in our workshops with customers.)
However, this game is different: We strive to investigate WHO each and any of these possible futures are good for, even those futures that we dislike ourselves.
“Google Glasses used for surveillance can be good for undercover cops.”
“People with hearing disabilities who have hard time navigating in group situations can regain their ability to keep track of a dialogue.”
“People who work in noisy surroundings, like firemen, might be able to communicate in a different way.”
Again, this is a method to strengthen your imagination. Joseph Voros has coined the so-called Futures Cone where he unpacks the different potential futures: The preposterous, the possible, the plausible, the projected, and the probable futures. And finally, the preferable future.
The approach here is – for each of the possible futures – to imagine WHO this might be good for: who would prefer THAT version of the future?
Try it – give it a spin
These are fun and entertaining games but can be very resourceful as tools for both training your futures thinking, for making it a habit, and for applying it in your work too.
I hope you got inspired!
Oh, and by the way: Fortune Telling in coffee is called Tasseography
The Horizon Scanning Document on the Futures of Work
It’s called a ‘Horizon Scanning’ document because we scout into the horizon to see what developments and movements that are coming towards us.
We stand on our toes – or even a ladder – to get a glimpse of the anomalies and odd happenings, that might affect us.
The Horizon Scanning Document is used both as inspiration for your work, and as a concrete tool for Signal Sorting during the Futures Thinking process.
The document does not list the current trends but focuses on the signals that might lead to the next trends.