unless you think about the future, someone else who makes time for
the future will, if not control, then certainly define the future
tell me then the strategic aspects of the future I need to
know—which parts of my company are likely to grow. Where the
opportunities are and what events or trends I should watch out for.
is not too difficult to do. However, you are asking for someone to
predict the future for you. Sometimes one can be correct in getting
a single-point forecast right. But there are so many factors that
could impinge upon the forecast. It is wiser to develop alternative
scenarios about the future or map the future based on the likely
trajectory of trends.
scenario should be driven by a different factor. Technology.
Demographics. Economic cycles. Changing consumer expectations. And
it is important to have a contingency scenario that describes a
dramatic system collapse. That is, where everything goes back to
zero, where we all have to relearn everything.
can't we reasonably say something about the future?
course, this does not mean we shouldn't discern trends that are
creating the future. But it is important to see trends not as fixed
structures but as directional, as changeable. Certainly, we can make
an entire range of sensible statements about the future. We know
that the population in
OECD nations is dramatically ageing, that the worker/retiree ratio
is going from 3 to 1 to 1.5 to 1. Globalization, the Internet,
Multiculturalism, democratization are all forces that will change
the future. However, what these trends mean, what counter trends
might emerge, how events might impact them, and how long they will
take to actualize is far more difficult, and important, to
example, recently a colleague asked whether anyone had accurately
predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall. While there were a few
macrohistorians who got it pretty much right (using the hypothesis
that totalitarian systems are more likely to explode while
democratic systems change more slowly), the question can be framed
differently. It could be: what are the Berlin walls in our life, in
the world, in our organizations that need to be broken down? One
approach leads to prediction, the other to questioning.
to the issue of prediction, we can actually say a great deal about
the short-term future—what you might call the known future
(technologies under development, government policies to be enacted).
However, and this is crucial, the future cannot be precisely
predicted. The universe is not closed but open. One's image of the
future and the resultant actions (not to mention the collective
unconscious) influence the future that will be.
this sense, the role of anticipatory action learning is
not so much to figure out the exact future to but to work with the
client to determine unconscious and conscious images of the future.
It is moving even beyond scenario planning to actually creating an
action learning (and healing) organization.
but are there certain methods that can help me in my need for
best way to think about this is the s-curve. Most of our planning efforts
focus on current problems, the end of the s-curve. Trend analysis is
a bit better as it is concerned with the middle part, where there is
some data. Figuring out the trends that might impact your work,
community, life allows one some lead-time. It also gives one time to
consider opportunities that may have not been there before.
perhaps the most exciting method is emerging issues analysis. These
are issues that are unlikely to occur but if they do could have
dramatic, often dire, consequences. New technologies, dramatic
changes in population flows, revolutions are some examples of these.
They also force us to rethink the present. Indeed, the best use of
the future is as a vehicle to question the present. Utopian studies
have rarely been about the future but rather about the peculiar
nature of the present.
I worked for the courts many years ago, we identified issues that
would dramatically change caseload, the business of the courts, or
how courts resolved conflicts (computer judges, neighborhood justice
centers, culturally appropriate dispute resolution). This allowed
the courts to better meet the changing needs of citizens. It was
also a lot of fun and played an important educational role in
training young administrators and judges. They saw that their role
was not just to be efficient, effective and economical but also to
challenge the basic assumptions of what courts do.
like a lot of work.
the beginning it is. One strategy is
to outsource to a futures scanning firm.
They scan the environment and look for trends and issues that might
influence your organization.
tack is always to be looking for the new idea, the alternative
approach to something, the outlier, the event or trend that does
quite make sense. This is more than thinking differently, it is
being different. I remember one colleague—Jordi Serra—who said:
you can't just search for emerging issues, you have to become an
at a deeper level, it is scary since the ground of what one is doing
is questioned. Of course, paralysis by critique is a grave danger,
and thus, it is important to engage in a pilot project to test one's
hypothesis, insights about the future. For example, in the courts
this was about setting up an alternative dispute mediation system to
test if citizens wanted less formal adjudication.
there safety in following the pack?
is true and not true. Certainly, nations like Japan and
later Taiwan have risen
in the world economy by copying. But there is a certain point where
such a strategy won't get you anywhere except middle-income status.
You have to move up the value-added chain. This is true for
business, and for one's own life as well.
study found that corporations that have lasted over one hundred
years all had one shared variable: tolerance for ideas from the
edge. Clearly, this is not about copying, but about leading.
is the role of action learning in futures thinking?
while forecasting the
future gives one information about the future, it does not provide
the context of the future. This comes through action learning where
the entire process is created by those involved in the process.
the notion of the future, of strategy, is created by the partners in
thinking transforms action learning by injecting an anticipatory
notion. Action learning is no longer just about the questioning the
product or the process or the factors of production but about
questioning the future. It is asking:
future is being created?
the future being lived explicit or implicit?
can the future become more explicit?
can questioning the future lead to shared futures?
the consultant, this means asking the client what metaphors her
or his organization uses to think about the future.
am still confused about strategy and futures.
being strategic has its rewards, strategy remains
means-end focused. It does not include different ways individuals
know the world—through authority, intuition, reason, empiricism
and even love. Strategy is useful in a world that is flat, where
difference is minimized.
when there is a great deal of difference—of cultures, languages,
perspectives—then strategy is far more difficult. A post-strategic
approach is needed. This means using forecasting and
scenarios but trying to
move beyond rational planning to develop an evolutionary-organic
feel of the future. This is partly about one's gut feeling but also
about having an inner guidance system as to which future one might
want. My own futures approach is precisely the organic unfolding of
the future. The future grows out from within in the context of a
changing external environment.
means seeing the future not just in terms of expanding our horizon,
having more and different types of data and information but moving
to a knowledge framework where there is depth.
means seeing the future in terms of levels of the future. Strategy
is generally short term oriented as it changes the most visible part
of our worlds. Deeper levels accessible by metaphor and story are
not so easily available to strategy. One has to enter different
personal and cultural frames to begin to enter this deeper view of
is difference so important?
understanding difference we can understand others' needs better. We
can make better products, better design. Having a diversity of
representation allows for difference. Difference can lead to
synergies unexpected outcomes. Indeed, even misunderstandings can
lead to positive outcomes.
can also create unexpected futures.
other part of the futures toolbox that is useful is creating a
shared vision. Emerging issues, scenario planning,
ways of knowing and
depth approaches to the future create a diversity of information.
This enriches the planning context. However, the other crucial
dimension of planning for the future is created shared spaces.
do this, engaging in a visioning process
is crucial. The vision has to be detailed, though. Not just
motherhood statements that all can agree to. Specific statements
about how you want the future to be like. You wake up in the
morning, say 2010, what does the world look like. Are you working?
What is your income level? Are you married? Is there still marriage?
Is there still work? What technologies are you using to communicate
with others? Is communication important? Is there even a you (the
modern notion of an integrated autonomous self)?
one engages in this process with a group of people, it is likely
that a shared vision can result.
shared vision can remove many organizational headaches.
there are different types of planning for the future?
least four: the first is concerned with the mission of the
organization. This is about being clear on the core business and
identity of the organization. The second is the social,
technological and environmental context. This means constantly being
on the lookout for how the future is changing. The third is
problem-oriented planning. Questioning is the most useful at this
level as one questions current problems, finds new problems and
discovers innovative solutions. The fourth is the vision of the
organization, where is the organization headed toward, how will the
basic mission, the identity change as the future changes.
is a fifth, though that is not often mentioned in the literature.
The fifth is the organic evolutionary future, which emerges from a
mixture of data about the world, gut feelings about what to do next,
individual ethics and dialogue with others (self, nature,
colleagues, customers, and the mysterious beyond). Sensitivity to
changing conditions, inner and outer, is far more important than the
are the usual approaches to the future?
first approach is determining the probable future. That is, given
economic, technological, consumer, demographic trends, how will the
world (or nation, community, organization) look in a few years. Of
course, as you go further out in time things get a bit hazier
(unless you believe the universe is foundationally patterned and a
science of forecasting is possible).
second approach is focused on possible futures. The full range of
what can happen—all the alternatives.
third approach is the preferred. What do we want the future to be
like? There is usually quite a marked difference between the
preferred for oneself and for the world. Most studies show that we
expect our own futures to be good and the world's futures to be
quickly going to hell.
fourth approach is the gut level/intuitive future. This is the
organic future that emerges from our life choices, our patterns of
behavior, our expectation of others, our deep-set beliefs and
worldview. It is our karmic future to some extent. For some this
means trusting that there is a divine pattern guiding them, for
others this means that the universe is intelligent, for others that
the Gods favor (or disfavor) them, and for still others, it means
leading a good moral life.
future in this latter approach is a process of learning about self,
family, community and world. It is a co-evolutionary pattern.
Essentially it is about having a deep sensitivity toward the world.
use is futures planning to a typical manager, consultant?
one is a consultant—providing knowledge solutions to government,
community and business—then futures can add to your toolbox.
Scenario planning can
help an organization determine the effectiveness of current
thinking can also help determine what trends are creating the future
university. How, for example, how new technologies, corporatization
(the end of monopoly accreditation by the Academy), multicultural
content and virtualization are transforming the University. This can
assist in determining what niche markets are possible.
general, futures thinking provides new types of insight as to what
the world might be like, what the dominant images of the future are,
and how to create alternative futures.
does this relate to the famous axiom, Learning = questioning +
is often forgotten is that in most of our questions there are
assumptions about reality, about culture, about the right way to do
things. So, we need to question the cultural basis of our questions,
seeing them not as universal but as problematic as well. That is,
our questions are actually congealed knowledge. Thus questioning has
to be questioned.
same goes with programmed knowledge. Programmed knowledge is
actually answered questions.
questioning and programmed knowledge are subsets of each other. Look
for the hidden content in questioning and the answered and un-asked
questions in programmed knowledge.
we can do that, we can really create alternative futures.
of ways of knowing and learning?
then, is questioning plus programmed knowledge plus ways of knowing.
Without challenging the epistemic content of the questions asked and
programmed knowledge, only instrumental changes will result. Ways of
knowing move us into areas where we don’t know what we don’t
am still too busy to think about the future, especially since I
don’t know what I don’t know.
are already going toward a future. The question is: Is that the
future you want? How do you know? If yes, wonderful, how can you be
more explicit about your vision? If no, then how can you change your
there is the pull of the
future (the vision, the image) and the push to the future (technology,
demographics, changing economic ideologies). There is also
structure—that which is difficult to change. These are worldviews,
patterns of behavior, dominator relationships. One can spend all
one's life fighting them or create a new vision and focus on living
exciting part of anticipatory action learning is
that the future is co-created. There is certainly some programmed
knowledge involved in questioning the future. There is data on
trends, information on scenarios, knowledge of different types of
futures approaches, methods and hopefully some wisdom on when it is
appropriate to use which method, to focus on which trend. But the
questioning part makes the future real instead of a one-way lecture
about the future. As with other professions, expertise can be a gift
and a danger. Action learning means a back and forth reflection on
probable and preferred futures. It means asking questions of the
scenarios we desire to
happen and the scenarios we believe are probable. Why this scenario,
we can ask? What will the impact of x scenario be on a strategic
plan, a product line, a marketing campaign?
too busy now means huge costs later. Remember that in 1985 Charlie
Schnabolk developed four scenarios for the World Trade Center: (1)
Predictable—bomb threats; (2) Probable—bombing attempts,
computer crime; (3) Hostage Taking; and (4) Catastrophic—aerial
bombing, chemical agents in water supply or air conditioning.
when asked in 2000 what the greatest terrorist threat to the WTC
was, he responded: “Someone flying a plane into the building.”
why didn't they listen?
forecasting is one issue
but implementation is another. For that, the planner/futurist has to
work with the organization in question, finding ways to not just get
the future right but ensure that those that can do something about
the future are involved. That they have an interest in the future,
that they have something to say as well. If they remain simply
consumers of information, then the chance of implementation
a conversation about the future is most appropriate?
conversation enhances programmed knowledge—it deepens it, brings
in alternatives. A conversation—especially a layered conversation
that explores not just the words being uttered but the meanings they
represent to each participant and the structures of knowledge that
create the categories of intelligibility—can be foundational in
creating a more satisfying future.
what is learned is simply one expert's view of the future, with all
its natural limitations.
back to you: Why is questioning the future important?