Future Thinking

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A recent survey study by the Institute for the Future, The American Future Gap revealed that, “The vast majority of people never think about the far future.”

As author of the survey and senior researcher Jane McGonigal adds, “The majority of people aren’t connecting with their future selves, which studies have shown leads to less self-control and less pro-social behavior.”  McGonigal adds, “Thinking about the future in 5, 10 and 30 years is essential to being an engaged citizen and creative problem solver.  Curiosity about what might happen in the future, the ability to imagine how things could be different, and empathy for our future selves are all necessary if we want to create positive change in our own lives or the world around us.”

So, if future thinking is shown to have positive benefits for us and society, then it might behoove us to consider learning ways in which a futurist may approach thinking about the future.

To think more like a futurist, let’s dig a bit into Dr. Joseph Voros’ work A Primer on Future Studies, Foresight and the Use of Scenarios, and to what he refers to as the three “laws” of futures:

The future is not predetermined.  Understanding that there are limitless and or endless possibilities for the future, is also in understanding that while the present does have bearing on the future, the future can and does remain undetermined by our current situation.  Or as Dr. Voros adds,Therefore, there is no, and cannot be, any single predetermined future, rather there are considered to be infinitely many potential alternative futures.”

The future is not predictable.  The future is not some process that keeps marching forward in a linear, predictable manner.  As Dr. Voros shares, “Even if the future were predetermined, we could never collect enough information about it to an arbitrary degree of accuracy to construct a complete model of how it would develop.”  And yet, in many ways, especially in our organizations, we continue to approach the future in a safe, linear, predictable manner, which is at odds with the velocity and acceleration of change in today’s complex world.

Future outcomes can be influenced by our choices in the present.  And while we are faced with infinite possibilities of how our future will emerge, that does not mean that we have no influence on that emergence, no matter the limitless possibilities it proposes.  For which Dr. Voros puts forth, “Even though we can’t determine which future of an infinite possible variety will eventuate, nevertheless we can influence the shape of the future which does eventuate by the choices we make regarding our actions (or inaction) in the present.”  Too often we remain cognitively unaware and immune to the power of seeing how we think and act can have great influence on this constantly evolving and emerging future, allowing our mental models to provide us with a predetermined approach to the future.

In A Primer on Future Studies, Foresight and the Use of Scenarios, Dr. Joseph Voros provides “four” classes of potential and or alternatives when considering the future.

Possible futures.  As Dr. Voros shares, “This class of futures includes all the kinds of futures we can possibly imagine – those which might happen – no matter how far-fetched, unlikely or way out.”  These fall into the class of might happen future.

Plausible futures.  These futures fall into the class of could happen” futures.    While possible futures are often reliant on future knowledge, plausible futures are driven more by “current knowledge.”

Probable futures.  These futures tend to fall into the class of “likely to happen” futures.  As Dr. Voros adds, they “stem in part from the continuance of current trends” and are “a simple linear extension of the present.”

Preferable futures.  Whereas, plausible futures fall into the class of what we “want to happen” futures.  The difference of preferable futures to the three classes of futures is that preferable futures are “largely emotional rather than cognitive” and the other three classes of futures are “concerned with informational or cognitive knowledge.”

In the end, it doesn’t matter that we think like futurist, as much as it matters that begin to spend time future thinking.

As Jane McGonigal shares, “Future thinking is one of our most under-developed skills sets.  It takes less than a minute a day, but studies have shown it can lead to improved health, better financial stability and much more.”  And yet, “The vast majority of people never think about the far future.”  Even though “Studies show the less people think about their future lives, the less self-control they exhibit and the less likely they are to make choices that benefit the world in the long-run.”

And while it is important to be in the present, it may be just important that we spend a bit more time thinking about our future.

Preparing in the present…can keep us from being stranded in the future.

References and quotes from…

Voros, Joseph.  A Primer on Future Studies, Foresight and the Use of Scenarios.  2001. Thinking Futures: Designing Collaborative Conversations about the Future

McGonigal, Jane. The American Future Gap. 2017. Institute for the Future

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