Innovation — Futures Thinking

Futures Thinking — A Gentle Introduction

A summary of “Ready, Set, Future!” course from the Institute for the Future

Photo by Felix Wegerer on Unsplash

As I am determined to share my learnings with others, and I recently completed the first course (Ready, Set, Future!) part of the Futures Thinking Specialization on Coursera from the Institute for the Future, so I am going to summarize it in this short article. In short, this is one of the best online classes I have taken in a while, and it is a great introduction to Futures Thinking.

So what is Futures Thinking?

Futures Thinking is about imagining new possibilities, taking actions toward futures which we would like to make them realities, and taking actions to prevent futures which we do not like. The word “imagining” is very important, because you do not need to be right.

“When it comes to thinking about the future, it’s more important to be imaginative than to be right”— Alvin Toffler, author of Future Shock

As an immigrant, and someone who lived in different cities/countries across the world, I had to be flexible, open to all possibilities, and adopt to my new environment whenever I moved. Species which survived the years, were not the strongest, they were the ones which were able to adopt the most. Being flexible and open to possibilities when thinking about the future, help us be prepared for the future. So when the future is here, we can adopt easier, and it is not a shock.

“We are all immigrants to the future. We are all moving somewhere new, so it is good to have the mindset of an immigrant” — Marina Gorbis, Executive Director of the Institute for the Future (IFTF)

Futures Thinking is also about readiness! If you have considered range of possibilities, you are like vaccinated. If one of these possibilities becomes a reality, then you are better prepared.

Futures Thinking is about imagining new possibilities and be ready for the future!

When does the future starts, according to professional futurists?

10 years! A 10-year timeline gives you permission to imagine that things are very different from today, allowing for more creative, flexible, and innovative thinking. 10 years also gives you enough time to change or influence what will be, to intentionally shape and impact the future to be a future you want.

Tip: look at the past 10 years and how much changed in your life. What were the major changes?

What are the benefits of future thinking?

1- Creativity 🎨
2- Foresight 🌖(please do not take this emoji literally 😉)
3- Mental Flexibility 💪
4- Empathy ❤️
5- Strategy 💭
6- Hope 🍀
7- Practical Skepticism 👓

My favorite is Hope! Which one is your favorite?

“To hope is to give yourself to the future, and that commitment to the future makes the present inhabitable “— Ernst Bloch

What is Future Shock?

It is similar to stress and irrationality experienced by immigrants and travelers to foreign countries. “Imagine not merely an individual but an entire society, an entire generation — including its weakest, least intelligent, and most irrational members — suddenly transported into this new world. The result is mass disorientation, future shock on a grand scale.” — Alvin Toffler

“future shock” is a certain psychological state of individuals and entire societies. The shortest definition for the term is “too much change in too short a period of time”.

It is also a book by, you guessed it, Alvin Toffler.

Future Shock — a book by Alvin Toffler

Introduction to Signals

Signals of Change — by William Gibson

What are signals of change?

  • They are the “raw ingredients” or “building blocks” of Futures Thinking
  • They are clues to how the future might be different
  • They are real things, happening now, in the real world

How to interpret a signal?

  1. What kind of change does this represent? From what to what?
  2. What’s driving the change? What the force behind it?
  3. What might the world be like in 10 years if this signal gets bigger? If it’s common and widespread?
  4. Is this a future we want to help make? Do we get excited by it or worried about it?

Where to look for signals?

How do I know if it’s really a signal?

“A signal is like art, it’s hard to define, but you know one when you see one” — IFTF researcher

The Five Principles for Thinking Like a Futurist:

  1. Forget about predictions: no one can predict large complex transformations at the intersection between technologies and society and economics and organizations
  2. Focus on signals: “The future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed.” — William Gibson. Signals of the future are all around us today. Often these are things or developments that are on the margins. They may look weird or strange
  3. Look back to see forward: there are larger patterns in history that we tend to repeat over and over again. Thus, we need to look back to see forward. Think of yourself as a historian as much as a futurist
  4. Uncover patterns: ultimately, the goal of aggregating signals and connecting these to the larger historical context helps us understand patterns of change. It helps us understand how we got to key developments shaping our future
  5. Create a community: Thinking about the future is a collaborative and highly communal affair. It requires a diversity of views
Look back to look forward

How to look back to look forward?

  1. Get the historical context you need to think about the future
  2. Build a common perspective on important past events and moments when change happened
  3. Find potential patterns of change, and explore how they may continue to shape the future
  4. Create group awareness that major change has happened in the past, and will happen in the future

The 4 Types of Futures Thinking:

The Futures Thinking Specialization on Coursera will teach you all 4 types of futures thinking. Each of the courses focuses on one of these skill sets. I am planning on completing all of them, and a summary article will follow each course. Stay tuned!

Forecasting Skills:

  • Gather signals
  • Convert signals into scenarios: what scenarios we want to make more likely and what scenarios we want to prevent

Simulation Skills:

  • Think more creatively and strategically
  • Lead first person future simulation

“If a forecast tells you what the world around you might be like in the future, simulation help you figure out what other people might do in that world, and what you can do in that world to make a positive difference.” — Jane McGonigal

Collaborative Gaming Skills:

  • See many different sides of the same future
  • Build empathy
  • Reduce risk of being blindsided

Urgent Optimism or Action Skills:

  • Create and share preferred futures
  • Make artifacts form the future
Future Four-Square game — by Institute for the Future

Future Four-Square Game

  1. Pick a future topic
  2. On the X axis: on a scale of 1 to 10, do you think it’s getting better or worse?
  3. On the Y axis: on a scale from 1 to 10, how much power do you personally have to shape or influence that future?
  4. You should now be pointing somewhere on the four-square that represents your answer
  5. Based on where you landed in the four-square, you will need different futures skills to shape the future you want

Conclusion

Personally, Futures Thinking is important to me because it gives me hope and a sense that I am in charge of my future and I can shape it the way I want it to be. Also, it gives me a structured way to innovate by exploring different possibilities. I believe Futures Thinking is the new Design Thinking, where empathy is at the core of both. The empathy to make our future better than our present.

Sources

To be continued…

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George Zeinieh

George Zeinieh

A consultant by day, entrepreneur by night, engineer by education, designer at heart, innovator since childhood. I write on innovation, cars, and well being