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Free futures and pasts thinking

Posted By Administration, Thursday, May 7, 2015
Updated: Saturday, February 23, 2019

Sandra Geitz shares her thoughts with us about “free futures and pasts thinking” in this blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

This post ponders our habits of thinking and doing, and whether we can open ourselves to see and act on potential futures.



What enables and what inhibits us to think of possible futures?

What ifs seems to be freely imagined by the young. So what happens to our early innate abilities as we mature? Is it that we develop habits and rules of thumb to contain the complexity of our lives? Habits help us deal with overwhelming choices and pathways. Is that we notice that particular strategies work more often? More successes, and less embarrassments or failures are the result of sticking within certain rules and habits? Does training and schooling further embed our proven methods and shortcuts? We keep within these deep grooves of thinking and doing, often unable to imagine other or better ways of thinking and doing.



How to think and do with time and experience?

The diagram attempts to distil my own experiences and learnings, using abduction for problem-solving, designs and intuitive insights, using science of induction or probabilistic inferences, as well as deduction and intuitive judgement via experience. It also is based on Ackoff’s (1989) knowledge hierarchy from specific data, information, knowledge, to the wisdom of the universal. And, it includes and visualises concepts of design thinking versus science by Roger Martin (2007) and Doerfler and Ackermann’s (2012) intuition studies. Abductive, Inductive and Deductive thinking, adapted from Ackoff (1989), Martin (2007) and Doerfler and Ackermann (2012).

When I’m open and curious, fearless and playful, I recognise I’m more likely to use abductive thinking. This involves deeply noticing and observing phenomena, pondering what if and what might be, to generate potential or preferred futures. It is seeing new patterns and connections through those vast reams of data. This mode of thinking and doing aligns with problem solving within uncertainty and design thinking. It envisions a potential known outcome, and explores various pathways of what and how we may arrive at this future state.

Very rarely, in situations where I know many inputs what and their outcomes, I may use induction to infer how they relate together. At first this thinking appears similar to abduction, but it needs large samples and probabilistic conditions to infer the how. From my experience, it is easy to develop the wrong theory, as data is rarely valid for probability,.

Most often, in known environments, I’ll choose deduction to reach the desired outcome using known inputs what and methods how. This thinking generates predictable outcomes from known approaches. It just works (most of the time). I use this thinking so often, it becomes automatic habit or intuitive. In areas of considerable experience, I’m so confident I just know the outcome looks right or not. Intuitive judgement of experience.



So what, if we judge with time and experience?

The visual provides the clue. Deduction works when environmental conditions are stable and known, if connections between inputs and their outcomes are known and predictable. Deduction is established and validated in practise over the years from theories of induction if there is a stable environment/

And if the environment becomes turbulent or uncertain? Then, what if thinking becomes the best approach. Trouble is, it is directly opposite to intuitive judgement by experience. It requires us to put aside our wisdom and experience that worked in our pasts. We need to delve into data and emerging details, to become curious and child-like, exploring unknowns and novelty. Deeply uncomfortable, yet essential practise.



References:

Ackoff, Russell. (1989). From data to wisdom, Journal of Applied Systems Analysis,16(1), 3-9.

Doerfler, Viktor & Ackermann, Fran. (2012). Understanding intuition: The case for two forms of intuition, Management Learning, 43(5) 545-564. Retrieved December 20, 2014 from http://mlq.sagepub.com/content/43/5/545

Martin, Roger. (2007). The nature of the schism between the design view of business & the business view of design, SMMRSD. Retrieved March 21, 2015 from http://summarised.co.za/

Tags:  future  past  thinking 

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What roles does a futurist serve?

Posted By Administration, Monday, April 20, 2015
Updated: Thursday, March 28, 2019

Alireza Hejazi

Alireza Hejazi shares his thoughts about the roles that futurists may serve in this blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

Reviewing a number of published works, I concluded that the futurists’ roles can be generally defined based on a continuum that stretches from a point of leadership to a point of innovation. Many functions, competencies and responsibilities might be considered on this continuum, but there are six key roles that can be attributed to futurists. First, three roles are described from the point of leadership and then three other roles are reviewed from the point of innovation in this post.

 

In my view, the futurists are primarily leaders. This is why I changed the direction of my studies down the road of strategic foresight at MA level in 2012 and took up the leadership road at PhD level in 2013. I look at foresight from a leadership perspective, and this convinces me to consider Mumford, Campion and Morgeson’s (2007) strataplex of leadership skills as a good basis for classifying futurists’ roles. Therefore, I can regard a futurist as an analyst, a manager, or a consultant in the first place. 

 

Second, I think that foresight is aimed at serving the objective of facilitating or improving innovation at the corporate level. Consequently, Rohrbeck’s (2011) taxonomy of initiator, strategist, and opponent can be considered as one of the best classifications that have been proposed to this date. I will make an attempt to describe each role briefly in this post based on two of the above mentioned resources.

 

Futurist as analyst

An analyst is the person who applies foresight tools and methodologies in his or her activities, someone who is competent in scanning, trend analysis, and basic forecasting. An analyst is not laboring under the influence of others’ ideas. Instead, he or she studies those ideas and proposed the best way of applying them in favor of individual, national and international benefits. The analyst produces information for the second role, the manager.

 

Futurist as manager

A futurist manager is usually a foresight project manager who supervises the foresight processes at the corporate level. He or she facilitates projects and generates intelligence from foresight methods and outputs. A futurist manager is a self-disciplined individual capable of creating change, managing uncertainty, coordinating a range of foresight activities, applying alternative futures and transforming to better futures.

 

Futurist as consultant

A futurist consultant is a strategic leader who works with executives to facilitate change based initiatives on the base of insights resulted from foresight processes. He or she may be known as a senior executive, a director, or creator of foresight initiatives. A futurist consultant possesses good teaming and collaboration competencies, practices problem-solving foresight and welcomes transformational challenges.

 

Futurist as initiator

Foresight activates innovation by identifying new customer needs, technologies, and product concepts of competitors at the corporate level. A futurist initiator analyzes cultural shifts and collects the needs of lead customers. He or she scans the science and technology environment to identify new emerging technologies. At a higher level, a futurist initiator identifies new competitors’ concepts by monitoring the activities of the competitors.

 

Futurist as strategist 

Foresight directs innovation activities by creating a vision, providing strategic guidance, consolidating opinions, assessing and repositioning innovation portfolios, and identifying the new business models of competitors. A futurist strategist develops well-informed future-oriented strategies that lead innovation on desirable effective paths.

 

Futurists as opponent 

Foresight challenges the innovators to create better and more successful innovations by challenging basic assumptions, challenging the state-of-the-art of current R & D projects, and scanning for disruptions that could endanger current and future innovations. A futurist opponent not only challenges innovative ideas and assumptions, but proposes tweaks and re-adjustments that can improve innovation in various ways. 

 

It should be noted that foresight is a cross-functional profession, and a futurist may play two or some of these roles simultaneously based on the nature of enterprise he or she serves. Another consideration is that new future-oriented jobs have been created or conceived in recent years such as: future-guide, global system architect, global sourcing manager, grassroots researcher, organizational quartermaster, monitor/analyst, and talent aggregator (Wagner, 2010). It is possible to include all these jobs and professions into the proposed taxonomy or perhaps something better.

 

References

Mumford, T. V., Campion, M. A., & Morgeson, F. P. (2007). The leadership skills strataplex: Leadership skill requirements across organizational levels. Leadership Quarterly, 18(2), 154-166.

Rohrbeck, R. (2011). Corporate foresight: Towards a maturity model for the future orientation of a firm. Berlin: Springer-Verlag.

Wagner, C. G. (2010). 70 jobs for 2030. The Futurist, 45(1), 30-33.

 

© Alireza Hejazi 2015

Tags:  foresight  futurist  professionalization 

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Fear is the mind-killer

Posted By Administration, Monday, April 6, 2015
Updated: Saturday, February 23, 2019

Jason Swanson shares his thoughts with us about “fear” in this blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

In my last post, I pondered about what might make a futurist a good futurist. With the help of some great input from Maree Conway, rather than asking what might make a futurist good, perhaps we ought to ask what makes a futurist effective.

In the month that has passed since writing that blog post, the thoughts about what makes for an effective futurist have still been top of mind. During those four weeks, I have had a number of conversations where I was asked what attributes might be needed to be a good (or effective) futurist?

To be sure, there is an endless list of attributes that one might associate with a good or effective futurist. In fact, if you were to administer a Myers-Briggs type test to the futures community you may even generate some sort of archetype, but for me, as a professional early in his career there are two attributes I feel are particularly relevant; fearlessness and obsession.

Anyone involved in futures must be fearless. Foresight is about change, and change makes many people uncomfortable. You will constantly be walking an edge, talking about images that might be, sometimes playing the role of provocateur, pushing your audience to think differently, to question their current reality, and to hopefully change their mental models. You will be challenged, occasionally be called crazy, and deal with territory where there are no data points. There is also a very public learning curve to this field. You will blog, you will write, and you will speak about the future, all the while honing your craft as you go. It is not for the faint of heart, and as a beginner this may feel incredibly daunting. It did for me. It still does.

The fearlessness one develops is joined by a second attribute I feel is just as important; obsession. I am not condoning a horrible life balance, but rather a passion about the future, and a drive to perfect a craft that cannot be perfected. Foresight is something I refer to as “the gift and the curse”. It frames my view of reality, and for better or worse I cannot turn it off. I recall an email exchange between two gentlemen I consider mentors. During the exchange, one of them remarked that choosing this line of work was more a lifestyle choice than a choice of profession. I couldn’t agree more. It is that obsession about the future; the endless drive to see what might be next, the bottomless curiosity that makes us question our current reality that separates this field from so many.

For those that may be considering entering the field, or have just begun their careers and are wondering what attributes make for a good or effective futurist, develop your fearlessness and turn your passion and curiosity to obsession. On the days where you feel fear creeping in, let your obsession and passion guide you. For those who have spent time in the field, may your fearlessness never runs out nor you obsession wane.

Tags:  fear  foresight  futurist 

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To be continued – Benefits of Big Data – from predictions to foresight

Posted By Administration, Monday, March 30, 2015
Updated: Saturday, February 23, 2019

Julian Valkieser  shares his thoughts with us about “Benefits of Big Data” in this blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

In my previous articles, I have already mentioned some examples where large amounts of data are used to create future predictions. Mostly, these are very specific and limited to a certain range. After all, worldly influences are very complex. If there is too much variety of influences, the predictions using big data are less accurate.

Next I want to mention other examples, in which big data is used for creation of short- and medium-term forecasts. Of course, at first this has little to do with Futurists and Foresight and long-term forecasts. But in my opinion, it represents a baseline for future practice for Futurists and Foresights. I will explain at the end of the article. Now I want to mention two examples of big data forecasting.

The Berlin-based start-up SO1 claims to be able to predict your behavior very accurately based on customer data in supermarkets. With certain offers and discounts they can move you to change your favorite brand. This works on the principle that we already know from Amazon: “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought”. Of course, the concern of SO1 is a frightening scenario. After all, each customer may be offered different prices for a specific product. I think no one wants this. Presumed that SO1 maintain its algorithm, this is a good indication of how well you can predict human behavior already.

Another example from German Technology Review: Thomas Chadefaux from Trinity College in Dublin, analyzed social media channels and the Google News Archive from 1900 to 2011 by specific signal words, to find out if weak signals in the media advance to crises and violent confrontations. With a probability of 85% he could predict crises, like those in Armenia, Iran or Iraq up to one year in advance. The problem here is currently: He is looking back. How his algorithm will be developed in the future, must be observed. Nevertheless, one should be alert of his name.

In summary, I would like to explain why I see these examples of predictions using big data so important for the area of Futurists and foresight. Of course, classical foresight methods are used for a company to be prepared for future influences and circumstances. For example, this is also the theme of the so-called HRO (High Reliability Organizations).

Many companies base their strategic decisions in the short and medium term now on Big Data. For long-term and accompanied much more complex decisions Big Data itself is not complex enough. Here the classical Futurist jumps in. On the basis of Big Data evaluated scenarios and trigger events it can record creative eventualities that have not been enumerated by Big Data Analytics. The future of Futurists is essentially asking to set its basis for discussion with big data and finally, base eventualities on classical methods to which a company besides the main focus should also prepare. An HRO works similarly. There are eventualities outlined and for each one with a given weighting a process is defined, e.g. how to react. HRO examples are hospitals, fire stations or on an aircraft carrier.

Tags:  big data  foresight  futurist 

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Distancing our futures

Posted By Administration, Monday, March 16, 2015
Updated: Saturday, February 23, 2019

Sandra Geitz  shares her thoughts with us about “Distancing our Futures” in this blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

Along a similar theme to the last post, I’m exploring enhancing and enabling futures thinking. This post is concerned with Bridging Psychological Distance, from Rebecca Hamilton’s HBR article this week, and how this may impact facilitating foresight.



What is psychological distance?

People directly experience only the here and now. It is egocentric. In order to think about the future, another person’s perspective, remote locations and/or understand hypothetical options, people need to transcend their self, or their individual present experiences. This is termed by psychologists, Nira Liberman and Yaacoc Trope as overcoming psychological distance. People are able to do this, to varying degrees of ability, by creating distant abstractions, or mental constructs.

Psychological distance can occur as one or in several dimensions. Social distance is the gap between yourself and other people. Temporal distance is the gap between the present experience and the future. Spatial distance occurs between your present location and some far away distance. Experiential distance is the gap between one’s direct experience and an hypothetical or imaginary situation.



Why may psychological distance be important to foresight?

Liberman and Trope’s research shows that the farther removed an object is from direct experience, the more abstract one represents the distant object. Also, their research shows that each of the four psychological distances are cognitively related to each other, that they similarly influence and are influenced by the level of abstraction, and that they similarly affect they way we preference, predict, perceive and take action.

If the psychological distance is large, we tend to think in more abstract ways; we focus on the big picture, the why or purpose of our choices, and the desirability of our options. Large distances and abstract language are associated with power and visionary thinking.



When the psychological distance is small, we think in more concrete terms,; we are focused on the details, the how and what of our choices, and the feasibility of each option. Small distances are synonymous with familiar, concrete tasks. From this research, Hamilton advises that the optimal strategy is adjusting the psychological distance to suit the needs of the particular task at hand.

Social distance can be reduced by taking into account the perspectives of others, employing the ability to step into another’s shoes. Similarly, social distance can also be reduced by reducing temporal distance, through immediate task deadlines, or by meeting others onsite, reducing spatial gaps.

Temporal distance can be reduced by adopting milestones or internal deadlines, to reduce overwhelm of the distant project completion, or visualising the future state.Temporal distance can be reduced through less social and/or spatial distance, such as meeting with stakeholders of the large project task.

Spatial gaps are reduced by face-to face meetings and travelling onsite. And experiential distances can be minimised via role plays, prototyping experiences to enable more concrete thinking or action to occur. Similarly, experiential distance can be reduced via social distance, by peer group word of mouth recommendations to encourage us to take similar actions.

However, if big-picture thinking, creativity or authority is the desired goal, increasing social distance by using abstract language helps. Deploying greater spatial distance by moving meetings offsite or to open, lofty and spacious surroundings can assist expansive thinking. Increasing temporal distance for long-term planning horizons can encourage more ambitious goal-setting. And, increasing experiential distance with hypothetical questions and imagery may encourage a broader range of scenarios to be considered.


How can we use greater psychological distance to expand our futures options?

How might we minimize distances to enable concrete actions towards our preferred futures?

Tags:  foresight  future  psychology 

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How much should the stakeholders budget for the unknown?

Posted By Administration, Monday, March 9, 2015
Updated: Saturday, February 23, 2019

Alireza Hejazi shares his thoughts with us about “budget for the unknown” in this blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Attending a summit on the investment in R&D, I found the majority of R&D outputs discussed in the summit were professionally polished secondary research. A panel of experts was tasked to evaluate a strategic framework documenting a baseline, as well as alternative futures for a number of stakeholders active in the construction industry. An interesting debate was ignited in the panel when I suggested three points to be considered in their appraisal: originality, quality and timeliness. Coming back home from the summit, I asked myself how much the stakeholders should really budget for the unknown—the future. To answer that question I wrote this post and I assume those three points may make general criteria in budgeting foresight projects.

Primary or Secondary?

How much should the stakeholders pay for insights offered by futurists? In my view, a criterion can be made based on the primary or secondary nature of research. Secondary research means using other researchers’ data rather than generating one’s own statistics. Using data produced by well-known institutes such as ILO, WTO, UNESCO, Gallup, and etc. a futurist can conduct secondary research. Futurists do more secondary research than primary explorations and most of scanning jobs are based on secondary sources of information.

While secondary research can be precious in the right place, like many other researchers, futurists are expected to create their own data. Normally, primary research offers a better taste of trustworthiness to stakeholders. Governments and NGOs collect and publish statistics, researchers and authors write books and articles based on their observations, speakers write speeches according to their ideas and information, but what do futurists produce? Generally speaking, futurists find, interpret and represent the results of all that data for their clients, books and articles and also their speeches.

The missing point in judging research outputs produced by futurists is that primary data does not interpret itself. A dexterous interpreter is needed to make sense of that data. The collection of the data from various sources can be done by every researcher, but futurists enliven the collected data by suggesting alternative futures. Collecting and interpreting are both necessary, but what is the best data in foresight profession?

According to Gordon (2009), “The best data is primary data—data researched and presented by the original researcher—and the best use is primary use” (p. 14). Results from scientific research which are based on primary data are usually published in top research journals and are sometimes delayed for publishing due to the sensitivity of issues for investors who sponsored the research project and perhaps never published.

The value of primary data can be also revealed in the light of inherent limitations of using secondary data. Those limitations are identified by Burnett (2008) in this manner: “First, the information is frequently dated. Second, seldom are secondary data collected for precisely the same reasons that the information is sought to solve the current marketing problem” (p. 61). The stakeholders want fidelity and they prefer the primary source. The futurists can lead that sense of preference skillfully towards original authentic foresight outputs produced by their own reliable and valid research.

Quantitative or Qualitative?

Potent futurists are expected to organize and conduct both quantitative and qualitative researches. A noteworthy foresight output is expected to open up a window through which readers may peer into the world of foresight to learn more from the findings. Strong foresight works engage the audience by displaying and discussing correlations, values, and other details both quantitatively and qualitatively.

The choice of using a qualitative or quantitative design (or both), for a given research problem is mainly related to the nature of problem. Basically, quantitative methods are appropriate when: “(1) measurement can offer a useful description of whatever you are studying, (2) when you may wish to make certain descriptive generalizations about the measures, and (3) when you wish to calculate probabilities that certain generalizations are beyond simple, chance occurrences” (Williams & Monge, 2001, p. 5).

While most quantitative researches create generalizations that transcend the immediate situation or particular setting, qualitative researches often do not try to generalize beyond the particular situation, but may leave it to the reader to assess applicability (Fraenkel, 2009, p. 15). The history of futures research shows that the majority of studies have been conducted through qualitative approaches. The main reason is that the future is unknown and less quantitative data are normally available compared to other fields of study.

The research perspective, approach, and method should be determined as a consequence of deciding upon the objectives of the investigation. Thus, one particular perspective, approach, or method is neither better nor worse than another, just simply more or less appropriate within the specific circumstances and objectives of a foresight project. What matters for a fair payment are time, fund, knowledge, skill and energy that are devoted by a futurist or a team of futurists to a foresight project through both quantitative and qualitative approaches.

On time or Late?

The importance of each foresight output at any given time depends on aspects of the situation, such as the type of industry and the amount of volatility in the external environment. The consequent is the timeliness of a foresight report that is set up for submission to related stakeholders. The futurists are not the only ones who need time to accomplish research; the stakeholders also need enough time to devise their companies with foresight insights or new strategies proposed by the futurists.

The amount of budget that investors offer to know the unknown is tightly related to available time for decision making or change management. Firms that consistently establish a management reserve for foresight projects can tell us how much time is needed and how valuable a foresight output will be over time. Certainly a specific percentage of the performance budget should emerge as the right amount, but it is directly related to timeliness, potential risks, and the degree of predictability of the industry. As observed by Verzuh (2005, p. 106), “high-risk industries such as software development may add as much as 30 percent to the budget. More predictable projects will use an amount closer to 5 percent of the performance budget.”

The factor of time determines how much should be paid for a foresight output. Over multiple foresight projects, a normal range will appear for both futurist and client. Imagine an alternative scenario like this: A construction company is interested in a particular topic and the CEO decides to hire a futurist to research the topic for them, but time is a determining factor in the success of company. The futurist spends six months researching the issue, and six months doing and writing up the research. How much do you think the futurist could charge for this report? If the CEO needs the final report six months earlier, then how quickly should the job get done? How about the quality of research and how about the payment? Many clients pay considerable outlays for private research reports. They pay not just because of the worthiness of information, but because of its timeliness. Quick and qualified futurists are brilliant gems in every company.

In my view, the budgetary value of a foresight output depends on its originality, quality and timeliness, but its intellectual value and the contribution that it will make to building better corporate futures may not be determined by such means of assessment easily.



References

Burnett, J. (2008). Core concepts of marketing. Zurich: Jacobs Foundation.

Fraenkel, J. R. (2009). How to design and evaluate research in education. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Gordon, A. (2009). Future savvy: Identifying trends to make better decisions, manage uncertainty, and profit from change. New York: American Management Association.

Verzuh, E. (2005). The fast forward MBA in project management. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.

Williams, F., & Monge, P. (2001). Reasoning with statistics: How to read quantitative research (5th ed.). Fort Worth: Harcourt College.

Tags:  budget  foresight  futurist 

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What Makes a Futurist “Good”?

Posted By Administration, Monday, February 23, 2015
Updated: Saturday, February 23, 2019

Jason Swanson  shares his thoughts with us about “What Makes a Futurist Good?” in this blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

A few weeks ago I had the good pleasure of hosting my friend Jacob for a visit. Jacob is a quantum physicist and research group leader at the Quantum Network, making him one of the few people whose job might take more explaining than mine when asked what I do.

Over the course of his visit, he asked me a question that has stuck with me. The question was a simple one; what makes a futurist “good”? The question, while on the surface seemed straight forward, however the more I sought an answer, the more lost I became.

We might judge a good futurist by credentials and training. Have they learned methods for looking at the future from an academic institution? Did they take a seminar or some manner of formal training? This training might have some manner of correlation with a “good” futurist, but the credentials themselves are third party verification of certain competencies in methods that a futurist might employ. Even more problematic is that many enter the field from other industries, with years of outside knowledge and expertise and little or no formal training or “futures” credentials, yet put out well-regarded work.

With the idea of credentials and training no longer an option for figuring out who might be good, I started to think about output. Is it possible to objectively judge a forecast? Could one be a poor futurist but an excellent writer and create vivid images of the future? Sure. Could one be great at mastering the methods in a futurist’s tool box but not articulate the images of the future? Certainly. There is also the issue of bias; we may favor a particular writing style, or image, or method, thus gravitating towards a piece of work over others based more so on style than on content.

Ultimately my line of thinking has led me to this; a good futurist is one that creates good forecasts, in whichever form they are presented. A good forecast is one in which action is taken. Thus, a good forecast could potentially be created by anyone, with any form of credentials. It could be articulated in any way. As long as a stakeholder takes action, it may be considered good. Admittedly this is a very simplistic view. As the field continues to work towards professionalizing, there may be a time when there will have to be some criteria for what makes a futurist “good”. There is no easy answer to this. That is the rub with trying to rate a futurist. At best we create a standard for what we view to be good work. At worst we risk narrowing the field and creating a status quo, creating groups that are “in” and “out”, good and bad. If we base being “good” on forecasts that produce action, how do we define action? Is it creating actionable strategies? What about simply asking better questions about the future?

What makes a futurist “good” to you? Is it even possible to objectively call someone a good futurist?

Tags:  futurist  good  work 

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Benefits of Big Data – predictions vs. foresight

Posted By Administration, Monday, February 16, 2015
Updated: Saturday, February 23, 2019

Julian Valkieser  shares his thoughts with us about “Benefits of Big Data” in this blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

In my last articles, I have already mentioned the power of Big Data. My blog colleague Jason adopted it and expressed his own thoughts. In his last article, he has shown wonderfully how technology has already overturned business models and efficiency in other sectors and renewed them. In comparison to this, it could happen in the area of futurist and industry’s foresight as well.

Now, there are foresight methods that work well or best with uncertainty. Indeed, Delphi-Interviews are planned preciously, e.g. interviewees are pre-selected. But this does not mean that the statements can be processed for hard facts of future reality. And, they should not. That’s the exciting thing about scenarios. They give a way to stimulate the imagination and to derive recommendations for action.

But again, you try to keep the “cone of plausibility” as narrow as possible. (See Jason’s blog). You are looking for certain experts. You force certain issues. This is done in order to build the scenario reasonably.

Now you can imagine how neutral subjective responses and subjective questions are. Anyone who read “Thinking Fast and Slow“ from Daniel Kahneman knows what I mean. And right here data comes into play. Information could passively express motives and interests of groups. I have already indicated this in my last article.

In this article, I already referred to the fact that you can only get the most out of Big Data, if one applies the prediction to a trigger event. One extracts motives and interests out of big data for one or more so-called, trigger events. These are events that can be relatively easily predicted in the near future based on data, because the circumstances are (should be) less complex. Based on these trigger events you can create a scenario. In principle, this is nothing new. Just the basic information is extracted out of big data instead of interviews and subjective insights.

Let’s take an example. A major mobile phone company has 50 million customers. Each customer has a phone and moves every day with this turned-on phone – in this case between different radio towers (See Triangulation). Let’s suppose further that the company receives 20-100 motion information’s by any customer. Provided the company may cache this information for a longer period of time, the result is a huge amount of data information, how people move, how long they stay in which locations, etc. Of course, each individual could now be afraid of privacy. But the individual is not of interest. It’s about the mass.

Imagine what you can do with this information now available. Road offices could optimize the logistics. Infrastructure projects could be optimized. Where should the new stadium be built? How is the highway to be calculated? How many trains must be set on this track?

In a rising urban environment, where sheer masses of people are moving, all these data are exciting as the basis for trigger events and scenarios.

And finally, I have another wonderful example for these ideas. Eric Fischer has evaluated geo-tagging data from photo cameras. He compared where locals and tourists take pictures in certain cities in the world and displayed this information on maps.

Tags:  big data  foresight  scenarios 

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Agency and imagination

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Updated: Saturday, February 23, 2019

Bridgette Engeler Newbury  shares her thoughts with us about “the empires of mind” in this blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

The empires of the future are the empires of the mind. ~Winston Churchill

Design and its outputs may reflect our individual and collective imaginations, but design is first and foremost a philosophy, based on a system of values, which seeks to solve problems. What are we creating? Why and for whom? These are questions, in no particular order, to which answers are manifested tangibly and most often in the form of a new product or service or organisational or business model.

Designers are practical agents of visual imagination, both anticipating futures and creating the sensory blueprints for the objects and experiences to come. The images, objects and technologies that surround us are rich with desirable images and symbolism; they’re powerful and persuasive, well-crafted and covetable, and often very well made. Designers can turn abstract futures-oriented concepts and ideals into visible or tangible form. Designers and design thinkers are agents in articulating futures, and therefore have individual and collective agency for humanity more broadly to sense, see and negotiate (or refuse) the transition.

Not all design is good (by any definition). So I’m contemplating what something like long-range design – ‘design with foresight’ – could be. AKA prospective design, it’s what I suggest is design that emerges when futures thinking and design thinking are used together, in a structured manner, to develop an idea that may not exist until sometime in a long-range future, or which will not be to the detriment of preferred futures.

  • Prospective design relies not on technology but on human interaction, deep thought and reflection
  • Prospective design embraces design’s potential to shape conversations, to (re-)frame problems, and to drive participation by understanding the needs and resources of all the differing functions in a consuming world
  • Prospective design is inherently good and not just because it’s always intentional and sociological
  • Prospective design does not produce novelty for the sake of novelty
  • Prospective design makes a product, service or organisation truly useful. Things are purchased, used, adopted and recommended because they serve a purpose and deliver value: value that improves people’s lives and makes them happier. This is the real measurable value people desire. Prospective design optimises the feelings and experiences of customers, while being responsible to community, planet and what is yet to come
  • Prospective design satisfies form and aesthetics, without compromising usage or need. Designed artefacts do not simply fulfil desire or need; they can actualise and reflect wants.
  • The look and feel of something, its materiality and substance, ethereality and intangibility, ephemera and sensation are all part of the feelings it arouses – which are in turn a strategic and integral part of the user’s realisation of value
  • Prospective design helps us to make sense of things. ‘Value’ (as perceived by the user) creates engagement. Good design creates curiosity and engages its audience in meaningful, valuable ways. It also conveys the intentions and trustworthiness of the organisation behind the design and helps people make informed choices
  • Prospective design can be a catalyst or guide, a means for people to create their unique and evolving stories, and their own individual meaning
  • Prospective design is durable and enduring. It increases the value of something over time. It remains relevant as its users, community or culture develops and matures. It may not exert influence or manipulate buyers, but it often takes risks to provoke worthwhile change.

Prospective design is concerned with context and environment. It’s unobtrusive and meaningful, enhancing people’s experience; it’s not about dominating strategic decisions. Prospective design draws together futures thinking with the principles and practices of design to frame a strategic conversation without an elitist position. Design may be part of a complex, living ecosystem, but prospective design can strive to be a positive agent of transformation that contributes to better-being.

Tags:  design  imagination  value 

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To facilitate better futures?

Posted By Administration, Monday, February 2, 2015
Updated: Saturday, February 23, 2019

Sandra Geitz  shares her thoughts with us about the possibility of “facilitating better futures” in this blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

  – Albert Einstein

 

How to facilitate teams for generating and enacting?

 

There seems to be a growing acceptance that diverse experiences and perspectives correlate with better outcomes: greater financial performance results, improved risk management, greater innovation and employee satisfaction and engagement, see the recent McKinsey article, Why diversity matters.

 

And yet, neither diversity of experience, gender, ethnicity, gender, nor age guarantees that the best ideas will be shared, genuinely heard nor be accepted and implemented on their merits. In many recent experiences, I have seen culturally diverse teams conforming to expectations of the loudest, most senior team-member just like the best homogenous teams. Is this your experience, too?

 

What is really happening to the diverse potential of rich ideas?

 

For a long time, I’ve been interested in processes and methods that generate ideas and solve complex problems. I’m particularly interested in understanding ways to facilitate and encourage teams to examine issues or problems with an open mind, and help them reach beyond their own cognitive biases.

 

So, a recent Stowe Boyd blog grabbed my attention, Phil Gilbert on sidestepping cognitive biases in group design activities: When you give voice to more people, the best ideas win, not the loudest ones. Interesting. Boyd explained two key ways that information processing is disrupted by a team’s culture and psychology. Firstly, effective ideation can be impaired by sharedness bias:

 

Groups communicate predominantly about information, which all or most group members share before entering the discussion, and neglect unshared information, which only one or few members have initially. …  group members individually judge shared information as more important, relevant, accurate, and influential than unshared information. This bias seems to have two reasons: First, shared information can be confirmed by more than one group member. Second, individuals evaluate their own information as more valid than information from other members. Thus, unshared information, even if mentioned in the discussion, is not seriously considered by other group members and therefore has less impact on the final decision than shared information.

 

Hence, with established sources of team knowledge and shared experience, groups tend to discuss, share and privileged information that is held in common. Novelty is rarely introduced within team meetings themselves. New ideas tend to be socialised with team members prior to any decision-making in meetings.

The second is preference bias:

Even when all information necessary to identify the correct solution is exchanged during discussion, individual group members often stick to their initially preferred wrong solution. People bias their information processing to favor an initially preferred alternative. Other studies show the same phenomenon at the group level: Group decisions can often be predicted by the initial preferences of its members. If a majority favors a certain alternative before the discussion, the group seldom decides to chose another alternative. Thus, frequently, group discussions are superfluous, and groups would be better off using a decision shortcut like an immediate vote or averaging procedure.

We preference our own preconceived views and information over others. In spite of new valid information, we tend to conform to initial opinions we have of an issue. We tend to be closed to other possibilities, rarely are we convinced of others’ arguments, and we privilege our own ‘objectivity’. This sounds familiar…

Boyd interviewed Phil Gilbert, IBM general manager of design, on how he applies design thinking, diversity and inclusion to team product ideation. Gilbert believes that the major issue to generating future possibilities, is exposing everybody’s ideas to the whole team: both encouraging all to contribute and hearing each idea.

At IBM, team workshops are designed to include a wide diversity of experience and backgrounds. Gilbert’s method is sticky notes and silence, as depicted in the diagram above. Everyone present is encouraged to write down all their ideas on separate sticky notes and post them on a wall, without judgement, comment or self-censure. Team leader(s) sort, group and arrange like ideas on the wall, while everyone observes and reflects in silence. Then, individuals may leave the room to discuss ideas, in person, by phone or by a team social media tool. The group returns after an agreed time brainstorming and socialising their ideas (minutes, hours, or days). Gilbert explains that the process usually generates a few dozen new ideas.

Phil Gilbert’s approach also aligns with Alex Pentland’s research, Social Physics, that I discussed in earlier post. Peak idea flow occurs in teams that iteratively work as individual’s generating novelty and team collaborators discussing, building and socialising these new ideas into practice, summarised in this diagram:

 

“Any useful idea about the futures should appear to be ridiculous.”  – Jim Dator

 

Profound words. Futures requires a healthy amount of personal resilience in ourselves. What of the teams that are thinking about their future? Have we designed our methods so that participants, as individuals and teams, are able to bypass cultural and psychological biases to see and accept issues and information anew.

 

How can we promote genuine exploration, engagement and reflection with new ideas?

How can we design experiences that suspend judgement, cynicism and criticism?

How can we facilitate better futures?

Tags:  diversity  future  idea 

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