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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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An Archetype for Future(s) Clients?

Posted By Administration, Monday, September 8, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Jason Swanson shares his thoughts on “Archetype for Futures Clients” 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 touched on the idea of a market research report that would look at the Futures field. The idea would be to use quantitative research to get an idea of sentiment and knowledge base from the client perspective. The survey could potentially look at such things as how do clients and potential clients define Futurists? What skills are they seeking? What qualifications are they looking for?

As we begin the process of framing out what such a survey might look like, there has been some great dialogue around what some of goals of this undertaking might be, beyond simply measuring sentiment and knowledge base. One of the questions that has been raised is if the survey were to run, given the correct questions and sample, from the data gathered would it be possible to see if there were any common traits that would make a person or a company more or less likely to hire futurists?

While the idea of seeing a pattern or correlation in the survey data as to who might be likely to hire Futurist is certainly a possibility, the question gave me pause for reflection. I began to wonder what else might be out there that might reveal some of those traits? One tool might be Philip Zimbardo’s work on the psychology of time.

In Zimbardo’s work on the psychology of time he identified 5 time perspectives, or attitudes towards time. Those 5 time perspectives are:

The ‘past-negative’ type. Someone who focuses on negative personal experiences that still have the power to upset them. This can lead to feelings of bitterness and regret. People with this time perspective are focused on a difficult past.


The ‘past-positive’ type. A person who takes a nostalgic view of the past. This person usually takes a cautious, “better safe than sorry” approach, and yearns for the “good old days”.

  1. The ‘present-hedonistic’ type. These people are dominated by pleasure-seeking impulses, and are reluctant to postpone feeling good for the sake of greater gain later. People with this time perspective want to live in the moment
  2. The ‘present-fatalistic’ type. Those with this time perspective aren’t enjoying the present but feel trapped in it, unable to change the inevitability of the future.
  3. The ‘future-focused’ type. Are highly ambitious, focused on goals, and big on making ‘to do’ lists.


Futurist Todd Gentzel gave a brilliant presentation in 2013 at the University of Houston Futures Gathering around the very topic of Zimbardo’s work. Gentzel’s presentation, “Psychology and the Field of the Future” highlighted how Gentzel uses Zimbardo’s time perspectives as a framework, with an added sixth perspective: Future Transcendental– those that look beyond this life.

In the case of Gentzel’s presentation, he used this framework to look at the future of cities, highlighting particular time perspectives that each city might fit into, and how each time perspective correlated with that city’s methods (or lack thereof) for planning for the future.

Back to the original question; what other tools might there be to help determine what traits a person or company might have to make them more likely to hire Futurists? Or perhaps a better way to frame the question might be; is there an archetype in terms of a person or company that hires Futurists?

Zimbardo’s time perspectives might hold an answer. If Zimbardo’s work shows the time perspective for the individual, and Gentzel has used his framework for mapping time perspectives to cities in relation to how they approach the future, then it stands to reason that time perspectives could be assigned to companies; the trick being to understand which time perspective correlates to the companies most willing to hire. Just because a company falls under the “Future Focused” perspective doesn’t mean they will want, or need, the services a futurist can provide. If nothing else, time perspectives may offer a tool to frame the conversations we might have with our stakeholders.



Reference

Zimbardo, Philip and John Boyd, The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time that Will Change your Life (New York: Free Press, 2008).

Tags:  archetype  futurist  psychology 

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