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Oct 27, 2014

Daniel Bonin shares his thoughts on “workflows” 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 month ago I took up a second job at an innovation consultancy. I was familiarized with all the knowledge I needed and everything went smoother than originally expected. I learned about new methods and got to know new workflows. That motivated me to rethink my own knowledge management and workflow.

First of all, I personally have to admit that I have internalised the problem solving approach of management consultancies. At least here in Germany, there is no job interview or recruiting workshop without such a question as: “What do you think is the market size for ski-rental services in Austria?” You are not expected to come up with a single number out of the blue, but you have to present a well-structured and efficient problem-solving approach. Only then you are allowed to go on and enrich this structure with information. Due to this influence I tend to not only structure information, but also processes. For instance, before starting desk research I create a list with buzzwords that are helpful for the research. In the next step I use this list to search for synonyms. Then finally, I work off this list step by step.

Photography and Future Studies

Most photographers develop routines to cope with large amounts of photos. These routines are called workflows. Workflows usually consist of the same steps (capturing, sorting & organizing, processing, saving final pictures to a library, sharing). Plugins and presets improve the efficiency and also the effectiveness even further. These templates can be customised to meet individual needs and tastes. Today the number of photos we take increase steadily. In a similar fashion, futurists have to cope with an ever increasing “supply of raw material” – information and new impressions. Sooner than we expect, we might be annoyed about all the information we did not archive or process properly.

“The Evolution of My Workflow”

Back when I started to become interested in future studies, I mainly used bookmarks and folders to sort and organize information. Then, whenever needed I had to “excavate” my knowledge for different projects. But recently, I switched to programs like Evernote, Citavi (esp. useful for academic work) and XMind to organize my knowledge. I also started carrying around a paper notepad to write down interesting information on the go. At a first glance it might be strange to take down notes like “Brazil: the cattle stock will double till 2018 – Le Monde diplomatique 08/14” and store them digital. But from my experience I can say, that sometimes those “pointless facts” turn out to be the most important ones. For the future I am planning to turn one wall at my flat into a huge pinboard so that I can create oversized mind maps. Moreover I started to visualize the structure of my thought-processes (i.e. create my own templates). Currently I am working on a template (click for more information) to assess the attitude of consumers towards future products or technologies. My ultimate goal is to develop a workflow that (a) incorporates established methods/ templates (e.g. STEEP) and my own templates that reflect my own line of reasoning and (b) concludes with an insight rather than a bookmark.

How can futurists manage their explicit (and tacit) knowledge?

Imagine you are sitting at the breakfast table reading a newspaper. You came across an interesting article. How do you save and organize new information, if at all? What does my workflow look like?

Does your workflow end after you saved and stored the information? This might save time and effort in the short run, but in the longer term you have to search for the information in your (possibly messy) knowledge database. The other option would be to go through the whole workflow process (e.g. add a new factor to your exhausting list of STEEP factors). And when you think about it, another question arises: do you save, organize and process information in a way that allows you to share information with your colleagues? How can organisational structures be designed to enable and facilitate knowledge exchange?


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