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Emotions in Futures (Part 2 of 2)

This is the continuation of a two-part blog series exploring the intersection of emotions and futures thinking processes. Part 1 explored how to handle Fear and Anger. Part 2 continues by exploring how your futures thinking practices can be more effective and engaging when an emotional layer is added.

“Scenarios deal with two worlds. The world of facts and the world of perceptions. They explore for facts but they aim at perceptions inside the heads of decision-makers. Unless we influenced their mental image, the picture of reality held by critical decision-makers, our scenarios would be like water on a stone.”

-        Pierre Wack, Head of Scenario Planning, Shell

Building off Pierre Wack’s insight, one great way that you can shift perceptions in your decision-maker’s minds is through their hearts.

Emotional Literacy Frameworks

Effective scenarios are memorable scenarios. Studies have also shown that experiences that evoke stronger emotions are easier to remember. You have probably observed it yourself - provocative scenarios are usually also accompanied by strong emotions, making them stick more in the minds of your audience.

One way you can tease out such emotions is by using an emotional literacy framework, like the SCARED / MAD / SAD / GLAD quadrants. Participants can quickly and easily name and organise their feelings for all to see.

By the audience revealing the emotions generated, you can see which of those emotional responses were expected or surprising to you. This then allows you to finetune your scenarios and create better provocations.

Here are some other frameworks that you can consider using

Embodiment Practices

Futures can be a highly cognitive activity, exercising critical thinking, analysis and imagination. Beyond stimulating the mind, you can also activate physical and sensorial aspects to engage people’s emotions.

The world of theatre is a treasure trove of such experiences. Improv, short for Improvisation, has many exercises that can be incorporated into your Futures toolkit to help you engage a diversity of senses.

One such technique I’ve found to be effective is called Hot Seating. Hot Seating generates an embodied sense of a future persona, allowing people to access what it can be like emotionally, fleshing out the world one answer at a time. Here are the steps:

1.     Identify a scenario that you want to explore and bring to life.

2.     An individual is asked to play a role, persona or even an inanimate object from that identified future scenario.

3.     The person in the Hot Seat sits down, facing the rest of the group.

4.     The group then takes turns interviewing[TL1]  the person in the Hot Seat.

5.     Questions can include asking about the future persona’s background, behaviour, motivation, their lives and the world around them.

You can also use Alex McDowell’s Worldbuilding Mandala as a helpful source of Hot Seat questions. There are useful STEEP prompts that stretch from individual biology and self-identity to culture and social structures.


If you’d like to try other experiential methods, Stuart Candy’s work with Thing From The Future and The Futures Bazaar is a great starting point too.

By bringing in practices from other disciplines like emotional literacy frameworks and improv embodiment exercises, we can become more influential and impactful in the work that we do.

What other methods, outside of the Futures domain, do you draw from to engage your audience’s emotions?

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