I recently discovered that my dream of a circumnavigation of the world entered my mind in fourth grade.
In a school essay I described the journey of my dreams, and I described in detail how I would sail around the world on a raft, the countries and peoples I would meet, and in childhood imagery, I pictured the cultural experiences that I would encounter. All of it with my loyal friend, my teddy bear, Bammer. Somehow, in that perspective, it suddenly seems far from random that I ended up studying sociology and cultural studies while living abroad and further specializing in ethnographic fieldwork.
For many years, this curiosity to explore cultures as well as socio-economic and socio-cultural drivers that inform people and our behaviors became my primary focus. This curiosity intensified as I entered the field of future studies and foresight. Insisting on understanding the implications of societal currents on our future everyday lives, values and behaviors is something that continues to trigger my interest.
However, what has increasingly been growing in my mind in recent years is how different cultural contexts, ways of living and perceptions of the future around the world might in turn also express and embody potential futures that are waiting to be explored already now, in the present.
As a result, my lifelong dream of sailing around the world, which I have just embarked on with my husband and two children, will also become a hunt for the future.
Image source: Tamira Snell
As a sailing family, we have chosen to go out and experience the world and at the same time, take a break from everyday life at home. It is an active decision and a search for what we really want to fill our lives with – but at the same time it also is a dream on behalf of everyone else.
Because what do we all want to fill our lives with in the future? What future solutions might we need that are possibly already out there? Can we discover the sustainable future, the healthy future, the democratic future (and so on) somewhere out there already today?
That is the starting point for The Hunt for the Future.
Building on perspectives of participating futures, democratizing futures and ethnographic experiential futures, I believe that the future will not merely happen to us or overcome us. We share a part and a responsibility in creating the future, as well as an obligation to try to explore, observe and listen to the many voices around the world, and their perceptions of what the future means and might hold.
In other words, the future belongs to the many.
It is manifold, complex, and at times contradicting. But, I believe an increasing awareness of the cultural manifestations of potential futures holds value for theorizing, exploring, analyzing various outcomes, challenges and opportunities when we address and think about the future.
"The future is already here, it's just unevenly distributed,” wrote the science fiction writer William Gibson. His point was that developments in the world are now going so fast that we should focus on the present (and not the future) to understand the future. It is already found in pockets and in glimpses all around.
The future, at least fragments of the future, are already present around the globe. It exists among the people who create it or discover it before the rest of us. It hides among the most forward-looking and visionary people, but sometimes also among the most traditional people who have held on to ancient traditions in opposition to the digital and modern world.
As a futurist, I am convinced that the future should not just be found in the most high-tech parts of the world, or in the most developed countries and regions. I think the pieces of the puzzle of the future also exist in societies that are not always included in mainstream research.
The future belongs to all of us but is all too often told by only a few voices. The future also exists in places where people have held on to more traditional ways of life, which we also can learn from in order to live more sustainably, healthy, or understand the cultural structures that influence our behavior.
On the journey we plan to visit them all. From the diversity of socio-economic conditions in the Caribbean islands, and isolated island atolls in the Pacific Ocean to the frontrunner in certain areas of modern democracy, New Zealand, and the smartcity/smart-nation Singapore, and many, many more.
MOVING FROM THEORY INTO PRACTICE – WHILE SAILING ON A BOAT
A boat trip around the world is our family's dream, but at the same time sailing also represents the future in a kind of miniature.
You move from theory into practice when it comes to futures thinking. As such, sailing comes to represent an ideal test ground for how we can start integrating futures principles, embody and live them as individuals.
According to Stephen Covey in his bestseller on leadership, a great leader must first learn to lead him/herself before being able to lead an organization. In my opinion, the same line of thought can be applied to futures-thinking: we must understand and learn as futurists ourselves how to apply future studies methods, scenario planning and be aware of our own cognitive biases and social situatedness in the world before we can guide and advise organizations in foresight and future decision making.
On a boat in the middle of the sea, you must think about everyday life and your place in the world in a slightly different way than when you are at home in all the familiar. For example, you need to be very aware of the outside world and think through potential scenarios before making a decision and setting a course. You live on nature's terms, and all choices have consequences.
In this sense, a boat is a kind of microcosm in relation to the choices and dilemmas that the world faces in the future on a large scale. And at the same time, you can reach out to places and cultures that are otherwise not easily accessible. The oceans are the world's largest highways connecting us all.
First stop: Greece.
Tamira Snell (she/her) is an experienced advisor with the Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies, where she has worked since 2013. Snell has a demonstrated history in guiding organizations in strategic innovation and decision-making processes. With a background in cultural sociology, her field of passion is people – to understand emerging needs, the drivers and barriers behind why we live and think, behave and consume the way we do, and to investigate the behavioural patterns and cultural consequences of broader societal currents.
Through many years of advisory, Snell possesses a solid knowledge around mixed methods, frameworks for foresight, insights and sociocultural analysis, as well as a strategic understanding of trends and their implications across sectors, industries and geographies. Snell advocates the value of always combining macro perspectives on changes in global society with micro deep dives analysing needs and behaviors, in order to advise on how to navigate in a rapidly changing world.