Futurism: 9 Practical Strategies for Thinking Beyond Today
There’s something strange in the air this summer. The impact of two years of Covid-19 seems to have made everyone determined to lean into summer in a big way.
The challenge is that some of us may have leaned in a tad too far and have fallen into a napping mode that might be restricting our desire to look too far ahead. Just saying.
Of course, we deserve some fun, it’s been a rough couple of years, but we also need to find some time to think about the future – not just our personal future and what we want for ourselves and our families, but also about the complex challenges facing the social, environmental, and economic well-being of our communities and the world. In other words, apply some futurism.
Futurism is a means to see beyond today. This kind of strategic foresight will help us all to see that while change comes from both the world and from ourselves, there is much we can do to promote anticipation and readiness for both expected and unexpected global changes. It is especially critical because if we don’t get a better grasp on the kind of future we want to see, others will do it for us and we might not like the result.
So, where does one begin? Here are nine strategies to get you started.
1. Observe general trends in your daily life and consider their potential impact and what it means to you and your community.
Pay attention to demographic information, changes in the economy, the political landscape, and new technologies. Visit online or virtual bookstores, Statistics Canada, The World Future Society, Fast Company, CBC Radio, and Ted Talks. Pay attention to both the mainstream and fringe media and culture.
2. Identify more specific trends that are of interest and then go deeper.
Whether your research consists of a Google Alert set up on a topic of particular interest, emails from influencers, listservs, newspapers, social media, memberships, journals or books, finding time to read and reflect needs to be prioritized. It’s especially important to read about things you might not know a lot about, or even things you might not initially find interesting. As business consultant Gary Hamel puts it, 'If you want to see the future coming, 90 percent of what you need to learn, you’ll learn outside of your industry'.
3. Cultivate Curiosity: Ask Questions
One of my most important learnings from my futurist colleagues is not to ignore things we don’t understand or have a basket to put them in. Do your best to resist the desire to ignore what is new or may seem irrelevant because it is often these ‘weak’ or ‘edge’ signals that will ultimately become important trends. For example, a weak signal in 1993 would have been the internet. At the time, it was dismissed by most people as being irrelevant.
4. Promote a learning culture in your organization or business.
Find time for your team to practice reflection. It could be as simple as carving out time to address three questions; 'What should we (1) stop doing, (2) keep doing and (3) start doing or do more of?' Make the development of individual and team learning plans a priority, don't cut your professional development budget, be on the constant lookout for learning opportunities, and pay attention to the word-on-the-street’ as there is a great deal of insight to be found among your stakeholders and at the grassroots of our communities.
5. Trust your instincts and intuition (while learning to ignore your own bias).
While education has taught us to believe in research and facts, the reality is that trends are based on evidence and conclusions based on what has already taken place. That means while trends are important, they don’t tell the full story. Even the futurists admit they can no longer predict the future, so many of the solutions we need haven’t yet been invented. Individual or collective intuition is another way of thinking and knowing that shouldn’t be ignored. My personal experience with boots-on-the-ground work is that intuitive conclusions were typically accurate several years before the actual evidence was gathered.
6. Make time for conversations.
My most impactful strategy for gathering relevant and meaningful information about the future is to hang out with smart people who are ahead of the curve. While some of those smart people are part of an international network of futurists or leaders at the grasstops of organizations, conversations with leaders at the grassroots are just as, and sometimes more, fruitful. Build diverse contacts, cultivate mentorships, add ‘trends and issues’ as a discussion topic at staff and board meetings, invest in the development of networks, and share updates after a member of your team attends conferences or workshops.
7. Project the impact of trends, edge signals, and intuitive knowing.
In addition to making a concerted effort to be aware of trends, edge signals, and intuitive knowing, it is also important to think about how they could potentially impact your future and that of your organization and community. Developing potential scenarios based on that information will be important in determining future direction.
8. Get used to messier and non-binary thinking.
It is becoming increasingly rare to find one solution or one best way for resolving complex challenges. Instead, it is more likely to be ‘and/both’, rather than ‘either/or’. Non-binary thinking requires that you empty all of your baskets and find ways of ordering their contents that are a little more flexible and nuanced in order to reveal qualities and opportunities that may not have been readily evident. In many cases, this will help you determine your values, outcomes, and ultimately strategic priorities for moving forward.
9. Act in a spirit of hope and belief that you can, and will, make a difference.
While this is likely the most challenging strategy, it is probably one of the most important. It is oh so tempting to play ostrich and bury our heads, however, it is ultimately far less stressful and far more rewarding to turn toward the future with hope and a positive spirit. Not always easy for sure, but the most important work you will ever do.>
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