This blog post features an article from our Sydney student scholarship recipient, Broden Kay. Read about his TFS experience below to discover what he learned and how his mind was rewired from practicing futures thinking. At the end, see how he’s been able to apply TFS techniques in the real world.
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Do you consider yourself naturally curious? Do you live for what is innovative and pioneering? Can you feel the “pull” of the future? Then you have the basic underlying features of a futurist! You are a person who craves curiosity, acts courageously, welcomes diversity, thinks outrageously, and considers multiple futures.
I thought I was this person – someone who contemplates the universe and strives to consider ideas that are on the forefront of our future. This mindset was a must, considering I was about to graduate architectural engineering, which focuses on Environmentally Sustainable Design (ESD), developing and optimising project solutions, and creating outcomes that may need to last a century.
I jumped at the chance to apply for a scholarship allowing me to attend The Futures School, a certificate program that teaches the futurist mindset as well as foresight tools and strategies. After an interview with a selection panel, containing the CEO of Kienco, Alex Hagan, a representative from NAB Bank, and Selvi Kannan from Victoria University, I was offered the amazing opportunity to attend The Futures School at the Sydney Opera House. However, then the realisation set in. I knew nothing about Strategic Foresight or Futures Thinking…. What even is “environmental scanning”?
I realised I was looking at the future with a narrow lens – as if I were peering through a keyhole rather than opening the door. I had my blinders on and now it was time to take them off, allowing me to look at the world in a whole new manner! After reading an article on Fast Coexist written by Frank Spencer, co-founder and instructor of The Futures School, I found myself fired up and enthusiastic. He opened a new world of knowledge by paralleling the United States Air Force’s RAND Corporation to the 1955 Dr. Seuss story “Oh Beyond Zebra,” showing that “predicting trends doesn’t help prepare for the future,” and a futurist’s “alphabet starts where everyone else’s alphabet ends.” I felt driven to learn more, to further expand into the unknown.
Arriving at the Opera House and entering the Utzon Room added to this enthusiasm; the environment promoted futures thinking. On day one, we learned to remove our filters and eliminate our biases to allow us to develop the new idea of “multiple futures.” As the course was directed towards talent acquisition within a workforce, we spent time discussing the question “what do you see as your workforce in the future?”
The following two days were filled with tools and techniques to help leverage the drivers of change in the Social, Technological, Environmental, Economic and Political (STEEP) categories and provide some insight into what could be happening in the multiple futures we were considering. The STEEP categories were combined with environmental scanning to find areas where multiple current trends collide and cause a slight ripple in today’s society, which promotes change. This is when a company or individual can find an area to innovate or capitalise on. By the end of day three, the key topics within the room were planning for a carbon and non-carbon workforce, the complete integration of artificial intelligence into day-to-day life, and the reversal of the Eastern and Western worlds.
Looking back on the event, I now realise that I have altered my way of thinking. I have begun to consider every idea as an option, and it’s only the steps involved to get to it that can be slightly difficult. Take my Capstone Project, for example: we wanted to find a way to provide the audience in the presentation with a 3D representation of the building we studied. With some extensive research and some very long hours, we utilised a smart phone app to upload the 3D model we had created. This allowed the audience to scan the image and instantly view the 3D-rendered model, which they could then pan around and zoom in and out.
To provide a real-world idea of the knowledge and techniques gained from The Futures School, I’ve linked to a few important topics I’ve noticed during my brief amount of environmental scanning so far.
- Within the technology and social categories, we see Shenzhen, China has an emerging manufacturing ecosystem that is one-of-a-kind, which will only develop further (http://www.wired.co.uk/video/shenzhen-full-documentary).
- During the recent U.S. election, a ripple in the political and social categories can be seen with the #NeverTrump app creating a collaborative environment for people to swap votes (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/09/upshot/election-2016-trading-votes-on-an-app-and-trusting-a-friend.html?_r=0).
- And then in the economic and technological categories, Google and NASA have teamed up to develop a quantum AI lab. The technology, if successful, will reduce the amount of server farms and increase the speed of finding solutions to optimisation problems, plus many more unforeseen solutions (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMdHDHEuOUE).