Futures Thinking Enters the Mainstream

Let’s kick off with a simple exercise: close your eyes and imagine a black and white image with a vertical line connecting to a horizontal line forming a 90 degree angle  … okay, it’s a graph!

Most of us are familiar with the innovation/adoption curve used across industries to determine when the majority will purchase a product or adopt a new idea. Many of these curves have profiles that include innovators (risk takers who recognize the potential for a breakthrough), early adopters (thought leaders who are willing to “try” something new), early majority (people who do their research but accept only risk-adverse change), late majority (those that use something once “all my friends have it”), and laggards (individuals holding tight to the way things used to be done). We know something is on the cusp of entering the mainstream when it falls to the majority of the distribution – early majority and late majority.

Have you ever identified with the “innovator” profile on the curve? If so, you might have felt it was a tribe of one or just a few. Being an innovator can be invigorating, but it can also feel very lonely. You are the brave evangelizer who is proclaiming why something is different yet necessary. You narrate the value-shifting story of change that will lead to transformation.

Those who have worked in the field of foresight for any length of time are probably familiar with this feeling. By the very nature of the “job” you make people question their systems, approaches and mindsets. You are the human change agent without the cool superhero costume. We are constantly shaping motivations, values and perspectives to influence future-empowered behavior that impacts the decisions we make today.

Thankfully, there has been a shift in recent years. Organizations and society are beginning to acknowledge the incredible benefits of foresight. Even if these leaders and their organizations aren’t well-versed in all of the tools and lingo of futures thinking, more people are demanding that “we do things differently.” The momentum is building, and we believe 2019 could be another pivotal year for foresight!

While we could spend a number of posts making our case, we wanted to share some key articles about foresight that hit the mainstream media in 2018:

  • Brands are Looking to Futurists to Foresee Trends and Anticipate Disruption”- Companies are realizing that traditional short-term strategic planning process will not uphold in the 21st century landscape. Instead, they are turning to futurists or Strategic Foresight methods to ensure their brands don’t become “obsolete.”
  • Experiencing the Future to Build Empathy and Create Change” – With humanity experiencing a wide-range of wicked problems (i.e. Syrian refugees, climate change, inequality), we need a vehicle that will provide the possibility of the future. Experiential futures reduce the perceived time between the future and now and allow us to build empathy through touching, feeling and sensing a future “world” based on data. Organizations such as Google and Dubai’s Museum of the Future use experiential futures for transformational innovation.
  • How to Learn from the Future” – In an interview, Eshanthi Ranasinghe, shares how to “build a muscle for foresight,” including how to use trends to gain insights.
  • How AT&T Predicted the Future in 1993” – AT&T revisits ads it released in 1993 that  predicted how technology in the future would transform our lives. Why resurface these ads now? The predictions proved to be quite accurate.
  • The Year in Telling Stories about the Future” – The article features authors and writers who detail mini scenarios or “blueprints” of the future.
  • Zoom out/zoom in: An Alternative Approach to Strategy in a World that Defies Prediction” – The traditional 5-year plan is like the warm, fuzzy blanket that we perceive to keep us safe. However, by only forecasting numbers we are missing critical variables, disruptors and opportunities. The approach in this article argues that two parallel time horizons need to be simultaneously considered in strategic planning processes – short-term/zoom in (6-12 months) and long-term/zoom out (10-20 years).

What articles have you discovered that directly or indirectly speak to the power of Strategic Foresight/futures thinking? Email us at info@thefuturesschool.com

Nicole Baker Rosa headshot

Nicole Baker Rosa

Head of Human Design and Development

Nicole grows and nurtures the diverse relationships within The Futures School ecosystem. With 8+ years of foresight experience, she is a skilled speaker and thought leader in foresight implementation, offering expertise in the tools and processes required for culture change and capacity development.

Read More