Or maybe not. Maybe I'm just seeing the futures field from a new perspective.
When I was a practitioner working with organisations, I would suggest methods that we could use to address their issues. I always talked about the need to provide a space for people to begin to imagine new futures and how we might do that, and that was always agreed to. Mostly though, the futures imagined were not new, or not new enough. Or they were new, very new, and rejected by the group. In hindsight now, I realise this was probably because of the 2x2 matrix scenario approach I was using, or maybe I didn't challenge assumptions enough. I will never know.
I talked about thinking about futures in the past, but until I did my PhD, the dots didn't start connecting. A meta-perspective or lens on how we think about futures is needed now, and that's what I'm trying to define in my book on conversations about futures. But what this shift in my thinking has highlighted is how many people use terms like thinking in their publicity that infer their product is about thinking when it's actually about methods. The process. Usually what is being offered is very good though, but the thinking side of things remains inferred, tacit.
For example, this image is doing the rounds social media at the moment.
I have no problem with this image except in one way. It's a very useful way to describe the difference between prediction and foresight which I like. I have often said we should remove the word prediction from the futures vocabulary because it immediately constrains our thinking to what we know. The issue I have with it is one that is an issue with most diagrams on futures and foresight - there is no place for making thinking explicit. They focus on the processes we use, the contexts we operate in, and the need for us to move from what to know to the unknown. The thinking remains inferred, tacit.
To introduce thinking an a much more overt part of our processes is my work now. That requires us to challenge our assumptions about the present and our futures - we have to change the way we think if we are going to accept new types of futures - negative and positive, and those in between. We have to open up our worldviews beyond what we accept as real and true now, accept imagination as a valid source of information, and explore our possible futures more expansively and more deeply. Otherwise, the need for new perspectives, new thinking and new actions will remain out of our reach.
I am not claiming that no futures work focuses on shifting worldviews and challenging assumptions - that would just be plain wrong. And the new generation of foresight folks across the world are doing some amazing things right now - and maybe that's why I feeling old!
What I'm talking about is what Pierre Wack* at Shell wrote about when sharing his work on scenarios the 1980s - to change mental models so that we could re-perceive the present. And ultimately, that's what futures work is all about. Not to find the right future (it doesn't exist) but to reframe how we think about, and act in, the present. And that means we have to ensure we are overt about how we do that in our work and in our processes. An expanded ontological space for thinking about futures and the benefits it can bring to our work and to the outcomes for clients is what I'm talking about.
More to come. This post is already too long!
*Pierre Wack References
Scenarios: The gentle art of re-perceiving. One thing or two learned while developing planning scenarios for Royal Dutch Shell (1984). Division of Research, Harvard Business School.
Scenarios: Uncharted Waters Ahead (1985). Harvard Business Review, September Issue.
Scenarios: Charting the Rapids (1985). Harvard Business Review, November issue.