Day #17 – Future Resiliency #Backers101

Future resiliency ー how to design your business to adapt to a rapidly changing world? (navigating industry shifts, tech changes, climate change, etc)

Objective: You will be able to envision different possible future worlds, imagine how your business can fit into these worlds, and assess what strategies can keep your business resilient in a rapidly changing world.

A Futurist does not try to predict the future. They try to open space for alternative ideas, and for an understanding that there is not one single future, but rather many possible futures. They try to grapple with and understand trends that are happening (or are imminent) in our world to better understand where our world might be going. There are infinite possible future worlds ahead of us, and Futurists try to bring some of these possibilities to life. Futurists try to understand what future worlds might be more probable, and ultimately try to provoke critical thought in people around what future worlds are preferable. This enables us to think of changes we can make now to be more likely to reach these preferable futures.

Futurists build stories of different worlds, share them with people, and ask questions like “what did you like about that world? What did you dislike? What sorts of shifts can we make now that help us create the positive aspects and keep away the negative aspects you experienced? What changes can we make to your organization or individual life to keep you resilient in these future worlds we experienced?”.

*insert cone image

A cone designed by Stuart Candy to explain possible, probable, and preferable futures. The further we go in time, the more options we have, and so the more possible futures exist – of course, some are more probable and/or preferable than others.

Future visioning.

To start, we should keep your company vision statement in mind. This vision statement is a major part of your preferable future world.

We will use a method designed by Professor Jim Dator to engage in a future visioning process to help you move toward your preferable future. I will outline the critical steps here, and then you can learn more by doing the further reading and the action items!

1. Appreciating the past

First is a discussion of a common understanding of the history of the community or group  involved,  going back “to  the  beginning” of the community or group if possible and not just the immediately-remembered past. It is not possible to think usefully and creatively about the  future  of anything until you understand its rationale for coming into existence, the many different facets of its past.

2. Understanding the present

Second is a discussion of the problems and possibilities of the present. Until people are able to vent their concerns and/or satisfactions with the present, they will often be unwilling and unable to think usefully about the future. They may resist futures activities as “pie in the sky” avoidance  of urgent problems of the present unless allowed to vent.They should also understand that  sometimes solutions to present problems lie “just ahead” over the horizon – to see “the future” as a reservoir of solutions (and new challenges!), and thus that it would be a mistake to try to solve current problems without first engaging in a complete futures process.

3. Forecasting aspects of the futures

Third is a discussion of possible challenges and opportunities from the futures (using as a default a roughly 20-50 year time horizon). It is absolutely essential that everyone have some sense of what is likely to be “new” about the future, as well as what aspects from the past and the present might or should be brought forward into the futures. What are the major continuing trends, novel emerging issues, and significant continuities from the past that will result in “the present at a later time” (aka, “the future”)? We often use the term “surfing tsunamis” to convey these interacting components of the future.

4. Experiencing alternative futures

Fourth, and the most crucial of all, is an experience in one or more of at least four alternative  futures that are based upon different mixes of the trends, emerging issues, challenges and opportunities from the future, and also based upon different ideas about how the world works.  There is no single future “out there” to be predicted. There are many alternative futures to be anticipated and pre-experienced to some degree.

5. Envisioning the futures

Fifth is a futures visioning exercise in which participants now are better prepared to envision a  preferred future for the community or group 20-50 years from now, based on the past, present, and alternative futures discussed previously. Visioning a preferred future is the main purpose of this entire exercise. But visioning should take place only after participants have become aware of what is new and what is old, and what challenges and opportunities lie ahead, in order to create one or more preferred futures for the community or group.

6. Creating the futures

Sixth is a discussion and decision of what to do now and in what sequence in order to begin moving the community/group towards the preferred future. Futures visioning is not just about imagining a preferred future. It is about using that vision to decide what to do now in the present in order to move towards the preferred future.

7. Institutionalizing futures research

You then need to set up some kind of an ongoing ‘futures’ unit which can keep the future-oriented process going. This should include some kind of a “scanning process” which continues to “look  ahead”  for emerging challenges and opportunities in the immediate and more distant futures, in order to inform the community/group (and its leaders) about them. A related aspect is either to agree on a time in the future when this entire process will be undertaken again (eg., to agree to repeat the process in five years), or a way in which the futures participative process can begin again if the original vision is felt to be insufficient in the light of experience and/or information about new challenges and opportunities from the futures.

Action Item(s):

  • Get together 12 of your most trusted community members and run the “four futures” exercise on page 7 of Professor Jim Dator’s article.
  • For a more simple version of the exercise that would take less time and less people: order the FUTURES game and play with a few friends. Once you have the hang of the game, fill in a few of the custom Change cards (you’ll know what those are when you play) and make them relate to the goals of your business. One of your custom Change cards should be your company vision statement. The others can relate to big changes that could happen in your industry or market.
  • Finally, play the FUTURES game with your custom Change cards with 2-5 trusted members of your business’s community.

Further Reading:


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