Predicting the future is something we've all wished we could do at some point. How great would it be to know which team is going to win the premiership this year, or what the weather will be like for your wedding day? Predicting specific events with that kind of certainty might be impossible, but futures thinking offers us a process for mapping the landscape of the future, and understanding how we can prepare for and even shape the trends that will affect us going forward.
When you hear terms like 'futures thinking', 'trendspotting' or 'strategic foresight', it's tempting to think of fortune tellers and crystal balls - concrete predictions of specific future events that will come to pass. Instead, we encourage you to consider these approaches as structured ways to explore a range of possible futures.
'Futures thinking' very deliberately refers to plural futures. Many future scenarios are possible, but applying a futures thinking approach can help you to understand which are most likely, what their impacts might be, and how you can best prepare for them as an organisation, a community, or an individual.
So what does this process look like?
Below are the three key stages of any futures thinking approach, and some of the key question to ask at each stage.
What’s happening right now at the level of your organisation, sector, state, country, or the world?
What are the major drivers - big, inevitable changes that are already underway?
What are you seeing on the fringes that could be considered signals of change?
What's likely to happen when the trends we've identified intersect?
What are the key uncertainties that could lead to very different futures?
What would each of our possible scenarios look and feel like?
What can we do to make sure that these possible scenarios don’t affect us negatively?
What influence could we exert to make a desirable scenario more likely?
How can we prepare now to make the most of likely future opportunities?
In a nutshell, futures thinking is about being observant and conscious of what's happening now, and seeing trajectories and possibilities in those trends that allow us to create rich pictures of the scenarios we may encounter in the future. These rich pictures make the future more real, and help us to make better strategic decisions now about how we can innovate and prepare ourselves and our communities.
If you'd like to explore this skillset and how it could help your team or organisation to prepare for the future, check out our video recording of our free SkillGym where we talked about the basic principles of Trendspotting for Innovation.
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