(followup to When Futures Thinking Meets Design Thinking post)
The last post outlined a general framework for “futures thinking.” Here, we look at three techniques for honing your ability to see beyond the horizon.
1. Trend Analysis
In order to develop the capacity for imagining alternative futures and create design solutions accordingly, it is useful to be aware of the current driving forces and megatrends underway. The “STEEP” categories [Social, Technological, Environmental, Economic, Political] give us the mental framework for understanding the complex web of change around us, and can also be further broken down into subcategories for refinement. For example, “Social” could be viewed at the more granular levels of culture, organization, and personal.
Once a trend is identified, both its causes and impacts can be considered. For instance, a rise in life expectancy might be caused by rising living standards, better medical treatments, and healthier environments. The corresponding impacts of this trend may be that a longer portion of a person’s life is spent in retirement, and so there will be an increasing demand in goods and services for the elderly and perhaps a bigger financial strain on families to care for aging parents or grandparents. What types of environments should be designed in order to accommodate these changes?
Another example is the increasing amount of “leisure time” people are now facing. Technological automation has made human involvement in many processes unnecessary, and global economic recession has left many unemployed. If these trends continue, what types of structures must be designed in order to redirect the wasted productivity and surplus mental power that is currently sitting idle? When thinking about the world at this scale, the “big picture” pops out and we can begin to think about design in terms of strategic preparation for our future.
Clarifying a vision is one of the most powerful mechanisms for engaging a team, organization or community and getting them excited to push forward into new territory. A successfully designed product or service should intentionally impact the thoughts and behaviors of society and culture, and serve as an example of the mindset and values of its creators. So, what does this future humanity look like? Creating that clear vision is a precursor to planning, and a key to creating the conditions to mobilize a group of collaborators around a common goal.
There is a nice guideline in the book Futuring that breaks down this process of “Preferred Futuring” into these eight tasks:
1. Review the organization’s common history to create a shared appreciation.
2. Identify what’s working and what’s not. Brainstorm and list “prouds” and “sorries.”
3. Identify underlying values and beliefs, and discuss which ones to keep and which to abandon.
4. Identify relevant events, developments, and trends that may have an impact on moving to a preferred future.
5. Create a preferred future vision that is clear, detailed, and commonly understood. All participants, or at least a critical mass, should feel a sense of investment or ownership in the vision.
6. Translate future visions into action goals.
7. Plan for action: Build in specific planned steps with accountabilities identified.
8. Create a structure for implementing the plan, with midcourse corrections, celebrations, and publicizing of successes.
Ultimately, it’s not about creating MY vision, but about creating a SHARED vision. As responsible, forward thinking humans, we all want to create a better future. But what does it look like? Have we defined it? Have we described it? Who are we within it? What does interaction look like? If our idea gained mass adoption, what would that mean? What does that world look like?
If we can see it, we can build it.
3. Scenario Development
As an extension of visioning, scenario development is where the power of narrative comes in. Throughout human history, we are defined by the stories we tell each other and ourselves. We create meaning and understanding by the way we remember our stories, like personal cargo that we carry in our minds. Our surroundings, natural or designed, are artifacts and objects within those stories. When thinking about the future, whether it’s the future of society, the organization, or the self, developing a series of scenarios allows us to objectively deal with uncertainty and imagine plausible costs and benefits to various actions and their consequences. It is often suggested to create a minimum of three scenarios when considering future events or situations by identifying futures that are possible, probable, and preferable. Here’s a suggested five sample scenario from the Futuring book:
1. A Surprise-Free Scenario: Things will continue much as they are now. They won’t become substantially better or worse.
2. An Optimistic Scenario: Things will go considerably better than in the recent past.
3. A Pessimistic Scenario: Something will go considerably worse than in the past.
4. A Disaster Scenario: Things will go terribly wrong, and our situation will be far worse than anything we have previously experienced.
5. A Transformation Scenario: Something spectacularly marvelous happens – something we never dared to expect.
Once the stories has been written that describes what each of these scenarios looks like, the conversation can begin. What is the likelihood of each of these? What is the desirability? What are the correlating values of the people? And most importantly, what actions can be taken today to steer the ship and design towards or away from the various scenarios?
Two common methods for determining a potential course of action are forecasting and backcasting. While forecasting starts in the present and projects forward into the future, backcasting starts with a future goal or event and works it’s way back to the present. In this method, the sequence of events or steps that led to that goal are imagined and defined, so that a roadmap to that desirable future is created. In either case, the scenarios generated serve to illuminate pathways to action.
Futuring: The Exploration of the Future
Foundations of Futures Studies
Thinking About the Future: Guidelines for Strategic Foresight
The Universal Traveler: A Guide to Creativity, Problem Solving & the Process of Reaching Goals
imagery found at Imaginary Foundation
Excellent blog post & insights! 🙂
Venessa Miemis said:
thanks alex 🙂
Trend analysis, visioning, scenario development, the works.
This intrigued me:
What is missing? (This is part of my eyeballing reality check.)
Can you see what is NOT there?
The missing category for me is [Spiritual].
May it complement your toolkit.
Venessa Miemis said:
ahh yes. i agree!
you know, it’s been months since i’ve updated the ‘metathinking’ project. the intention for that is to be a holistic approach that brings together the scientific and the spiritual, foresight and creativity, logic and emotion…..
There’s a problem inherent in the spiritual experience, I think, if one is dealing with trend analysis, i.e. how can one quantify spiritual experiences? I find it doesn’t get much more personal than the Spiritual. How could one measure a trend across a population” Socially, Technologically, Environmentally, Economically, and Politically, it is possible, the data exists, but there’s no data for spiritual developments. It’s unique to everyone. I wouldn’t put the category of the Emotional either, in trend analysis.
That doesn’t mean it’s not important, I just think no one can make predictions on the Spiritual plane. It wouldn’t be Spiritual if you could make predictions.
I do think it’s possible (increasingly) to get data and make predictions on spiritual growth.
Here’s a continuum of responses that Spirit can have to events/storylines unfolding in the STEEP categories —
Data can be gathered, at least for affect on the lower range of the spectrum, on the affect felt by individuals and groups.
This can be done through body language, social network message analysis, voice stress analysis, bio sensors, etc.
I’d venture that data can be mined – and predictions made – at the higher end of the spectrum as well.
To do this, one might turn to E.O. Wilson and Richard Dawkin’s ideas of “selfish genes” (Body) and “selfish memes” (Mind) – and add another category of replicating codes. These could be called lumenes, or replicating qualities of spirit.
My sense is that as we learn and gain experience, we invest our attention and affect in the higher end of the spiritual continuum. Specifically, we look for ways to spread “codes” that infuse the qualities of spirit we value in others, even in cases where the others are genetically and memetically unrelated.
How to test this? One might devise experiments in which people at different ages witness of transcultural or transpecies acts of generosity. The experiment could then give them choices as to whether to invest in spreading such lumenes, or spending the same resources to advance a narrower memetic or genetic agenda.
My hunch is that the reproductive call of qualities of spirit becomes measurably stronger as an influence upon activity in the STEEP categories as we move towards the top of Maslow’s pyramid.
More here http://j.mp/gx9rwL and here http://is.gd/imMtv .
Philippe Verstichel said:
Hi Mark [@openworld],
I hope Venessa doesn’t mind if we hijack her blog to exchange our views. By the way, comments on blogs are a great example of ‘vicarious’ education or learning depending on your own appreciation of the human being. Another topic of course in relation to gene and meme !
Your reply to Alex is very profound and coherent. Despite the (ab)use of the word ‘spiritual’ where IMHO, I can only sense a kind of scientific humanism. Your references to Wilson or Maslow are a good indication of your personal tendancies ?
I just wanted to let you know that the kind of experiment you are suggesting is a variation of the ‘Public Goods Game’. There is currently a research revival around it that is very interesting to read (just google). These latest research seem to suggest that, thanks to collaboration & sharing, human’s behaviour is driven by what Carl Rogers (& C. Morris) used to call ‘organismic’ (moral) values rather than ‘selfishly conceived’ (moral) values. Moreover, a key criteria for that to happen is cultural diversity.
Now in relation to Venessa’s blog, the tool number 2. is instrumental to support the projection of human self-experiencing into the future, ensuring that the ‘right’ moral values are GROUPSPECTED whilst aligned with the INTROSPECTED ones.
Once again, what is ‘right’ ? I have only one thing to say: just make sure it makes self and us concomittantly happy. And, let us remember what Mill used to say: “To be happy, you need to forget to try to be happy !”.
I hope Venessa doesn’t mind that ‘future thinking’ seems to drift to ‘transcendental thinking’. 🙂
Enjoy the day !
Frank Spencer said:
CoCreatr, as a futurist myself, I wrote an blog post on adding the spiritual element to foresight work: http://kedgeforward.com/2007/02/23/holism-is-the-triple-bottom-line-enough/
The traditional STEEP categories and method of trend analysis may not include the spiritual element, but there are increasingly other methods that can be utilized in order to add the spiritual to the mix. Integral Futures has greatly enhanced the scope of the futures field, allowing for the addition of elements outside of the purview of a STEEP analysis, including a broad analysis of spiritual thinking and implications on a cultural, social, and global basis. Many futurists now use a STEEP(V) acronym, where the “V” stands for values-based issues that deal with human ethics and morals. Jusy yesterday, the Association of Professional Futurists listserv was talking about the issue of “time” as a foundational element of futures studies theory, and many included spiritual views of time beyond the linear western view (including circular and spiral time as seen in the Eastern religious traditions) as being vital to foresight ideology and practice.
Hey, Frank, thank you. Awesome article – timeless and, um, undated 😉
I like the V stands for values approach, just as much spiritual but without the woo-woo ballast many people attach to this realm because it defies measurement, or for other reasons best left to personal exploration.
“As a futurist myself…” struck a chord in me. Thank you, Frank and Venessa, and all of you here and now. These days I was musing to add this attribute to my bio, as in “futurist apprentice”. Let’s see.
Frank Spencer said:
Thanks for the response, just seeing this now – yes, the “value” element is much more qualitative without having to fir into a traditional concept of the idea of being “spiritual,” but can cover just as much ground depending on the scope of its use. (Really, all of the STEEP categories can be utilized in broad terms; it really depends on the depth and cosmology of the practitioner.
@CoCreator, Thanks for your question on spiritual. A futurist myself, observing the world around and in contact with me, I see it as spiritual embedded in the originally posted “ingrediants”. Sometimes things can’t and don’t have to be necessarily outspoken. Keeping the mental space a bit emptier allows new thinking to emerge. Reading about spiritual triggers already (I must admit that counts for me a great deal) thinking about connected stories on spirituality that take the energy of thinking new.
I get your point, Ralf, and I can agree. to keeping it a personal worldview.
Quoting @Mandy_Vavrinak May 29, 2009 @ 2:03 pm
When in Doubt, Take It Out: reading: “In Pursuit of Elegance” by Matthew May http://ff.im/3nCtw
Andrew Curry said:
One of the problems with conventional drivers analysis, as a couple of commentators have already observed, is that it essentially focusses on the external world. This is a product of the history of futures, and its orogins in looking at military and global commercial issues, which privileged macro-level structural drivers in its discourse. As well as the STEEP(V) framework, which I like, Richard Slaughter developed a drivers framework, ‘integral futures’ which requires the futures process to think systematically about more spiritual or internal changes: .
I’d also caution against the ‘probable futures’ element of the traditional triad of possible, probable, and plausible futures. It tends to push people back into their ‘received wisdom’ about the world rather than opening themselves up to a range of different and uncertain futures. (The possible/plausible combination works fine, as long as you’re willing to explore the notion of how things which are unfamiliar might become plausible.).
Tatiana Maya said:
Why do we need to measure data about the spiritual component?? I think that is an unexamined assumption that we’ve lived with for long time: everything needs to be measured otherwise there is no value in it. As someone said; the spiritual experience is up to each individual and I think that is the beauty of it. And probably that is the reason why I would include it. The diversity of the experience and actually the fact that there may or may not be a pattern or data or a measure, that is what gives more chance for the objective/material/touchable aspect to be able to evolve. The intrinsic value of the individual knowledge and experience in the spiritual realm should be included as it is, unmeasurable. That’s the good thing about it…that is the the other half, the ying to the yang, the yes to the no, the up to the down.
Humble comment tho…it is the first time I actually read about futurism (??), I’m loving it however!
Thank you, Tatiana (and others resonating). I just feel the category fits into my worldview of a trend thinking toolkit. If only as subjective perception, emotions, fleeting feelings, and imagination.
As an engineer I know about measurement uncertainty. For spirit it tends towards infinite.
RJ Johnson - 21st Century Appreciative Inquiry said:
Nothing is more important than shared vision, and perhaps nothing can be more challenging to achieve with any degree of originality. For creating a shared appreciation of the past, appreciative inquiry provides an ideal method and can be used for the remaining visioning and planning steps as well. In fact, the SOAR – Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Results model of appreciative inquiry was created as a strengths-based counterpart to SWOT. In keeping with the trend toward strengths-based approaches, brainstorming a list of “prouds” might be helpful, but the list of “sorries” may be counterproductive.
However, helping people get past their current mental models far enough to really be creative presents a significant challenge, even with appreciative inquiry. This is particularly true of people steeped in a deficit mindset e.g., individuals in areas such as violence prevention or drug abuse.
To help people be more creative, improvisation concepts can be very helpful, e.g., Michelle James’ seven7 improvisation concepts from http://creativeemergence.typepad.com/the_fertile_unknown/2009/12/improv-theater-and-complex-adaptive-systems.html “Improv Theater and Complex Adaptive Systems” come in handy. Visioning and planning exercises where people experience these concepts while creating their future, increases the level of creativity. They can always debrief around the concepts later if desired.
BTW, our website is finally working. Topics include improvisation, appreciative inquiry, values, collaboration, and so forth.
Jack Martin Leith said:
Venessa, this is an impressive piece of work, and I offer my congratulations for weaving together so many disparate strands. What’s missing for me is purpose – why the business or organisation exists. How does the organisation not only maximise stakeholder value, but enrich the world? Once this ‘ecopurpose’ has been discovered or rediscovered, a business model for creating the requisite value can be designed, and a culture that supports organisation-wide value creation can be established. My research indicates that the purpose discovery work must be undertaken not by the senior leadership team, but by members of the constituents of the business ecosystem – i.e. the higher-order system of which the organisation is just one of many sub-systems. A tool that I call Spice Rack (http://bit.ly/gKSb3w) can be used to determine the value requirements of each stakeholder group (Social, Partners, Investors, Customers and Employees). What new value does each group require? What existing value must be preserved? How can any sacrificed value be replaced? Once these value requirements are understood and, more importantly, appreciated without moral judgement, the visioning work that you describe so well can begin. Thank you for a strong article. I’ve saved it for future reference, and posted the link on Twitter. Warm wishes from Bristol, UK. Jack
Venessa Miemis said:
thanks jack! i like the spice rack… nice thinking/planning tool. shared it with my network too. cheers! 🙂
Sam Shaw said:
This is a brilliant rationalisation for making sound strategic decisions that are informed by a wider understanding about the context in which those decisions exist. Too frequently, the term trend is applied to micro-trends that have no real solidarity for strategy, or are in fact, merely symptoms of a more long-term, macro trend.
While STEEP is a useful way to split up the different changes (of course, all five categories are crucial), it’s important to understand the framework and perspectives in which you are planning from. For example, at Canvas8, our Keeping TABS trend overview considers changes from a consumer’s standpoint. The acronyms is short for Trends, Anthropology, Behaviour and Strategy. It’s worth a look for anyone looking for practical tools to apply the above…
Venessa Miemis said:
thanks for the link!! tweeted it. great slideshow, very thorough
and added canvas8 to blogroll – you get your own category! (for now!) 🙂
Sam Shaw said:
That’s great, thanks Venessa.
Stay in touch and let us know if you have any feedback!
Jan Wyllie said:
BACKGROUND IN TREND ANALYSIS – Sorry to have to talk about my (old)self
I first learned “trend analysis” (classical content analysis) from Kristin Shannon who always claimed that she taught it to John Naisbitt of Megatrends fame. Indeed, I proposed and edited the first Environment category at the Montreal-based Canadian Trend Report in about 1979 — and one way or another I have monitoring it ever since, which causes me increasing pain, I must say.
When I moved to the UK in the mid-1980s, I set up Trend Monitor, where a team applied content analysis to hundreds of published sources under three Top Level Categories: Computing, Communications and Media. I remember having to set up a new “Hypermedia” category in about 1990, after finding too many “hybrid” phenomena in the sources. We sold our periodical reports to UK institutions for between £300 and £400 / year.
It was at about that time that I met my second mentor, Dr Tony Kent, who wrote Strix, the first (fielded) free text database for PCs after a career pioneering free text database software on mainframes working for the Royal Chemical Society. I remember he had very strong reservations about the search results derived from relevance ranking algorithms. But that’s another story. Our deep collaboration, yielded many new ideas and innovations, and if he had lived we might be famous by now. (Come to think of it that might be the only good thing to come out of his tragic early death.)
Still, myself and some colleagues persevered, while I made a living as a text database and taxonomies expert playing in the field of Knowledge Management (#KM). Indeed, I have built up a minor oeuvre in the magazine, Inside Knowledge, which people pay £375 a year to read. I never could figure out how or why. (If anybody is interested, I can send them a URL and password for free access by email.)
The two main things we are doing now: 1) intelligence analysis of the 3000 + key articles we have curated and classified under Social Media / Collaborative intelligence with the help of our able correspondents and our own analysis software, 2) The @om4x alliance where we a playing with ‘metabeings’ as a way of enabling multiple perspective collaborative intelligence.
STEEP PROPOSAL – Why not do it?
You can start schematising anywhere you like depending on what you want to see. All a schema does is ask sets of questions of the sources. So purpose is paramount in any schema design, so there can be no one Supreme Schema.
Still STEEP is OK. It’s broad which is what is needed. It mixes content types a bit too much. An initial breakdown into Actors and Actions (Issues) can help clarify things. Still why not start simple with what we’ve got which is STEEPS including Bernd’s Spirituality. I would also propose adding Energy to the mix making it STEEEPS.
Once that is agreed, a group — this group — could set up a site on Amplify where any pertinent documents could be classified by ticking a box. It would take just a second or two. If an item warrants two ticks, then that’s OK, the overlaps are an especially significant set. However, if overlaps happen all the time, then the schema is not working, either because of mixing content types (most likely), or because those who are applying it do not understand it (less likely).
After a month or so, the group will have collected enough classified items to perform the first task of reflection: looking for useful subcategories. Then, we move on to processes for reporting and making inferences from the findings. Out of these meta stories, different Scenarios of the future can, of course, be built.
Another great thing about trend analysis is that it’s an excellent collaborative learning tool which is fun and easy to use (when you know how). Be the first to know what nobody else does, or see the next phase in the larger unfolding picture. It makes personal research and reading socially constructive … leading if wanted to appreciation and money in all its present and future forms.
So what do people think? Is this the right group? Venessa has certainly produced “a place to gather” for thoughtful collaboration. If I can pass on what I have learned about trend analysis on to you, then I feel it would be in good hands. And we might discover things that would be of great use to the wider world, too.
Venessa Miemis said:
hey jan, i love these ideas. it would be nice to have an open source trend analysis platform.. i worked with memebox.com years ago, in the hopes that that is what the future scanner would become (futurescanner.net). the initiative kind of fizzled, but it’s not too late to resurrect the idea in a new format.
after that, i used twine.com (while it existed) to set up groups for different categories of info, and that was really useful.
i’m not really sure what there is now that can be used as a good database. delicious.com? not really granular enough. probably would be best to build something, where you could rate and tag each article/piece of content.
it will exist sooner or later.
Jan Wyllie (OPEN INTEL) said:
Funnily enough, we have been developing databases software for content analysts for some years now. Since we are small team, things go slowly, but perseverance furthers. We already have sophisticated applications for Social Media and Energy including graphical representations of statistical outputs.
The database tool is not in the cloud (yet), so our open collection process uses Amplify e.g. http://www.omedia.amplify.com, as the input mechanism. Periodically, the Amplify files are exported as XML and loaded into our content analytics database from which reports are compiled and inferences made.
These applications are far more complex than STEEP because they use evolved multifaceted taxonomies as frameworks. (We call them metalanguages, the latest being the Social Intelligence Meta Language – SIML).
So if the circumstances were favourable, we could provide a content analysis platform for a simple STEEP exercise. A first step would be to set up an Amplify site for collection purposes.
Neal Gorenflo said:
One thing I’ve noticed is that futurists tend to be technology determinists, meaning they believe that we must respond to technology changes that are inevitable. The hidden assumption here is that we do not determine our own future.
What do y’all think?
Philippe Verstichel said:
You may find the following book interesting for you to elaborate a, answer to your question:
“Does Technology Drive History? The Dielemna of Technological Determinism” by M.R Smith & L. Marx (1994).
The book is pretty American slanted and shed interesting light from an historical perspective. Of course the past has not to be considered as an accurate indicator of the future. “American Progress” tells us a lot about the role played by technology. It has been changing from ’eminence’ (19th centruy) to ‘preeminence’ (20th century). What role will it play during the 21st century?
Now, assuming that we do not determine our own future could be a proof of our “postmodern pessimism” ? At least the road to the future is in our hands. We are continually inventing it.
Good post & comments from everybody. Thanks !
Venessa Miemis said:
i agree that is a trap some fall into, chasing technological “innovation” for its own sake instead of reflecting more deeply about what’s actually needed or most desirable for humanity. i try to pose provocative questions on this blog so that we can think a little more critically about these things.
And do y’all see it a different way?
Awesome book recommendation Philippe! Thank you.
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Vivian Distler said:
Your third tool, scenario development, seems to conflate, in part, Jim Dator’s paradigm of Alternative Futures Scenarios—Growth, Collapse, Discipine, and Transformation—with dystopian versus utopian approaches. You can read more about Dator’s work at http://www.jfs.tku.edu.tw/14-2/E01.pdf.
Venessa Miemis said:
thanks for that link, vivian! i like dator’s 4 scenarios, that will be helpful for us as we frame the facebook videos.