I am writing a new book, informed by my PhD but also from papers and feedback I've received since. It reflects my desire to create a conversation space where we can 'think about how we think about futures' before we engage in a futures/foresight process. What follows is an extract from the introduction.
‘The future’ is part of our lives. We plan for it every day. We think about it, sometimes with hope, and sometimes with despair. We hold an image of ‘the future’ in our minds that influences our thinking, our assumptions about the present, and our actions today – even if we don’t recognise this influence. When that single future fails to emerge as we had planned – whether tacitly or overtly – we often experience an emotional response: sadness, hopelessness, anxiety, anger and even fear. Something we wanted did not eventuate –sometimes because the world changes around us and disrupts our plans, sometimes because what we really wanted to happen just didn’t happen. We are plunged into a space of uncertainty and fear for ‘the future’. Our desired futures are disrupted, often gone forever. What to do now?
When our desired futures don’t emerge as hoped, there are three lessons to be learned:
*future outcomes cannot be predicted with any certainty;
*a longer-term, systems view on changes helps to understand the power of uncertainty; and
*hope is a critical emotion for futures but fate often intervenes to show us a new pathway.
The reality is that there is no such thing as ‘the future’ that we can assume will emerge as planned. The reality is that not all our futures are visible to us - yet - because our thinking about futures is constrained. When I missed out on an overseas scholarship at the age of 17 that would have provided the chance to live and study overseas for a year, I was heartbroken and devastated because I assumed I would of course be good enough to be accepted. Afterwards, my mother said to me: “Maree, don’t worry, there will be something else for you in your future.” In hindsight, I think it was then that I began to understand that while we might lose one desired future, another one is always waiting for us to find it, define it and act to make find new actions to begin to make it real.
‘The future’ is not real. It is an image, an idea, a hope, a belief, an assumption that helps us make sense of, and to act in, our worlds today. It is a concept that is knowable only when we talk about it, when we articulate our images of possible futures, and when we share them with others. We can share them in conversations, in writing, in creating something tangible, in paintings and drawings, in poetry, in any number of artifacts that we can bring into existence today. Our assumptions about our futures remain in our minds though, invisible yet powerful in shaping our decisions and actions today – until we are able to surface them into our conscious thoughts.
And, until we make our assumed futures 'real', including all our taken-for-granted validating assumptions, we cannot begin to understand that a single, assumed future is but one of many possible futures available to us today. Some futures we will not want to happen and others we will want to make happen, or others are yet to become visible to us. This is why 'multiple futures' or just 'futures' is always the term to use. It is how we generate these futures individually and collectively and how we can articulate them in ways that challenge, expand and deepen our thinking that I am writing about in the new book.
I am way beyond focusing on ‘the future’ because it is now distracting and pointless in our world today. You can't take action to make a preferred future happen (which is what 'the future' is) until you have explored your multiple and latent futures. My aim is to explore how we design more useful and meaningful conversations about futures to do just this by using our foresight capacities.
Finding our foresight allows us to imagine escape from today's constrained assumptions and imagine new futures and act today to make them real, or to mitigate their emergence. There are many ways to interpret foresight today though - and many adjectives to describe it. My approach treats foresight as a cognitive skill and explores the four different assumptions that come together when we imagine futures and design futures/foresight processes. Foresight – and the futures literacy skills that it generates once visible – is critical if we are to be able to address the global, civilisational challenges and destructive mindsets we face today, and imagine into existence alternative, yet to be found, truly sustainable futures.
We humans can actually imagine truly new futures – and nurture those futures and feel their impact in the present. This means reframing our perspectives and understanding how those perspectives can expand to allow new thinking to emerge, the starting point for new conversations. I'm exploring just how we can recognise and make our foresight capacities overt so our conversations can be deeper and more meaningful, and how we can apply our expanded thinking to our policy and decision making in the present.
Add a comment wherever you are reading this. Whatever comes into your mind first. I don't need a crafted reply. I need your gut reaction. Please.