Continuous social change ensures that the present is unlikely to be replicated exactly in any version of the future we can imagine now – connected and influential certainly, but not identical. Thinking about futures therefore requires the capacity to look for both the known as well as the new and novel in the present, seeking understanding of the complexity of social change instead of reducing it to match existing simpler patterns of understanding. It requires a form of thinking that challenges and even disrupts deeply held assumptions, recognises latent futures, and builds new ways of sensemaking that can inform wiser, more considered and futures-inclusive decision making and policy development in the present.
Everyone develops beliefs about how futures might emerge that align with their worldviews, their way of making sense of, and generating meaning about their reality in the present, so the development of foresight capacities will always vary from individual to individual. If we accept that our innate human capacity for foresight develops over time and builds into a form of ‘foresight competence’ a question arises: how exactly how does that development occur? How can the ontological expansion that allows new images of futures to be generated in ways that move thinking about futures beyond the constrained understandings of today become a reality?
While foresight is both a neurological capacity - episodic foresight - and a cognitive capacity - a futures mindset - it is also a ‘skill’ that can be developed through the use of well-designed processes and appropriate methods that expand and deepen our understanding of how and why we imagine possible futures. Foresight processes allow us to face the quandary of how to engage with something that our minds tell us is not real, to challenge the ontological logic that risks us becoming victims of what I call assumption walls - brick walls in our thinking that keep us trapped in the present.
Our foresight capacities can help us reframe the present in ways that can take us beyond what is known already, and beyond the assumed linear projected futures that dominate strategy and policy making today. Without active foresight, where we recognise the nature of our foresight capacities, our minds retreat to what we know, reject the unknown, revert to basic understandings of the future and so generate presentist, linear-projected futures.
The critical point is that engaging with the future in the present requires our foresight capacities to be developed to the point where the new and novel is generated in imaginings of possible futures – and that, as part of this process, we are able to tolerate or accept ideas and beliefs that challenge, often in quite fundamental ways, our taken-for-granted assumptions about futures so that the new and novel understandings is able to emerge.