Finding your Space

Some reflections on the need for us to find our space in the increasingly crowded futures/foresight field.

Finding your Space

One of the things I remember well from my days as a graduate student learning about foresight was Richard Slaughter telling us that we needed to find out the space in which we could contribute to the global conversation about futures. I set out to do this with some gusto - sharing what I knew, talking at conferences, focusing on environmental scanning for some years and ultimately writing a book. I felt as though I was contributing to the global conversation but I also had a sense that something was missing.

That sense ultimately crystallised during my PhD research and it led me to a new space, one less formed and less well understood - at least compared to environmental scanning! The reason I call this site Foresight in the Present was because I finally worked out that I wanted to focus on how we engage with futures today rather than actually developing futures scenarios.

I have always had an aversion to 'telling' people what 'the future' will be. I remember a senior staff member walking into my office at Swinburne and saying: I need you to tell me what the future of engineering will be. I said I couldn't because I didn't know, but I could run a process with them for them to work that out. She was not happy with me. She wanted an answer not more work - too busy to think they were.

I've always thought that your future in your context at your time with your challenges are things I can never fully understand - but you know them viscerally almost. My work in the past was trying (often badly) to help people find these futures, describe them, and use them in their presents.

I talked often about assumption walls - brick walls in our thinking that shut down the possible - which are often also called biases or mental models. But they are more than that. They derive from our worldviews, and they shape and constrain not only our thinking, but our decisions and our actions. They determine which futures we accept and which we reject. And while assumptions is a common phrase used in futures work, I am not entirely sure that we truly understand their power.

This is my new space for me - a space where I believe I can add something new, something useful and something expands and deepens our conversations about futures. It's taken me since 1999 to get here but I've enjoyed most of the journey and I've learned a lot about how I think about futures and the dominant forms of thinking about futures - but that's a topic for another post.

Finding this space for your contribution is important though - what I call mainstream futures is quite crowded now, and for me anyway, it was important to find a space that had something new in it. The new in my space is a reframing, a new way to design conversations about futures, for you it will be what make sense at the time. It will depend on what you know, what you accept, the areas in which you want to work and where you think you can make a contribution. We can't all be global players though, we can't all be the famous keynote speaker, but we can all find out space where what we know is as important as what we know we don't know. For me the latter is the critical driver for finding our foresight spaces though not the former - which is only the starting point.

Why bother you might ask? Because our futures matter. And ensuring that we can think as openly, as expansively, and as deeply about them in the present is a critical activity for us all.