Introduction: What Futuring Is
We are all time travelers on a journey into the future. However, we are not accompanied by a tourist guide, or an all-seeing oracle that can direct us in our venture into the future; instead we are explorers venturing out into an unknown landscape. In the futuristic landscapes, some see towers that scrape the heavens with technologies that border on the realm of the impossible, while others foresee ecological catastrophes, coming ice ages, or a collision with a celestial object. Although futuring might involve projecting the future of humanity, and which way our humanities future as a whole might hold, futuring can also have a personal benefit to our careers and to our private lives. Instances of this could be when to change careers, the decision to move to a new neighborhood before prices rise or drop, or creating a desired outcome for our families. In many ways, we are similar to the original explorers that traveled to new lands. In part one of this four part series, we
hope to understand how we relate to the original explorers, the swiftness of technological change and exponential growth and the laws that drive it, the six super trends that are shaping the future, and understanding change, systems, chance, and chaos. That will lead us to the opening of Part 4, which starts with methods to futurology.
Reflecting back on the accounts of the important
expeditions throughout history, we start to notice that these great explorers were very conscientious about packing for their journeys, because their success depended on having the correct equipment, supplies, and the proper crew with the correct training and skill set. This leads us to the first lesson of the great explorers: prepare for what you will face in the future. The lack of preparation welcomes catastrophe, which might seem obvious, yet many people today do not see the point in thinking about the future, and regard it as a ‘we will worry about it when we get there’ mentality. Any of the great explorers would consider us reckless fools, knowing that any number of problems are silently waiting to strike.
The second lesson is derived from the first: anticipate future needs. By taking the time to identity the likely future they were to encounter, they had a statistical model to work with to understand what they would need to bring on their journey. However, they also knew that any failed anticipation of the future could lead to death or being stranded on an uncharted territory. Thus, they tried to envision alternative futures before leaving port to better understand the needs of the journey. Today, as explorer the future, we also need to anticipate what we may face so that we can be ready for it.
But how could we possibly predict our future needs when we are venturing out into the unknown? The region of the ‘unknown’ was not absolutely unknown. Explorers used
information about surrounding regions, vague rumors and reports, educated guesses, and speculation about the geographic of the landscape, so that they could compile maps that might be relevant, however crude.
This leads us into our third lesson: use poor information when necessary . Naturally, we want to use the best information available, but when it comes to decisions we must not allow ourselves to disregard information just because it may not be adequately detailed or may contain errors. Our great explorers sailed around the world using maps that were partially complete or containing inaccurate data.
‘Many people today think that we know nothing about the future. They are 99.999+ + percent right in the literal sense, but quite wrong in the practical sense: Almost everything we don’t know about the future has little practical important to use whereas the little that we can know is extremely important, because it can help us make better decisions. Our business with the future is to improve it, not to predict it – at least not infallibly’ Earl C. Joseph once wrote. We cannot be perfectionists when it comes to the future, but we should be willing to use faulty data when necessary, because when we’re lost in the fog of the future, any map could be a godsend.
Imperfect data is allowing us to act on futures before they become realities that are much more difficult to shift and manipulate than when they were in their fluid futuristic form. This leaves us with our fourth lesson from the great explorers: expect the unexpected. Many people assume that an unexpected event is a bad thing, however, it could possibly lead to a great opportunity. But we still want to be able to deal with it in an effective manner. For instance, many young people prepare for careers, but not for career disaster or an unusual opportunity outside from their expected career path.
The fifth and most important lesson of the great explorers is: think long term as well as short term. Columbus spent years traveling from city to city trying to get his expedition across the Atlantic funded, facing one rejection after another before Queen Isabella finally provided the funds to make his dream a reality. Foresight empowers us for future achievement, and foresight that expends well into the future can be especially empowering by giving us the vision necessary to work towards a goal for years at a time before we see that goal actually manifesting itself into reality. ‘Almost anything can be done in twenty years’, Joseph also scribed.
The sixth lesson of the great explorers is: dream productively. Thinking in the long term is much easier if you have a dream to sustain you; in fact, it might be impossible to slog throughout the years without any fruit for your labor. The great explorers were doers and not idle daydreamers; what mattered most to them was the accomplishment of their vision, and fantasizing was a means to an end. By exploring future possibilities in their imaginations, they were able to dream their ships across the oceans and around the world. With the creation of future possibilities they could anticipate their future needs realistically and prepare reasonably for what lay ahead. By fantasizing about future events, they could explore alternative goals and strategies.
The seventh and final lesson of the great explorers: learn from your predecessors. By learning from previous explorers, the current day explorers were able to better gear their expeditions by preparing for the successes, errors, and failures of past expeditions. It would be impossible for us to succeed if we had to make every mistake for ourselves, instead of building on last successes and failures of our predecessors.
To recap, the seven lessons of the great explorers are:
- Prepare for what you will face in the future.
- Anticipate future needs.
- Use poor information when necessary.
- Expect the unexpected.
- Think long term as well as short term.
- Dream productively
- Learn from your predecessor
(Please note: All content from Part 1, 3, and 4 of ‘Methods for Futuring’ was summarized from the book Futuring: The Exploration of the Future by Edward Cornish )
By looking into what techniques the great explorers used to forecast their ventures across the oceans, we can understand how we can prepare our governments, companies, and individual lives for the uncertainty of the future. In the part 2 of this series, the reader will gain understanding of the technological laws that shape technological development, and how this knowledge of technological growth can be used to further your company, career, and help the reader understand exponential growth in the 21st century.
Editor’s Note: ’Methods for Futuring’ is the first of a four part series. The next installment will be published on Saturday, June 15th.
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