Hines was one of our professors at University of Houston. I cannot recommend Andy more. Here’s a great video about the experiences professional futurists.
The ShapingTomorrowBlog just posted a quick review of an infographic from EducationNews.org that appears to suggest the long awaited arrival of the paperless society. While paperless may be a misnomer, the infographic points out that office use of paper has declined since 2001 and its overall use has declined since 2006. Those are interesting statistics which could herald an even more significant decline happening very soon as smartphones, ereaders, tablets, and the various hybrids continue to grow in popularity.
How World of Warcraft Could Save Your Business and The Economy is a great video about the benefits of gaming for business, innovation, and the economy.
This post is added to Games Without Frontiers: http://adfutura.wordpress.com/2011/05/21/games-without-frontiers/.
The Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/jul/21/chemputer-that-prints-out-drugs, provides a very good look at Lee Cronin’s desire to create a 3D printer that produces pharmaceuticals. It’s a pretty basic article about Cronin, his career in chemistry, and his recent affinity for mixing chemistry with 3D printing, but the best quote in the article is undoubtedly from Cronin, “Confusions of ideas produce discovery.”
As futurists, we are constantly imagining different scenarios of various convergences of trends, wild cards, and expected changes for how the future could progress. Here, Cronin captures the essence almost better than Gibson’s quote, “The future is here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.” Of course, Cronin is speaking about science where I am speaking about forecasting, but the two have many similarities. Prediction is, after all, part of the scientific method.
At the end of the article, Cronin says he cannot imagine criminals printing narcotics, and the author points to his naivety being typical of scientists. Clearly, the comparison of science and foresight are limited, but futurists have our own blind spots. Some foresight professionals are so busy with generalities that they fail to see the reality staring them in the face that some aspect of one or all of their scenarios lack any grounding in reality. Sometimes, we are even naive about just how much the world will stay the same and recycle its own history. Recognizing these blind spots are key to strengthening our work. Regardless, no matter how much we strengthen our arguments, certain people will always scoff and jeer at futurists until the future arrives just as they will doubt Cronin’s ability to democratize pharmaceuticals until he prints them out a laxative. No one ever invented the future by shying away from criticism.
Spanish company, Zero 2 Infinity, has a novel idea for space tourism, giant helium balloons. The company’s “bloon” will take passengers to the near edge of space for a total of four hours (including accent and decent) and even provide a brief moment of zero gravity. At 22 miles, it would be well short of the accepted threshold of space, 62 miles, but passengers will still be able to see the curvature of the earth, blackness of space above them.
Though it is early in its testing phase, manned balloon rides to space are nothing new; Capt. Joseph Kittinger rode up in a pressurized suit and skydived from a balloon 19 miles up. Just recently, Felix Baumgartner made a 13 mile skydive from a balloon. Hopefully, this Spanish company won’t make its passengers don a suit and make the plunge.
For nearly 20 years, Alan Ehrenhalt served as the executive editor of Governing magazine, examining and writing about a variety of local and state-level trends and policies. In his new book, The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City, Ehrenhalt outlines at length what he dubs “a major change in American urban life” over the last decade: namely, that “living patterns are rearranging all throughout a metropolitan area,” something he calls a “demographic inversion.”
The most basic tool that any futurist uses is horizon scanning (*aka environmental scanning, strategic scanning, or scanning). It is kind of like the ditch digging, prospecting, or burger flipping of strategic foresight because it is tediously essential to everything else a futurist does. The term horizon scanning aptly describes the action of gathering information about different types of change (e.g. emerging trends, potential or occurring wild card and black swan events, impending alterations) as weak signals of plausible future developments.
Horizon scanning at its most basic level can be as simple as reading the newspaper for specific stories which may be pertinent to the development of the future, but more complex methods can also be used such as visiting key people or places seen as influential to the future as well as other approaches to in-depth information gathering. Jules Verne, that great proponent of imagining tomorrow and arguably the world’s first modern futurist, used to visit reading rooms and absorb as much information from the then latest science periodicals as well as visiting many exhibitions of progress like the Paris Universal Exhibition.
Horizon scanning allows the researcher to stay abreast of current changes with a keen focus on how those changes could impact the future, and any researcher must be a generalist when thinking about the future and how current circumstances could change and converge to create tomorrow. As William Gibson once said, “the future is already here; it just isn’t evenly distributed.” Once a bed of information has been made, a researcher can then begin every other duty necessary to prepare organizations, individuals, or themselves for future opportunities, threats, and adaptations.
When horizon scanning, information must be filtered and catalogued carefully to maintain the integrity of the information and the researcher’s worldview. Information should be split between facts, expert opinions, and public sentiment. Any topic can be hyped, but the hype should be properly segmented. It cannot be filtered out, or the researcher risks losing valuable information about how society views the topic.
In many ways, most internet users are entry level futurists because they are constantly reading breaking news and following trends. It is a matter of learning to apply these skills on a broader scale with a longer time horizon and a deeper analysis. More will be discussed about the broader, longer, and deeper aspects of futures thinking in later posts.
For further reading, please see the fourth chapter of Shaping Tomorrow’s Practical Foresight Guide and Maree Conway’s Desired Characteristics of an Environmental Scanner or her scanning resources page.
* Horizon scanning is often called environmental scanning although some people try to differentiate the two terms. Some people say environmental scanning is researching the past developments of the current state of a topic whereas horizon scanning is the specific search for news with potential for the future of that topic. Horizon denotes the search for changes on the furthest edge of today and closest edge of tomorrow. However, horizon scanning will never provide facts about any time but the relative present–what has recently happened and what people are doing, thinking, or planning. A good futurist should know about the past, present, and the potential for tomorrow, and any semantic argument to split these hairs in futurist circles is largely superfluous.
This week has been particularly busy, but I still have time to post one short thing.
This is a timeline of some very bad future predictions all of which involve technology. Certainly some of these comments seemed reasonable at the time, but the speakers clearly missed the boat somewhere. Pay close attention to who said each quote and what their authority on that subject would be.
Ad Futura will begin a new series looking at some of the tools used by strategic foresight practitioners, futurists, futurologists, etc. Some of these tools apply to organizations more than individuals, but they can still be applied to individuals. Either way, the purpose of futures studies and strategic foresight has less to do with prediction and more to do with preparation.
Through the centuries, humanity has thought about the day after today in very different ways such as reading entrails or tea leaves, casting lots, seeking the advice of hallucinatory virgins, staring into glass orbs, fantasizing about ideal civilizations, and forecasting apocalyptic horrors. For the last century or so, humans have attempted to apply scientific principles to postulating the future with varying types of success. The future is no more predictable now than it was a millennium ago, but the focus for modern futures thinkers has changed from anxiety and idealist enthusiasm to a more objective view which can help individuals and organizations better prepare for the future.
Most employees have difficulty thinking beyond the next paycheck, and their bosses have difficulty thinking past the next quarter. Strategic planners help organizations look ahead three to five years, but professional futurists look more broadly at environmental, social, political, technological, and economic events and trends outside the organization’s sector. And with a longer time horizon beyond five years, futurists can fortify an organization’s strategy with contingency plans and open the organization to potential opportunities which would not otherwise be imagined but which are just as plausible.
We believe strategic foresight is a mindset which can be helpful to a broader audience than just corporate executives and government agencies. Thinking about the future effectively is essential to personal success. With that in mind, we invite our readers to consider some of the tools we use and take with them what they believe is applicable to their lives. Regardless of what you believe about futurism or “the science fiction future,” we encourage you to consider your own life, what you want to achieve in the short term and the long term, and how you can achieve your goals with these tools.
Stay tuned for updates roughly every week on tools futurists and foresight practitioners use to think about the future in a more productive manner. For more information about using strategic foresight for organizations, please visit http://futuresavvy.net/#futuresavvybook, and for more information about foresight for individuals, please visit http://www.vernewheelwright.com/.
Lets face it, humanity's growth and development has not been so good for the natural environment and one of those areas is our insatiable appetite which is wreaking havoc on ecosystems all over the globe and one area in particular is overfishing which has depleted many species to dangerous levels disrupting and already fragile marine ecology. There has been a growing trend of sustainable agriculture such as locally grown food and urban farming but a group of food futurists want to use that model and apply it to fish farming.