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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
The future to the power of six
Thinking about the future is hard, sometimes impossible, and worrying. The unknown is big and scary, so we feel more comfortable if we can compare it to something we are familiar with – the past. Except the future never is the same …
But reading Sohail Inayatullah’s article in this issue, “Futures thinking for transforming”, gives me a warm feeling, banishing the darkness. Because here in one succinct article, Inayatullah shows how straightforward it is to think about and plan for the future. He first outlines six basic concepts for futures thinking – the used future, the disowned future, alternative futures, alignment, models of social change, and uses of the future.
This is followed by six basic futures questions that one should ask: what do you think the future will be like? Which future are you afraid of? What are the hidden assumptions of your predicted future? What are some alternatives to your predicted or feared future? What is your preferred future? And last, how might you get there? Inayatullah also describes six pillars of futures studies that provide a theory of futures thinking. These are the methods and tools that can help participants to answer the six questions, for instance in workshop setting. The pillars group futures techniques, some well known, some less so, into the following categories: mapping, anticipation, timing, deepening, creating alternatives and transforming.
As Inayatullah explains:
By mapping the past, present and future; by anticipating future issues and their consequences; by being sensitive to the grand patterns of change; by deepening our analysis to include worldviews and myths and metaphors; by creating alternative futures; and by choosing a preferred and backcasting ways to realize the preferred, we can create the world we wish to live in.
Inayatullah has, of course, been at the forefront of deepening futures studies to include the inner world perspective and this issue includes some articles that demonstrate the importance and acceptance of this concept. The paper by Amstéus on “Managerial foresight – concept and measurement”, for instance, illustrates the extent to which this dimension is now considered intrinsic to the concept of foresight. Moreover, it also is an indication of how the world of “management” is increasingly relaxed about such “soft” subjects. Management thinking seems increasingly open to futures thinking and not just the hard-nosed variety.
Another applied example of this is the paper by Jorgensen and Taylor on employment and ageing in the global context. This is typically the stuff of the “outer world”, of globalisation, competition, foreign direct investment and cost effectiveness. But here these aspects are melded with those of the inner world, so that attitudes and behaviour towards older workers, and older worker preferences for work and retirement, and protecting the vulnerable, are highlighted as being key to developing policies that successfully accommodate public, private and personal objectives.
Finally, perhaps we can see a further example of how the inner world is driving the outer, in the paper by Pascu et al. on social computing and its implications for innovation and policy. The growth of social computing has been exponential over the past two years, and social networking web sites are the most visited of all. With consumers generating the content, Toffler’s idea of the prosumer is becoming reality. Moreover, individuals’ inner world views are now increasingly shaping global opinion, innovation and markets.
1. Even the futures community has caught on with, e.g. Shaping Tomorrow’s Foresight network (http://shapingtomorrowmain.ning.com) and the World Future Society’s Facebook Group (www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2207609945).