Futures and futures
Linda asked for a quick summary of ‘futures’.
There are two very different business meanings of ‘futures’:
- ‘futures’ as a category of financial-derivatives trading
- ‘futures’ as a strategic view
To my mind, the former perhaps used to have some practical purpose, to provide a hedge against price instabilities, but is now little more than yet another parasite on the festering corpse of capitalism. Like the other ‘stock-markets’, it’s no longer about raising capital, or any other kind of future-focus – it’s just another pointlessly-complicated form of gambling-based theft. So we’ll just forget about that – or rather, just wish we could. 🙁
When I talk about ‘futures’ here, it’s about foresight, the ‘forward view’. From a business perspective, it’s what ‘strategic planning’ morphed into, through key developments such as the Shell scenarios from the 1970s onwards, when people finally realised that the future wasn’t predictable and wouldn’t conform to any predefined ‘strategic plan’. Hence not ‘the future’, but futures – plural, not singular. Which needs significantly different approaches than the previous all-too-common ‘strategy’ of “same as last year plus 10%”… Some examples:
- complexity theory and practice: see Cognitive Edge – the new incarnation of David Snowden’s former work with the IBM Cynefin Centre for Organizational Complexity
- organizational integration: see Fieldbook.com – an online support-site for the ‘Fifth Discipline’ work of Peter SengÃ© and others
- futures as a professional discipline: see Andy Hines and the Association of Professional Futurists; Peter Schwartz and others at the Global Business Network; the European group Futuribles; the Australian AusForesight network; or the US-centric (and hence somewhat mis-named) World Future Society
- futures techniques: see, for example, Sohail Inayatullah’s work on causal layered analysis – ‘poststructuralism as method’
Perhaps the simplest summary of futures is that from the FAQ on the Association of Professional Futurists site:
Futurists explore the future to anticipate and prepare for change in order to make better decisions today.
Futurists explore the future, just as historians study the past. Whereas history is concerned with origins, roots, and where have been; futures studies is about goals, purposes, and where we are going and how we get there.
Futurists survey and explore the full range of plausible futures. A futures consultant or facilitator helps clients expand their typically narrower focus on the future to a broader range of possibilities. They forecast the future, not just to know the future as an abstract description, but rather to prepare for it as a concrete reality.
The objective is not just to know what will happen, but to be ready whatever does happen. The objective is not necessarily to be exactly right (which is impossible), but rather not to be wrong–that is, not to be surprised. Surprise means inadequate preparation, late response, higher risk of failure, even chaos or panic. Thus, preparing for the full range of plausible futures is the objective of futures studies.”
Without a clear sense of possible futures, it’s kind of difficult to create the future we want, really. 🙂