The term “globalization” has gained a bad reputation in recent years. However, as Juliet said to Romeo. “tis but thy name that is my enemy.” If we better understood the “what” and the “why” of globalization, we too might find that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” In other words, the term globalization has come to mean some scary things at the beginning of the 21st century, but at its core it’s actually a characteristic of a natural progression in human development.
In a recent article from the Harvard Business Review entitled “Globalization in the Age of Trump,” management and strategy professor Pankaj Ghemawat laid out a convincing case for responding to the cries of “protectionism” by being cautiously skeptical of globalization’s present reach and by adapting to local needs. As Ghemawat noted, “The contrast between mixed-to-positive data on actual international flows and the sharply negative swing in the discourse about globalization may be rooted, ironically, in the tendency of even experienced executives to greatly overestimate the intensity of international business flows relative to domestic activity. In other words, they believe the world is a lot more globalized than it actually is.” Is the world less globalized than many believe?
Even though Ghemawat actually champions the potential gains from additional globalization and debunks the overestimation of globalization’s harmful effects on society, he does so through the lens of the antiquated and rapidly disappearing models and environments of the Industrial Era. His claims aren’t entirely off-base – the Industrial Age ideology and practices are still having a substantial impact on our economies and policies – but his definitions, measurements and worldviews cause him to miss an even larger point about the rise of (and backlash against) an increasingly globalized world.
If you think I’m unfairly critiquing this author, I want to make it clear that we are all making the very same mistake. At least Ghemawat understands that globalization can be beneficial – a claim that cannot be made for the politicians and leaders who support the newly-minted protectionist policies in the U.S. and Britain. But globalization is so much more than an attempt to expand business practices and trade across the world. And, it is this bigger understanding of the reasons behind the rise of globalization that also have led to the current nationalist sentiment in some parts of the world. If you want to understand the trajectory of globalization – and the resistance against it – you need to understand a little about the nature and arrow of complexity.
Contrary to the many popular articles over the past decade declaring complexity as the #1 enemy of growth and success, our environment of accelerating complexity is actually a good sign. When organisms or systems move toward greater maturity, they don’t become more simple – they become more complex. This can be seen in everything from civilizations to cosmic architecture. As it turns out, it isn’t complexity that is our problem, but rather it’s our mental models that were formed to help us make sense of the world in a previous era – an era that was at least slightly less complex and interconnected.
This trajectory of complexity – increased technological and social connectivity, transformational discoveries, and accelerating convergence of previously siloed domains – is the foundational driver behind the multi-layered movement that has been reduced to the now popularized concept known as “globalization.” Just as the genie of ever-increasing complexity is out of the bottle, so too is the evolution toward a “global brain” that redefines how humanity operates. This movement goes far beyond international business practices; this is a transition in global perspectives that encompasses society, technology, economics, politics, health, cities, values – you name it. There’s a lot more going on than simply opening the door to trade or expansion across borders, and taking steps to roll back complexity’s effects will prove much more difficult than any politician or economist could possibly imagine.
However, that’s not to say that certain people aren’t trying to roll back globalization. In a recent Wall Street Journal article entitled “How Nationalism Can Solve the Crisis of Islam,” French Philosopher Pierre Manent shared his belief that globalization tears at the fabric of community and identity, facets of individual and collective life that he notes as being necessary to overcome worldwide resentment, anxiety, and conflict.
“Mr. Manent is optimistic that the combination of political liberty and nationalism is more resilient than most people suppose. Then again, the 19th-century marriage of liberalism and nationalism ended in a very ugly divorce in the first half of the 20th century. What about the dangers of reviving nationalism today? “There is no a priori guarantee that it could not devolve into something nasty,” Mr. Manent says. “But if we don’t propose a reasonable idea of the nation, we will end up with an unreasonable idea of the nation. Because simply: However weakened the idea of the nation, nations do not want to die.”
Is Manent’s idea that “nations do not want to die” based upon a fundamental aspect of our humanity, or is it based upon the pushback from a mental model created to serve a previous era? (For the record, I am not espousing the dissolution of nations in this article.) In other words, is the nationalism or protectionism that is being touted by individuals such as Manent, Trump, Farage, or Le Pen a way to restore what we would recognize as stability, or simply the death throes of an old system as we transition into the next stage of complexity’s transformational march? (By the way, terrorism basically espouses the same “closed” or backward-looking view of protectionism, and in this sense is only the other end of the same yardstick. Think about that idea for a minute.)
If complexity is the natural order of the universe, then so is the move toward greater holistic connectivity and convergence. In this sense, the larger definition of globalization is the inevitable outcome of the long arm of history. Just because we are seeing a resistance to this transition through a variety of protectionist actions, that does not mean that globalization didn’t work or has already reached its full potential. And, ultimately, we cannot deter complexity’s desire to grow and expand.
Kedge Principles Yvette Montero Salvatico and Frank Spencer were recently in Amsterdam to present a workshop on our Wicked Opportunities® Foresight Framework with the Dutch Future Society. Click here to check out the post-workshop video to hear about the importance of Futures Thinking and Strategic Foresight in our new world of business, organizational and social development.
Are you ready to move past the frustratingly outdated models of incremental and linear activity and dive deep into the tools and methods that help leaders and organizations seize and leverage today’s landscape of complexity for untapped opportunities? Then make sure to register for The Futures School, the premiere interactive and project-based program that empowers participants with the critical skills of Strategic Foresight and Futures Thinking for a new era of change. The next cohort is May 2-4, 2016 in beautiful Miami, Florida, and seats are limited!
Since the dawn of time, humanity has been evolving through the use of technology. It’s a part of what makes us human. It’s in our nature to leverage technology in order to adapt, advance and transform. In turn, our technology has been evolving as well, thriving and often leapfrogging through its symbiotic relationship with humanity.
“Wait a second,” you say. “Technology is relatively recent invention. It’s not like people who lived centuries ago had electricity, automobiles or cell phones.” To the contrary, technology has always been with us. And all along that co-evolutionary journey, we have leveraged technology to grow and thrive as a species (and vice versa). As a matter of fact, the popular refrain that the “robots are coming to take our jobs” and leave us without any reason to exist is summarily false. Over time, technology has always created more jobs than it has destroyed, even while pulling us toward greater realms of technical, intellectual and emotional skills.
One definition of the word “technology” is “the sum of the ways in which social groups provide themselves with the material objects of their civilization.” In the early days of human existence, the technologies we discovered and created helped us to avoid existential risk, such as the use of fire for heat, cooking and safety. Later, technology provided us with the means to create community and safeguard the growth of our species, as was the case with the creation of roads, farming tools and aqueducts. And as the positive feedback loop of human advancement and technology has unfolded, this symbiotic relationship has been slowly moving us from a collective mindset of short-term “fight and flight” thinking to a long-view mentality in which navigating and creating the future is being moved to the foreground of how we operate as a species. I like to say that we are being “wired for next.”
As someone who works to promote futures-empowered strategy and innovation in organizations, the growing popularity and adoption of virtual reality strikes me as having the potential to exponentially accelerate our collective futures-oriented perspective. Through this technology, the ability exists to be fully immersed into alternative narratives or visions of the future. As one reporter stated, “People feel present in a virtual environment, or world, in which there are no rules: gravity can be suspended, senses can be manipulated and avatars can be inhabited.” As a matter of fact, newly-formed Penrose Studios is working to do exactly that. Staffed by VR content technologists from Pixar, Oculus, Disney, Google and Dreamworks, Penrose is creating “heartfelt stories in immersive worlds” where “viewers could wander around.” Far beyond being used to develop new forms of entertainment, VR will allow humanity to discover, explore, map and create possible futures. These immersive stories of the future can help us to suspend disbelief, break free from the “official future” of our present assumptions, and build strategies, innovations and models that are adaptive, resilient and transformative. In other words, VR is a perfect example of how technology can foster a greater expression of humanity rather than strip away all that makes us human.
Our technology can certainly have a dark side – or more accurately, we can use technology for less than moral or ethical purposes – but here’s hoping that the “virtual futurity” on the horizon empowers us to take a giant step forward in being “wired for next.”
However, once they integrate it into their organizational strategy and processes, they also tell me that they feel like a key element is still missing.
I agree with them that design thinking is a fantastic way to rethink, redefine and reframe problems and solutions, and then I have the privilege of showing them the critical missing element from their design-enabled strategy, innovation and organizational development: Futures Thinking!
Traditional design thinking processes follow a cyclical five-step framework (depending on the source, the number of steps vary):
These steps help organizations to break free from the insulated, bias-laden and linear way of tackling a problem or creating effective solutions. Or do they?
Interestingly enough, futures thinking has promoted similar approaches to problem-solving, strategy development and innovation for at least six decades (and potentially longer, depending on whom you ask). Unfortunately, foresight practitioners have generally failed to understand the power of futures thinking to “design the future” – creating tangible action and outcomes – or they have only desired to leverage foresight and futures thinking to inform and inspire the “front end” of organizational development and processes. However, futures thinking has a far greater application than simply taking a “30,000 foot view” or serving as the annual keynote to get the crowds excited about the latest technological advancements. In reality, futures thinking helps us to “empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test” in a much more holistic, emergent and transformational way than is possible without it. Since futures thinking begins with the future in mind, it allows us to pull ourselves to new possibilities and opportunities in a way that brainstorming and visioning processes grounded in the present cannot achieve. Further, futures thinking can even help organizations to pull the future into the present, completely elevating and reframing the design process far beyond the confines of today’s most impactful ideas.
In recent years, foresight professionals have expanded the futures thinking toolkit to include a wider range of methods, infusing the design process with greater creativity by examining multiple alternatives that can lead to unexplored ideas – the hidden gems that are sought after in design thinking. Not only have practitioners created new ways of using “future landscapes” to uncover unforeseen and untapped possibilities, but a host of methods have arisen that help social and organizational leaders to look at the world through a holistic, systemic, and transdisciplinary fashion. These tools create an environment that is conducive to new ways of thinking about the future before attempting to engage in the traditional design thinking process: how it might unfold, how to recognize opportunities and breakthroughs in business and social innovation before they arrive, and how we can intentionally design the future in order to reach the aspirational changes we envision.
As the 21st Century begins to unfold, a new business, economic and social operating environment is emerging and evolving. Likewise, our design thinking and futures thinking practices must evolve as well. For this reason, Kedge developed a new approach to foresight known as the Wicked Opportunities® Foresight Framework.
This framework allows leaders, organizations and practitioners to:
When we think about design – whether in terms of aesthetics or functionality – there is an embedded understanding of its ability to impact not only the present emotions or actions of those who come in contact with it in terms of organizational development and success, but also the long-term view of everything from political thought to social evolution – even the power to shape the ‘big picture’ of entire cultures or generations. For this reason, design thinking really requires a foundation in the dynamics of futures thinking to be most effective in reaching its full potential as a tool for creating in our age of uncertainty and complexity. Futures thinking develops the long-range outlook that is necessary for the type of design that is needed for life in the 21st Century: adaptive, resilient, and transformational.
P.S. The Wicked Opportunities® Foresight Framework is the foundation of what executives, professionals, innovators and entrepreneurs learn during the 3-day cohort of The Futures School. Visit our website to become a part of a TFS cohort in Miami, Florida or Sydney, Australia in 2016!
And of course, he’s gotten a lot more right than he has gotten wrong.
But this one is a doozy!
The statement that “complexity is your enemy” is completely and unequivocally WRONG! Not only that, but it’s dangerously WRONG.
I understand and sympathize with why Sir Richard Branson would utter such a terrible quote, and why many would buy it hook, line and sinker. Our long-standing Industrial Age mentalities have taught us that complexity and complication are the same thing. And it’s easy to think and act in ways that we are used to, as well as define the world in the same way that we always have. (Of course, it’s also lazy.) But complexity and complication are not even CLOSE to being the same thing, and for those who will succeed in the 21st Century, this will be one of their biggest discoveries!
You see, complication is something that we do to ourselves, and it is actually a byproduct of the mechanical and linear worldview that stems from the increasingly outdated and antiquated Industrial Age.
On the other hand, complexity is the natural order of the universe, and accelerating complexity is a sign of maturity in all living things. Furthermore, properly understanding and leveraging complexity is the means to true organic and transformational innovation as we move forward in human development. Shunning and killing complexity will cut us off from the greatest innovations that have yet to be realized, and is actually a reason for the existence of many of our present-day big world problems.
Saying that “complexity is our enemy” is a sure sign that we still need to transition our mindsets to a new era of organizational and social growth that plays by a new set of rules. And I’m sure you’ll hear many more amazing people tell you to kill complexity, but remember…
Complexity is your best friend!
Update: Since I first wrote this post, several people have asked me if I might be misconstruing Sir Richard Branson’s quote or taking it out of context to make a point.
Let’s assume for a moment that the quote can be generally interpreted two ways:
1. Branson is talking about innovation. He is saying that it’s easy to make a complicated idea for a product or experience, but it’s much harder to make something that is simple but works extremely effectively at solving a problem, addressing a need or introducing a new concept.
2. He is talking about leadership, organizational models, etc., and nothing that many leaders have a hard time either boiling down complicated processes for management and employees or creating simple processes that are effective (and that do not contain a ton of unnecessary steps, forms, connections, committees, meetings, etc.)
I would agree with Branson on either of these points. However, complexity is not the enemy, but rather the emerging catalyst for amazing new ideas, experiences, services, models, etc. Complexity is where collaboration takes place, convergence reveals new discoveries and breakthrough to unexplored capabilities arises. Complexity and complication are not the same animal at all. If you have experienced a time when simplicity has pushed you or your team forward, then that means you were unraveling complication. However, real growth comes through creative complexity, pattern development and emergent dynamics. Simplicity can strengthen what already exists. Complexity brings ideas into existence. Don’t confuse the two. The war against complexity is a losing battle for companies that plan on succeeding inside the new landscape of the 21st Century.
As I already stated, I’m sure that Branson was mistakenly equating complexity and complication. But this is a mistake we can no longer afford to make. Today’s leaders must learn the skill of harnessing and leveraging the growing environment of complexity for grand solutions and aspirational transformation. My next post will drive this critical skillset home.
No, I’m not talking about the holidays. I’m talking about Listmas, that time of year when every single one of your favorite magazines, blogs and media outlets will be publishing a list of the “Top Ten Trends for 2016.”
Do you need to know the top consumer trends for the new year? You’re covered. New trends in technology? Bingo. What are the hottest social media trends that your business should focus on to reach and retain the best talent? It’s the end-of-the-year centerfold!
Aren’t you excited? I know I am! And who wouldn’t be? All you have to do is spend a solid afternoon perusing the various lists of the most impactful trends for the new year and – viola! – you have everything you need to take your leadership, organizational development and innovation incubator to the next level. See how easy that was? It truly is the most wonderful time of the year!
There’s only one problem with Listmas, and unfortunately that problem is huge!
You see, Listmas tricks us into thinking that trends are the epitome of good research, analysis, intelligence and strategic development. The truth is that trends can be your worst enemy.
“Crazy talk!” you say? Think about it. At some point in time, the word “trend” became associated with identifying and understanding the future, but trends are about the here and now. Need proof? For any of you language geeks out there, the root word from which we get the word “trend” means “to revolve” or “to turn.” In other words, trends indicate the prevailing movement or activity of influential events and ideas. It’s easy to identify popular trends because they aren’t indicators of what is coming, what’s on the horizon, or what’s next. Rather, they are manifestations of what is happening right now!
Don’t get us wrong. Trends are important for a couple of reasons. One, they are driving the present-day decisions and actions of business and society. Two, they have the potential to tell us something about the short to mid-range direction of those decisions and actions. However, no forecaster, strategic director or business intelligence analyst worth their weight in cryptocurrency is ever going to get ahead of the present landscape or become an effective agent of transformative change by only being a trend hunting guru. Contrary to what you may have heard, trends are NOT the beating heart of good foresight, strategy and innovation work. They may be the life blood of futuring, but so much more is needed to accomplish and sustain impactful foresight strategy and innovation.
You can read all of the Top Ten lists your heart desires this December, but you need to determine that 2016 will be the year that you create a genuine Strategic Foresight initiative within your organization. What exactly does that mean, and how can you go about creating such an initiative?
Here’s our Listmas gift to you: the Top 3 things you need to do in 2016 to build a powerful foresight initiative in your organization:
You need a systematic methodology and toolkit that is also flexible to help you build robust, insightful and action-oriented “future maps.” This includes identifying shifting values, understanding emerging patterns on the horizon, scanning for weak signals in the macro environment that will act as disruptors and opportunities for your organization, building multiple alternative narratives of the future to leverage the power of complexity, and pinpointing breakpoints of development and transformation for ongoing success.
You need to identify the individuals in your organization that are futures thinkers, and give them the space and opportunity to address various issues and areas of focus using the new-found foresight toolkit. This also means finding future-oriented leadership that will act as champions of the work. Technology gurus, innovators and entrepreneurs are usually assumed to make the best future thinkers, but the best individuals for your team may come from places within the organization that you least expect: HR, legal, management, finance, diversity, or training and development. As a matter of fact, foresight is best served when different job descriptions, worldviews and opinions are represented on the team.
Put together a plan to take your Strategic Foresight findings on a “roadshow” in the organization. This is one of the best ways to demonstrate the immeasurable benefits and importance of futures thinking and foresight-empowered action to the rest of the leadership and company, and also one of the quickest ways to begin fostering a future-ready mindset in others. Once this happens, you can expand the reach of the foresight community by training excited new recruits who have caught the futures thinking fever, and this in turn seeds a futures-fit culture throughout the organization – a critical skillset and way of doing business in the 21st Century.
Lastly, once you have had your fill of the saturated trends of social media marketing, authentic consumer engagement, sharing economy dynamics and how to best reward your Millennial employees, then you can burn off those empty Listmas calories at The Futures School, a 3-day one-of-a-kind, interactive and project-based program that empowers participants with the critical skills of Strategic Foresight and Futures Thinking for a new era of complexity and change. 2016 will see TFS happening in Miami, Los Angeles and Sydney (The Opera House!), so visit our website and register today!
This past weekend, Kedge brought The Futures School – our unique, immersive and hands-on 3-day program that teaches executives, leaders and entrepreneurs how to make foresight practical and action-oriented for strategy, innovation and organizational design – to WorldFuture 2015: Making The Future In San Francisco, the annual conference of the World Future Society. Our time there included several events in which we showcased the exciting work going on both within our firm and at the school:
Our first contribution to WFS2015 was our day-long Master Class entitled “Trends+: From Insights to Integration.” In this course, we took 30+ individuals from simple trend research to building patterns of change, uncovering value shifts and implications, and creating landscapes of the future that helped participants identify “what’s next” for business, technology and society. The class was a huge hit, and we look forward to working with several of the companies that took part in this exciting day.
Next up was a panel discussion that I participated in called “The Future of Digital Technology.” During the discussion, I shared how the 7 Shifts in the Age of Opportunity are impacting (and being impacted by) the rise of all forms of digital technology (i.e. internet of things, mobile technology, artificial intelligence, etc.). It was a lively and engaging discussion that showcased our aspirational, transformative and opportunity-laden approach to future thinking and foresight action.
On the second day of the conference, Kedge principal Yvette Montero Salvatico was interviewed for a highlight reel of prominent futurists that will be released by the World Future Society sometime in the next year. During the interview, Yvette was asked, “If the future was a living thing, what would it be?” Her answer was brilliant:
Honestly, I believe that the future IS already a living thing, and that’s the mistake that most of today’s leaders make. They don’t understanding that the future is alive, filled with people, ideas, activities, inventions and discoveries. When we treat the future simply as a far away time, we can ignore it in favor of the ‘tyranny of the urgent.’ But when we realize that the future is a living, breathing PLACE, we understand the need to prepare for it, fashion it, and inhabit it.
On the last day of the conference, I had the privilege of presenting alongside Mei Mei Song, a professor in the Graduate Institute of Future Studies at Tamkang University in Taiwan. We did a bit of “speed futuring” in which I spoke briefly on how people are increasingly being “wired” to think intentionally and proactively about the future. Mei Mei spoke on the convergence of foresight with other disciplines such as engineering, architecture and city planning to create beneficial futures for Taiwan (and all of humanity), and then we answered questions from the audience about the development of aspirational futures. Our collaboration was (serendipitously) seamless!
Lastly, Yvette led a Standing Room Only session on our long-term work at Kedge with Walt Disney International, detailing how we have helped the organization to build a global futures team across 23 countries, and create a culture of futures thinking for cutting-edge strategy, innovation and action. The positive feedback from the audience was incredible, and many participants have already written us to express interest in bringing foresight into their organizations as well.
Of course, Kedge was excited to display The Futures School in the exhibition area throughout the conference. We had dozens of people visit the TFS booth who signed up to receive more information about the program and registered to win a free seat at the October 13-15 cohort in Los Angeles, California. (The winner will be announced in the next few days!)
During the conference, we announced that upcoming cohorts of The Futures School will be held in Boston (Spring 2016) and in the Opera House in Sydney, Australia! (Summer 2016) The LA cohort is filling fast, and early bird registration ends on Friday, July 31st.
What’s next for Kedge and The Futures School? September 30-October 2 we will be teaching the Foresight Academy at Foresight and Trends in Los Angeles. The Academy will run during Days 2 and 3 of the conference, and will give participants a practical and tactical taste of the larger program that they can experience at The Futures School. Prior to the conference, Kedge will be hosting a FREE webinar on August 25th entitled “Developing A Foresight Mindset.” The 1 hour webinar will explore the major mindset shifts leaders must embrace if they are going to be successful in a landscape where the future is constantly manifesting in the here and now. Register today!
The future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens.
For Rilke, the future wasn’t a distant and nonexistent concept that could be flippantly disconnected from the present. Rather, the seeds of the future were contained within the present, and those seeds were waiting to grow and blossom. In Rilke’s view, the human race is the fertile ground for the seeds of the future, and that soil is the key to the ultimate manifestation and expression of what is waiting to emerge.
In other words, we already have the DNA of the future inside of us – in what we think, what we hope for, and what we do. The future is the higher order purpose of our present ideas, innovations and activities. When we miss the transformative nature of the future, we really fail to understand the purpose and meaning of the present altogether.
This profound idea stands in stark contrast to our modern relationship with the future. After a century of scaffolding our businesses, educational institutions, governments and societies with linear thinking, incrementalism and conservative efficiency, we now have a landscape littered with systems and structures that are out-of-touch with the open and networked thinking that permeates our changing world. At worst, our “last century” operating systems are fighting to maintain “normalcy” or the status quo, and this failure to release the transformational nature of the future is akin to purposefully weakening our immune system so that any and every disease can stunt the growth of the human body. The result is sickness, weakness, and ultimately death.
Rilke’s future that “enters into us” is meant to promote healthy growth. Failing to identify and create that transformational future – or worse yet, actively ignoring or suppressing that future – is the cause of our escalating ills.
In order to produce a healthy future, we must allow present-day purpose and meaning to become future vision and aspirations. In other words, we must make strategically mapping the higher-order expression of our present ways of learning, working, designing and governing an intentional and on-going activity in our companies, schools and cities.
We must seize new business models that are in line with our era of disruptive economies and changing consumer patterns. We must reframe strategy, human resources and organizational development in an environment of passion-oriented career pathways and digital collaboration. We must rethink innovation in a world of exponential technology and intangible abundance. And we must redefine commerce, governmental policy and social architecture for the 21st Century.
As a business leader, executive, manager, entrepreneur, educator or developer, ask yourself these questions:
Come to The Futures School, a 3-day immersive, hands-on and project-based program that empowers participants with the critical skills of Strategic Foresight and Futures Thinking for a new era of complexity and change.
This question has been asked by entrepreneurs, innovators, business leaders, social activists, and especially by those who work within the field of foresight. Over time, I’ve come to realize that they are asking me if I think that the future is something that is linear, singular, incremental, predictive and – most importantly – something that we can harness, leverage and transform.
Is the future linear, singular, incremental or predictive? The answer is “no.”
Can the future be “discovered” and then leveraged to “create” aspirational outcomes? I believe the answer is a resounding “yes!”
One of the reasons that I believe so strongly in the power of foresight and futures thinking to create the future rather than simply recognizing uncertainties, alternatives and possibilities is because we are moving into a new era in human history that requires a new way of seeing and acting.
However, the rise of our postindustrial, post-tangible and postnormal “operating system” means that traditional approaches in business and social development are outdated, antiquated, and no longer relevant.
Nevertheless, traditional methods of operating continue in popularity because – despite the external shift in the landscape – we still need to update our internal “mental maps.”
It is these maps of thinking, seeing and doing that determine whether we continue to employ traditional approaches that reinforce reactionary outcomes, or transition to models that embrace proactive transformation and abundance. Within the context of the latter view, the perceived nature of uncertainty and complexity changes as foresight, innovation and strategic design move from the realm of purely empirical and analytical exercises to being used as incubators of vision, creativity and aspirational outcomes.
In short, we cannot predict the future, but we can map it. And when our maps are updated to match the shifting and changing environment, uncertainty can be reframed – leading us away from fear to a vista of discovery and opportunities.
A great way to understand what it means to change our mental maps is to study the art and science of physical map making or “cartography.” The ultimate goal of the cartographer is to make a meaningful map. In its most simple form, the meaning of any map depends on the terrain of the land. For instance, does the map depict a desert or a mountain range? These two physical extremes require very different ways of representing the features and contours of the land.
However, creating meaningful maps also greatly depends on many other conditions such as the intended use of the map, the users of the map, and the conditions represented by the map. As the intended use is reframed and conditions are redefined, new maps must be created.
If the use, users and conditions change drastically, the very purpose of mapping may need to be reimagined altogether!
Think about this: The early cartographers made wildly inaccurate maps. In addition to the land masses being too small, too big, or out of place altogether, they also included pictures of mermaids, sea creatures, and the “end of the world.” The value of these maps was not so much in their topographical accuracy, but rather in the motivation to discover the unknown. This passion to discover ultimately resulted in more accurate cartography, and, in turn, led to greater discovery as well.
Likewise, “futures mapping” does explore potential uncertainties, but it also helps us to harness and leverage our growing complexity as it reveals new uses, new users and new conditions. Foresight certainly addresses plausibility, navigates risk and tests present strategy, and these are important parts of any good futures map. But our emerging new era is completely “changing the game,” and foresight must change as well. The government of Singapore is a popular example of this change, moving from its early use of foresight as a risk management tool to employing futures mapping as an aspirational tool and philosophy for organizational, social and economic development.
Once viewed mainly as a way to identify uncertainties and strengthen strategy for more informed gambles, foresight has revealed itself to be an instrument for achieving aspirational outcomes through complex creativity, transformational navigation, evolutionary narrative building, emerging patterns and grand solutions. Those who want to thrive in this new world must go beyond simply updating their maps.
Like the early cartographers, we must learn to discover and leverage the unknown!