Futures Friday: Today’s Futures Brought to You by the Letter ‘S’

Why Futurists Do Not Predict “The” Future

Photo by Danielle Rice on Unsplash — Edited by JT Mudge

The past is littered with facts. There may be multiple interpretations to fill in the gaps of the unknown, but if we do enough digging, we can uncover our history. Therefore when we generally talk of the past, we use the singular — “The Past”.

What about “The Future”? We would like to know future facts just as we do with the past. It sure would make things easier. Not all of the facts though, that would be boring if we knew everything, but a few good nuggets about the future would be nice. Everyday we try to project accuracy on the future — will it rain Sunday, is Tesla a good investment, will aliens visit our planet, when will AI rise up against us? However colorful and imaginative the actual future may be however, there is one thing that it is lacking — cold hard facts.

Because of this, we can only look at possible futures — with a plural “S”. In reality, there are an infinite amount of futures but only one will evolve into the facts of the past. As professional futurists, we do not try to pick a winner as if it were a lottery ticket. We try to define an array of distinct and different futures to help us prepare for what might happen.

The future cannot be predicted because the future does not exist

— Jim Dator, Professor of Futures

Coming up with many different futures is not that difficult actually. Given 15 minutes, a topic (such as the future of cars), and a few if-this-then-that speculative trends, we could all create some very interesting futures. This type of simple exercise, while important to keeping our brains intact and our perspectives in order, would not help very much in actually preparing for futures though. For one, it lacks any rigor or examination. For another, it does not give us a clear enough picture in order to make any strategies and plans.

Luckily, that is exactly what professional futurists do. Though futurists will use different methods and techniques in order to explore and plan for futures, the general idea is more or less the same — to show distinct visions or scenarios of the future and help plan for the possible, plausible, and preferred. By looking at a small set of distinct futures, we do not predict any one actual future, but we are be able to see the differences of each and the signposts that tell us where we are heading.

Just as historians apply tools of their trade to go beyond facts and help us understand how we go to where we are today, futurists also use tools and training to help us prepare for what lies ahead. You do not need to be a professional though to think like a futurist. Here are a few tips to get you into the future way of thinking.

There is no one future, expect the unexpected

Things rarely happen exactly as envisioned — be preparred to have multiple visions and adapt.

Any useful statement about the future should at first seem ridiculous — Jim Dator

The further out you go, the harder it is to see

This seems obvious, and it is, but we need to remember that the number of possible futures expands as we get farther away from today and what we know. The world is complicated and one event often affects another in ways we could not predict. Which leads us to…

Everything is connected

There are some great shows on how things are connected. Series like One Strange Rock explore the interconnectedness of nature on our planet (available currently on Disney+). Another great older series is Connections (and its sequels). Connections shows how seemingly unrelated events throughout history come together to change the world.

The Future is up to all of us

The last thing to remember is that it takes all of us to make the future. It is a participatory sport. We all need to learn how to think creatively about futures and communicate our desires, concerns, hopes, and fears. Now more than ever we need to work together to have a future.

We are at a crisis point and many of our futures are troubling. By acklowding these futures, not out of fear, but out of foresight, we can shape The Future and reduce the effects of poor planning facing us on the road ahead.

Author’s Note:

This article is part of the “Futures Friday” series. Each week I reflect back on a week of living in the future. This last week was very somber and troubling. As such, this article was actually published on Sunday instead of Friday. Regardless of politics, the images we have seen this week of January 6, 2021 at the US capital are not ones we want to have in our preferred shared futures. Shaping the future is not easy, but it is worth it.

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JT Mudge

JT Mudge

I am an innovator, storyteller, futurist, and problem solver. I have a passion for sustainability and social justice. https://www.linkedin.com/in/jtmudge/