Chapter 1. Introduction – Our Emerging Foresight Field

A Vision of Foresight Culture

One of the powerful sets of methods our field has explored in the last sixty years are those of visioning, the ways we discover, create, and describe aspirational futures. Ever since Fred Polak’s The Image of the Future (1973) foresight practitioners have realized that one of our jobs is to help our clients find motivating and worthy visions (“future images”) to steer toward. Like the force of gravity, a strong vision will pull a group toward a particular preferred future, motivating with a strength proportional to the group’s belief in the worthiness and credibility of the vision and of leadership. Clearly, ensuring the worthiness of our visions and the morality of our leaders is no small thing. Many leaders have used visions, persuasion and propaganda in the past to steer groups toward futures that were ultimately impractical, dehumanizing, or unsustainable.

One strategy to ensure worthy visions is to align them with group values, ethics, and feelings, and if we seek long-term success, with culturally universal values, ethics, and emotional priorities, a topic we will discuss in later chapters. If our visions are not group aligned, either the vision or the group needs to change so the vision can be representative. Another key strategy is to subject our visions to frank feedback and criticism from anyone who will be impacted by them. A third strategy is to search for the most positive-sum outcome we think we can attain, over the time horizon of our vision. Sometimes we need to stretch that horizon to see a particularly compelling vision. At other times, we can usefully shorten it, and motivate our team to reach goals they previously thought were unattainable.

Let’s now introduce one vision of the future of foresight culture. Hopefully it aligns with your own values, ethics, and feelings. We encourage you to share it with and get feedback from colleagues, whenever it might appropriate.

Recalling our discussion of progress hindsight, imagine how different our society would be today, how much farther along we’d all be by now, in our inevitable journey to global civilization and self-actualization, if the majority of us believed, both in the past and today, that thinking, debating, and teaching about the future were as important as the past and the present. Imagine if that future thinking was broadly integrated into our educational system, from Pre-K on up, the way Peter Bishop imagines in his Teach the Future initiative. Our two year old, for example, talks frequently with us about what we might do later today and tomorrow. Foresight is actually fundamental to human consciousness, as we have discussed.

Imagine if every large organization, and our ever-growing community of startups, believed that whenever we use collaborative foresight methods, we have an opportunity to discover and create substantially more innovative and sustainable products, services, and futures. That vision is emerging today, and it is being greatly accelerated by our digital tools and platforms, which are increasingly becoming learning systems, in their own right. If you live another few decades you will have the satisfaction of seeing this vision flower in your lifetime. If you choose you can also lead its emergence, in whatever way best fits your path.

With the growth of our first online foresight production platforms, aided by continually improving AI, large groups of people in the world are only just now learning that foresight is as valuable as hindsight (history) and insight (current conditions) to being adaptive in our complex, accelerating world. As of this writing (2018) users of Facebook, Google, and Android are now the largest “nations” on the planet. Reddit Futurology has 13 million “futurists” on their platform. There are 15 million coders using the open source software platform GitHub. There are scores of cloud services, platforms, AI, digital currencies, smart contracts, and many other collaborative foresight innovations emerging every month now. It is a very exciting time to be alive.

This Guide will introduce you to individuals, organizations, and societies that have consciously chosen to cultivate a “foresight culture” for themselves, their teams, their organizations, and their associates. They offer many lessons and options for establishing and growing your own foresight culture, which can begin with just you and a few of your closest associates. Foresight cultures recognize there are a wealth of useful ways to manage the future, including prediction, forecasting, intelligence, insurance, sensing and rapid reaction, planning, visioning, innovation, and strategy, to name just some of the more popular choices. Such cultures know that while we are still early in understanding which foresight methods are right for which contexts, by choosing to prioritize foresight, we invariably get better at it, and expand our tools and data sets. They also know our future has become too important, and our planet’s lives and purposes are now too valuable, complex, and intelligent, for us to continue to leave tomorrow to chance, to unexamined traditions, or to any other stewards than ourselves.

This is the vision of the future of foresight that we hope to convince you of in this Guide. We hope this vision motivates you to become a foresight leader, beginning with better leadership of your own life. To start us thinking about self-leadership, let’s briefly consider some classic personal foresight practice challenges. These will serve as a soft introduction to personal foresight, the sometimes difficult but immensely rewarding domain we’ll address in Chapter 2.

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