Designing the future

2014-08-19-FZ blog post

Photo: Morguefile.com

by Camilla Simonsen
We cannot completely predict the future, but we can do better than guessing about it, and we can also take part in designing it. The DHT project Future Zone looks at different ways of researching the future.

How much can we actually tell about the future in the first place? And why does everyone try to plan as if the world tomorrow will be as it was yesterday, while most of the time it will not? These questions has been part of the inspiration to the project, explains Anita Mac who leads it:

I work with management, strategy, change management and wellbeing. I work with subjects relevant to the question of how organizations thrive and develop in all kinds of ways. And in this work I have observed that strategies are often too narrow-minded, and that very often they do not even get followed anyway,” she explains.

One reason why strategies often don’t get followed is that people do not take into account the many possible outcomes and complexity of the future. Therefore a lot of the time “the strategies are simply outdated five minutes after they are agreed on,” says Anita Mac.

Proactivity can make the difference
A lot of the time when people try to do strategies about the future, the point of departure is the current problems in the specific situation. Therefore these problems are mapped and analyzed, and then solutions to the problems are found by creating a strategy. But even if the strategy is successfully followed, it is not moving towards a profoundly changed and improved version of something – it is just fixing what was wrong with the old version.

The notions of being reactive and proactive can be said to be a little worn out in association with management and strategy, but none the less they make really good sense to use here,” says Anita Mac and continues:

The thing is that if we are in the present all the time and only react to what happens now – that is if we fix immediate problems and adjust to those, then we are reactive by definition. But if we reflect on where we want to go and react on that, then we are proactive and may set an agenda for the development of the future.”

Beyond crystal balls – internal and external fields of future research
Future studies are sometimes associated with crystal ball readings and card tricks, since the future is and will be basically unknown. However, everybody – academics and non-academics – constantly try to say something about the future, since we all need to plan on many levels of everyday and long-term life. And of course there are methods we can use in this field to e.g. extrapolate tendencies and do more than regular qualified guessing to benefit our society and different organizations says Anita Mac:

There are two main fields of future research strategies so far identified through academic articles in our Future Zone project, one internal field and one external field”.

The internal field is concerned with what we can imagine we would want to be different than it is. This field is related to narrative psychology and relational psychology and has one kind of methods. In the other field concerned with the external factors that we cannot directly control, i.e. currents in politics, marketing, economics and general discourse within different fields there are methods to identify upcoming keywords for example, and to use those to make different future scenarios to work from when planning and making strategies.

What we want to do then is to systematically create a collected set of methods, a sort of mindset based on scientific methods to predict future scenarios, and to influence and thereby actually thereby be an active, reflected and intentional part of creating and designing them,” explains Anita Mac.

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