In 2018 we celebrated the 50-year anniversary of the founding of the Institute for the Future (IFTF). No other futures organization has survived for this long; we’ve actually survived our own forecasts! In these five decades we learned a lot, and we still believe—even more strongly than before—that systematic thinking about the future is absolutely essential for helping people make better choices today, whether you are an individual or a member of an educational institution or government organization. We view short-termism as the greatest threat not only to organizations but to society as a whole.
In my 20 years at the Institute, I’ve developed five core principles for futures thinking:
- Forget about predictions.
- Focus on signals.
- Look back to see forward.
- Uncover patterns.
- Create a community.
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#1: Forget about predictions
If somebody tells you they can predict the future, don’t believe them. Nobody can predict large socio-technical transformations and what exactly these are going to look like. We are getting better at making point predictions. There are prediction markets and all kinds of data-rich tools with which we’re trying to predict elections, market share prices, and the success of product introductions. All of these focus on one particular event, a particular point. But a lot of our work at the Institute for the Future is focused on comprehending big, complex transformations—rather than just one thing, one event. We’re looking at the interconnection between technologies and society and economics and organizations.