One way to think about this is to look at the difference between waves and tides. Waves are what we see on the surface. They are fleeting events, they come and go, appear and disappear. But there is something bigger underneath that is causing these waves. Underneath the waves is the tide, causing all kinds of disturbances of which waves are just one sign. Our work involves trying to understand those tides, the deeper forces underneath the waves.
Futures thinking is about readiness
So, if no one can predict the future, why think about it? Because doing so helps you to inoculate yourself. In the medical field, inoculating yourself prevents you from falling ill. In futures thinking, if you’ve considered a whole range of possibilities, you’re kind of inoculating yourself. If one of these possibilities comes about, you’re better prepared.
Futures thinking is about seeing new possibilities
Thinking about the future is also about imagining. It’s about transforming how we think. It’s about creating a map to the future and looking for the big areas of opportunity. We like to think about transformations, for example, in learning and work, and how they get connected and intertwined in various ways. And then we start thinking about zones of opportunity. How can we shape the future to make it more equitable? How can we amplify learning outcomes? What do we need to do to achieve these outcomes?
The future doesn’t just happen to us. We have agency in imagining and creating the kind of future we want to live in, and we can take actions to get us there.
When we think about the future at the Institute, a 10-year horizon is our “sweet spot.” This is for multiple reasons. Ten years is a safe place. People don’t bring a lot of turf issues when thinking that far out, and they can agree on a desirable future to consider and to prepare for.