Saturday, February 23, 2008

Personal Futures—What?

Personal Futures is simply a system for applying futures (or futurist’s) methods to individual lives. These methods have been used (quite successfully) by corporations and governments around the world for decades. It’s just a matter of scale. And simplicity.

But scaling down was a challenge. Not so much for the futures methods, they scale easily. The problem was the research. The basic information about each individual’s life. Where does an individual start? What are the driving forces? What are plausible and probable events in one person’s future?

In building a systematic approach to personal futures, I suggest three steps:
1-Understanding your life (research).
2-Exploring alternate futures (personal scenario s).
3- Creating a vision, strategies and plans for the future (personal strategic planning).

Which brings us back to that first step, personal research. What can you expect in your future? What are the patterns? What are the universals?

One “universal” is biology, the human life cycle, which breaks down into stages. Life stages were identified centuries ago and can be found in the writings of the ancient Greeks. Psychologists today still recognize life stages. For an individual, each life stage can represent a planning period, and each change of stages represents change in the individual’s life. If one understands or has mental images of the future stages of life, they provide a frame upon which planning can begin.

Another universal lies in six personal domains. Each domain represents a category of forces that exist in every person’s life from birth to death. Recognizing these domains and the forces within them is an important part of understanding your future, because these are the forces that bring about change in your life. The six personal domains include:
Activities- the things we do, including education, career, sports, religion, hobbies, etc.
Finances- everything to do with money, assets, liabilities, and risk.
Health- your health, both physical and mental and any care or medications you receive.
Housing- your home, community, country, climate. All about where you live.
Social- family, friends, neighbors, co-workers. All the people in your life.
Transportation- relates to all modes and aspects of transportation including walking
and distance.

Generally, during any life stage, forces from at least two domains will be dominant during that stage. So, understanding the domains and the forces can help you understand how changes in the forces can produce changes in your life. By projecting how each of the domains, and particularly the dominant domains might behave in the future, it is possible to anticipate changes in your future. For example, if you think of your career as a force of change, how will your career change over the next ten years? How will those changes impact your life?

When something specific happens in your life, we call it an event. Each event in life is part of one of your six domains. Also, each event will occur during one of your life stages. During your lifetime many events occur, and they have two common characteristics that make them of interest to your future:

Although some events are highly probable in your life, many have very little impact on your life. Birthdays for example. Very predictable, but not much impact. As you think about the future, your greatest consideration should be for those events that have both high probability and high impact. These are the events for which you will want to create strategies and plans for your future. These are events that you will have in your personal scenarios and your strategic plan.
Another factor to consider in your personal life is your values. What’s important in your life? Family? Ethics? Career? Money? Power? Which is most important of all? What’s next?
Why values? Because your values are your rudder, steering you through your life. If you really understand what your values really are, you’ll be more likely to choose the right value when you’re under pressure. Little things and big things.

These four areas, life stages, personal domains, life events and personal values contain enough information about your life to help you start looking at your future. Preparing for it. Planning for it. Going beyond wishing and starting to work toward the future you want.

There are some worksheets on my web site that will help you with all this: Or, you can download a free copy of the Personal Futures Workbook there that includes all the worksheets and will take you through the entire personal futuring process.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Using a workbook

When I was doing the research for my dissertation, the intended outcome was simply a system that would allow individuals to apply futures methods to their personal lives. A byproduct of that process was a 20 page workbook that consisted mostly of worksheets.

After I completed the dissertation and the defense, I expanded the workbook, adding some explanation to go along with the worksheets. With that workbook, I conducted some workshops.
In each workshop, I learned something from my students and soon the workbook included more explanation and lots of examples. Eventually it was over 90 pages. Then I added a CD of narrated PowerPoint slides---a workshop in a package.

But printing, distribution costs and shipping all made it a pretty expensive package in my mind, so when I was asked to speak to a group of Engineers in Austin, Texas early in February, I asked if they'd like to try a new approach. I'd send them the Personal Futures Workbook in digital format and they could come to the short (90 minute) workshop with their notebook computers or a printed copy. They liked the idea, so we agreed.

The execution was a bit more complicated than the idea! I had known that there was software available to create and fill out forms, so I was confident I could create the workbook in one of those. Well, yes and no. All the software programs had one or more shortcomings. Many would allow me to create a form that people could fill out. But for some reason, they could not save the completed form on their computer. Except in the new version of Adobe Acrobat

Frankly I had avoided Acrobat for two reasons. It was expensive and I had purchased Adobe software before. I had used that software to write a book, which was such a painful experience that I've never used it since. But I put that behind me and purchased the Acrobat software, figuring I'd get through the experience somehow. Then, surprise! Adobe gave me acess to about 12 hours of tutorial videos. Wow! That made the difference.

I slimmed the workbook down to just over 50 pages, created forms fields with my new Acrobat software, had several futurist friends try it out and tweaked it some more. Then I sent it to the engineers in Austin.

Two weeks later I went to Austin for the meeting. I was told that their organization had never had so many people show up at a meeting. I spoke to them about Personal Futures and how to use the workbook. I answered questions from time to time as we went along, and at the end had a lot of questions. GOOD questions. A good experience.

So now the Personal Futures Workbook is available on my web site, free. It includes a Creative Commons license that permits copying and sharing. Teachers can freely give copies to their students. You can send them to friends, grandkids or anyone else.
You can download it free at

One more feature. All copies carry permission to make comments via Adobe Reader about any portion of the workbook. Anyone can make suggestions, comments, criticisms about anything in the workbook and send their comments to me by email. Hopefully, this workbook will just get better.