Thursday, December 17, 2009

Looking for “Universals”

When I first started doing my research into personal futures, I searched for "universals." I was looking for the things that all people have in common in their lives. What do we all share? Past, present, and future?

Biology is an obvious starting point. We all live through the same lifecycle of birth, life, and death. I spent a considerable amount of time looking at life stages going back to the writings of the ancient Greeks up through Shakespeare's "seven ages of man" and on to the work of Eric Erickson in the mid-20th century. All have observed that we humans pass through different stages of life. Some of those stages are purely biology based on physical and mental growth or decline. Other stages, later in life, are related more to health.

So here was my first universal, the stages of life. And I found the stages very helpful, because breaking life into stages highlighted the points in life where change occurs. And that's what the future is about: change. We want to identify things that are going to change in our lives in the future. So this made a good starting point. No matter what age you are or what time of life, there are stages ahead that you can identify, visualize, and understand as being times of change.

I did make some adjustments to the traditional stages, primarily because we are all living longer now. Psychologists have considered “Old Age” to begin at 50 or 55, based largely on Erikson’s work. I extended middle age to 60 and changed “Old Age” to “Independent Elder.” Later. (after some protests in my workshops) I just used “Independent.” I also added three optional stages which are based primarily on an individual’s health. Some people pass through all three optional stages, and others skip them all. The terms I used for those three optional stages are self-explanatory: “Vulnerable,” “Dependent,” and “End of Life.”

The second set of universals rose out of my research with people over age sixty. As I categorized the responses from questionnaires and interviews, I realized that all of us are true multi-taskers. We deal with several levels of life every day, and these levels are the forces that drive our personal lives. I chose the term “Domains” for the six different categories:

• Activities
• Finances
• Health
• Housing
• Social
• Transportation

These domains are each described in detail in the Personal Futures Workbook, which is available as a free download at www.PersonalFutures.Net.

Beyond life stages and personal domains I found areas of commonality, but no more real universals. We all have events that occur in our lives, but those events vary with individuals and with cultures. We all have values, but values also vary with individuals and cultures. But the combination of what any individual can anticipate from life stages, personal domains (forces), life events and personal values provides a substantial base from which one can anticipate plausible futures in scenarios, then make plans for the future.

Although it seems obvious, I was impressed by the variables, both by chance and by choice, that can affect or change any individual’s future. The chances and choices seem limitless, yet anyone, starting with wherever they may be in life, can learn a great deal about their future.

And this affects everyone, including you. By simply taking the time to analyze where you are in your life now and what forces are bringing change into your life, you can anticipate a great deal about your future. Moreover, to a surprising extent, you can shape, change, create or determine your future.

I’ve been working with those concepts for over ten years now, and still find myself impressed with the possibilities we, each of us, has to manage our futures. All it takes is a little time and some thought. It will change your life.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Personal Futures: Gateway to a long term perspective.

If you work in nearly any medium or larger size organization, you have probably been exposed to Strategic Planning, and maybe even Scenario Development. Unfortunately, as you may well be aware, exposure is not the equivalent of in-depth understanding.

Personal Futures offers an opportunity to learn and use a number of methods, tools and techniques practiced effectively by futurists and long term strategic planners. The critical element is scale. Personal Futures teaches futures methods on the scale of an individual life, a scale that anyone can learn, understand and use effectively. You can try this at home!

Once learned, the knowledge of these methods and how they work is scalable to any size operation. This is not to suggest that individuals who read a book or attend a workshop are qualified to lead a corporate strategic planning team, but they should be much better prepared to converse, understand and participate in the process at any level. That understanding is valuable, anywhere in an organization, to the development and implementation of a strategic plan.

Beyond scenarios, strategies and plans, Personal Futures teaches individuals the concepts of long term thinking or long term perspective. Kouzes and Posner state that their research found that long term perspective was second only to honesty in traits critical to leadership.

That raises the question, “How does one learn long term perspective?” As a researcher and writer about Personal Futures, I may have a bias, but how else? Personal Futures.

Some people seem to be born with that skill, the ability to think and understand how things may work out in the years ahead. Most of us aren’t.

About a year and a half ago, Jeff Gold (of Leeds Metropolitan University) and I presented a paper on Personal Futures and how those concepts relate to individual career paths to members of AHRD. We were surprised when several participants came to us and suggested that Personal Futures was a tool they could use in Executive Learning. Leadership. Long term perspective.

If a long term perspective might be valuable to you, take a look at the Personal Futures Workbook at It’s on the “Downloads” page and is FREE. No strings attached.

Friday, June 12, 2009

A word for a pet project

The Futures Student Recognition project, conducted by the Association of Professional Futurists, is starting its second year. This project has consumed a lot of my time so I've missed a few blogs here but I'll be catching up.

The Student Recognition project for students of Foresight and Futures Studies is an attempt by the Association of Professional Futurists to recognize some of the very fine work that is being done by graduate students in futures studies around the world.

We started late in 2008, but still got a number of good papers. Some of the schools we invited didn't contribute papers in 2008, but promised to have entries for the 2009 project. We only invited 11 of the best known universities with graduate degrees in Studies of the Future last year, partly because the program was so new and we were going to have to work out all the kinks. Actually, everything went smoothly. The judges were excellent, reading through all the papers, adding insightful comments, yet coming up with very similar decisions on each of the papers.

So the awards have been announced and awarded and certificates have gone out to all the 2008 winners. Now we are sending out invitations for 2009. We'll double the number of schools, trying not to grow too fast, but still trying to be inclusive and give all the schools with substantial graduate programs in Foresight and Future Studies an opportunity to participate. Here's a list of schools that have been invited for 2009:
Universidad Nacional de La Plata
Swinburne University of Technology
Curtin University of Technology
University of the Sunshine Coast
University Externado de Colombia
Turku School of Economics and Finland Future Academy
Conservetoire National des Arts et Metiers
Corvinus University of Budapest
Pontifical Gregorian University
Monterrey Institute of Technology
Pakistan Futuristics Foundation and Institute
Technical University of Lisbon
Babes Bolyai University
Moscow State University
University of Stellenbosch
Fo Guang University
Tamkang University
University of Manchester
Regent University
University of Hawaii
University of Houston

Putting together an international list of universities with futures programs is a little more challenging than one might think at first. We've been guided by two excellent lists, one by José Ramos, the other by John Smart. Both put a lot of research into their lists.

We are already working on a list of schools to add in 2010.

I keep saying "we." Jim Mathews, a futurist in Salt Lake City, and I are co-chairman for the Student Recognition project this year. The APF Board of Directors has been very closely involved with us in this project from the start, offering support and suggestions and generous awards. They have also been very generous with their praise for the success of the 2008 project, as have many of the participating universities.

We are already receiving entries for 2009!

Comments and suggestions are welcome!