Wednesday, March 6, 2013

What if EVERYONE was a futurist?

What if everyone understood the concepts of futuring? Can you imagine if everyone thought about and understood the consequences of their actions before they acted? That one, tiny piece of future thinking would probably have a sizeable impact on the world, because people do a lot of dumb things simply because they have not thought about the consequences.

Let’s take it another step. What if most people seriously thought about their own futures, understood the potential, and acted to achieve the future they wanted. That might change the world!

When I was a student in the Futures Studies graduate program at the University of Houston Clear Lake, I spent a summer with a dozen other students from all over the U.S and many parts of the world, learning about the methods and tools of foresight and futures studies. I remember very clearly that students would say, “Everyone should know this!” This happened when we were studying Systems, Strategic Planning, Scenario development, Visioning and other classes. “Everyone should know this!” It made a strong impression on me. But everything about my studies at UHCL made an impression.

It was very clear to me that futures  methods worked, and worked well. Certainly, there was a lot of discussion and some dispute among authors and experts about strategic planning (for example), but even they agreed that the methods worked when executed correctly. Or maybe I should say that the methods worked well for large organizations, because when I tried to apply all my newfound knowledge to my own life, there were problems. The methods just didn’t fit… They were developed by and for very large organizations, not for individuals.

After completing my studies at UHCL, I signed up to conduct PhD. research under the direction of Graham May at Leeds Metropolitan University. My research topic became Personal Futures; Foresight and Futures Studies for Individuals (available as a free PDF download at The research was exciting for me, and I learned a great deal about applying futures methods to individuals. The first was that biology is the primary driving force in human lives. We all go through a series of stages in life, and each stage represents substantial change, much of which can be anticipated.

I felt that the traditional life stages used by modern psychologists and dating back to the ancient Greeks were valuable, but I also found that in one respect they were outdated. In the classic stages, Old Age started at about age 50 or 55. I don’t think any modern person at that age feels they are old since we are living much longer, healthier lives. So I substituted “Independent Elder” as the stage following Middle age, then added three optional stages, all related more to declining health than biological change.

Next, I realized that we are all naturally multi-taskers. From birth to death, in every corner of the world, there are six groups of forces in our lives that we manage every day. I called the six groups “personal domains” and they include: Activities, Financial, Health, Housing, Social, and Transportation.

From there, my research was mostly a matter of scaling existing futures methods down to fit individuals and organizing everything into a practical, easy to use system. That effort resulted in a workbook and personal futures workshops. The concepts and the workbook were given their first international test at the World future Society Conference in Toronto in 2006. Participants representing many countries (Turkey, Mexico, UK, Canada and the US that I remember) were enthusiastic with the all-day workshop, and many are prominent futurists today.

That was the start. Since then thousands of copies of the Personal Futures Workbook have been printed and downloaded (it’s a free PDF at all over the world. My book, It’s YOUR Future…Make it a Good One! has also gone around the world and has already been translated into Turkish and Spanish with several other translations underway now. The book was even awarded the Association of Professional Futurists 2012 “Most Important Futures Work”.

So back to the original question, “What if EVERYONE was a futurist?” I think it’s a worthy goal, and I believe that we have a good start on the tools that can make that happen. Already, enough people are aware of futuring to start making a difference in the way people think about the future (there are more than two dozen universities worldwide offering masters degrees in Foresight and Futures Studies). We are a long way from a tipping point, but the progress is encouraging!

That’s a long way from “Everyone.” But it’s a start. Seven billion to go!