Foresight in the Garden of Good and Evil
“There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” – William Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Imagine coming home after a long day of work. You’re tired and fried, and all you want to do is flop on the couch and binge watch something to take your mind off the bleakness of reality. You turn on your favorite streaming service, and your recommended series and movies include the following:
- The Rain: The story of a band of kids, led by a brother and sister duo, who search for their father…who let out a rain-borne virus causing a pandemic throughout the Scandinavian region.
- Attack on Titan: A popular Japanese animated series about humanity uncovering its history…after it has been ravaged by an extraterrestrial invasion of large humanoids known as Titans who have a penchant for eating humans.
- The Walking Dead: A popular AMC series based on a comic book about a group of plucky survivors who must make do…in a post-apocalyptic landscape brought about by zombies known as “walkers.”
At this point, you decide that it’s better to turn off the television and just go to bed. Maybe tomorrow you should ask the people at the streaming service about their algorithms.
If an extraterrestrial came to Earth and studied our viewing habits, they would probably be puzzled at this preoccupation that our world is definitely doomed, and the only question is how it will meet its end. Our seeming obsession with our demise has spread across all other areas of our lives, until we are surrounded by a pessimistic view of our world in general.
The similarity across media, government, and our own careers is the false correlation that uncertainty is bad. Not just bad but evil. Not knowing the future, or not having control over it, quite frankly scares us. As a risk manager, I see this every day when I determine risks to a project or the program where I work. Uncertainty is considered a disruption, and disruption is…you get the picture. By definition, a risk is a potential situation that could have a significant impact on an organization meeting its goals. Notice that the definition doesn’t say that the situation or condition is negative or positive, it just is. This is similar to mapping the future: it just is. It is our attitude toward the uncertainty that drives the idea of whether the future is good or bad.
Take Hammond’s Which World scenario approach: You have a scenario set up to be your “negative” world (Fortress), one scenario set up to be your positive world (Transformative), and one squarely in the middle (Market). How often does the Market world skew ever so slightly toward the negative?
When creating scenarios, it’s important to remember that you’re not predicting the future, but developing a range of possibilities. Creating a Pollyanna-esque future or one akin to every zombie film in theaters these days is impractical. Life seldom operates in absolutes. Acting within one context (good versus evil) creates a false dichotomy to the reality of what the future could be, particularly since one person’s opportunity is another person’s threat.
One way to think about scenarios regarding future states is to simply regard the future as a neutral certainty. It will happen, and it will be impacted by the choices you make, but it doesn’t pop out of the shadows and doom you to post-apocalyptic circumstances. Automatically regarding uncertainty with a twinge of fear dooms your future to a fearful one, because the decisions you’ve made were colored as such. Understanding your biases toward the future state, and any trends you’ve uncovered, will go a long way in maintaining some neutrality when mapping scenarios. For example, I’m a runner. I love to run, but I hate injuries. An article came along in my scanning exercise that talked about how people are amputating healthy limbs to replace them with “bionic” ones, because these limbs will outperform the standard human limbs. This frightens me, and in talks with those who have prosthetics due to medical needs, this frightens them as well. However, regardless of my thoughts on replacing my legs to run a marathon, it is a trend that I need to scan for my scenario development. It becomes my duty as a futurist to report the data and understand its effect on my organization and the world around me. (But please, for the love of everything, do not surgically remove your limbs just yet. Think of it as a prediction. Keep your limbs intact. Thank you.)
Walt Disney once said, “Times and conditions change so rapidly that we must keep our aim focused constantly on the future.” With change occurring more rapidly than ever, we owe it to our clients, our organizations, and ourselves to not think of the world in shades of black and white, but a multitude of gray hues that create neither solely good nor solely bad scenarios. Rather, they are options to pursue. Any choice we make has the option of creating positive or negative ripple effects, but our mindset deeply colors whether these really are good or evil.
Now if you don’t mind, I think I’ll go watch some Futurama…
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Futurist and Risk Manager
The Futures School Los Angeles 2018 and Advanced 2019 Alumna
Kim Nesbitt is a Senior Business Strategist for The MITRE Corporation, and brings over ten years of experience providing strategic management, risk management, and strategic foresight expertise to both the private and public sector. Her work has focused on strategic planning, performance management, portfolio management, risk management, enterprise risk management, and strategic foresight; she has used these skills to work with a variety of agencies within the Federal Government. She is currently an active member of the Association for Federal Enterprise Risk Management, and earned her certificate in Strategic Decision-Making and Risk Management from Stanford University.