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What is Futures Thinking?

What is futures thinking? Is it the same as Strategic Foresight? What makes someone a futurist?

Futures thinking is a mindset that is most commonly associated with creative problem-solving and bold, provoking innovations. Strategic Foresight is a decades-old discipline that allows us to create functional views of alternative futures and possibilities. Through this process,  organizations are better prepared for potential threats and are able to capitalize on hidden opportunities. You can think of Strategic Foresight as a sport, a futurist as a player, and futures thinking as the way the teammates think about the game, even when they aren’t playing. 

Why is it “futures” thinking, with an “s”? The plural “futures” implies the multiple alternative scenarios that could emerge because of present-day actions. In our VUCA world, we need to abandon the traditional linear forecasts that rely on past metrics of success, because what got us here won’t get us there. Our aspirations can only be achieved by novel, creative approaches to strategy, change, design and personal development.

Here are some characteristics of a good futures thinker, or a futurist:

  • Crave curiosity. As a futurist, it is more important to ask “why?” than “what?” so that we can dive into the root cause of an issue and understand the value shifts driving today’s trends. It is not uncommon for good futurists to explore so far into a trend that they forget where their journey began. In other words, if you feel like you have been down the rabbit hole while examining trends, you are probably doing it right!
  • Act courageously. Thinking and acting on our futures intelligence takes courage. As humans we are wired to reject change, and the future is synonymous with change. A good futurist must recognize that the insights we share will make others feel uncomfortable, but it is in that discomfort that growth occurs. 
  • Welcome diversity. Foresight is a team sport. We all have biases and assumptions driven by our worldviews and mental maps. Exploring the future alongside a diverse set of peers ensures that we challenge our information filters. 
  • Think outrageously. The ability to think provocatively is paramount to being a good futurist. In order to expand our thinking (and that of our leadership and stakeholders), we must stretch our minds beyond our comfort zone. 
  • Connect the dots. It is not enough to collect the dots (or trends). A good futurist must also connect them to uncover patterns. Nothing in our current landscape exists in isolation and trends are no exception. To understand what’s next, we must analyze the intersection of trends and make sense of the patterns they form. 
  • Think in multiples. A core principle of strategic foresight is that there is not one but unlimited futures before us. As good futurists, we must be able to think in simultaneous, multiple futures rather than the traditional, single, linear forecast. Being able to consider paths beyond the official future allows us to create robust and resilient strategies that will be successful no matter which future emerges.

For more information on futures thinking and Strategic Foresight, download our free Primer, or book a 30-minute call with our team and we’d be happy to address your particular curiosities and gaps with foresight!