The Heart of Foresight: How Futures Thinking Can Foster a Human Revolution

Care, empathy, reconciliation, and love.

These probably aren’t the first expressions that would come to mind if you were asked to describe the field of foresight and futures thinking. Nonetheless, many people have acknowledged feeling a deeply internal, psychological and almost metaphysical impact when they have their first encounter with thinking about the future in a more substantial, purposeful and structured fashion. Not everyone reacts to futures thinking in such an exuberant manner. Nonetheless, this visceral response is so widespread and numerous that it begs the question: Why does foresight have such a powerful effect on its users?

Of course, foresight has traditionally been used to inform strategy, inspire innovation, activate change and direct actions. Further, social entrepreneurs have leveraged futures thinking to imagine alternative possibilities as solutions to big world problems. Beyond these tactical uses, is it also possible that foresight, by its very nature, contains an even deeper and more meaningful directive?

A famous axiom in the futures thinking realm goes something like this: The way that we think about the future directly impacts the actions that we take today. This is true whether you are an active participant in thinking about future possibilities or a passive observer in how the future continually unfolds. Either way, your present-day actions are a reflection of your mental image of the future — how you believe it should manifest, as well as what you’re able to imagine. For this reason, we have an ethical obligation to supercharge our futures thinking abilities in our lives, our businesses, our governments and our societies, aligning our actions with more equitable and regenerative landscapes for humanity and the planet.

When we only think about our very next steps — what we will do today in order to maintain successful outcomes — we become trapped in the prevailing or dominant narratives that define every element of our lives: the cultural barriers we face, the social structures we inhabit, the technologies that dictate our choices, the means of production that define human existence, and the endless consumption that exhausts our planetary carrying capacity. Actively employing foresight in a structured, inclusive and inquisitive fashion allows us to break free from these dominant narratives, both internally and externally. Think about how moving and touching such an experience can feel; being liberated from the narratives that play on an endless loop of demoralizing banality — maybe for the first time since being a child — can be very emotional indeed. And this is where foresight and futures thinking transcends its use as solely a methodology for strategic planning processes or governmental decision-making. When we realize the true landscape of change that’s necessary for assuring better tomorrows — the human heart — then we come to understand the impact that foresight has on elevating our individual and collective care, empathy and love for the state of those around us, for the health of our world, and for the generations yet to come. In this sense, futures thinking is a technology of reconciliation, or the restoration of our relationship with all of life. That’s pretty profound stuff!

As individuals and groups encounter foresight and futures thinking, they potentially begin a journey of “layered-imagining” in which they continually explore a plethora of alternative ideas and worlds. They may not realize it at first, but this ever-expanding journey through the looking glass activates a reframing of life as we’ve always known it at multiple levels of thinking, knowing and doing.

Cosmological Consciousness: Foresight and Futures Thinking directs us toward an evolutionary “futures consciousness” with the power to create new cognitive imaginariums, new spaces of inclusive perception and new realms to inhabit, both ideationally and experientially. As scientist and regenerative medicine expert Robert Lanza, famous for the theory of biocentrism, has argued,

“Consciousness is the driving force for the existence of the universe… the physical world that we perceive is not something that’s separate from us but rather created by our minds as we observe it. According to his biocentric view, space and time are a byproduct of the ‘whirl of information’ in our head that is weaved together by our mind into a coherent experience. His new paper, co-authored by Dmitriy Podolskiy and Andrei Barvinsky, theorists in quantum gravity and quantum cosmology, shows how observers influence the structure of our reality. According to Lanza and his colleagues, observers can dramatically affect ‘the behavior of observable quantities’ both at microscopic and massive spatiotemporal scales. (This is) a ‘profound shift in our ordinary everyday worldview… the world is not something that is formed outside of us, simply existing on its own. Observers ultimately define the structure of physical reality itself.’”

As intentional futures thinking empowers us to explore transrational mindsets and simultaneous multiples, we both envision and create novel realities that can solve our greatest challenges and manifest our wildest dreams.

Regenerative Design: When futures thinking elevates our consciousness beyond our everyday assumptions, biases and confines, we examine more than alternative pathways within existing systems; we begin to imagine entirely different societal constructs and structures. As author Daniel Christian Wahl has noted,

“Faced with multiple converging crises — all of them rooted in what Gregory Bateson and Fritjof Capra first called a crisis of perception — humanity is challenged to redesign the human presence on Earth. We need to transform our current degenerative and exploitative impact into a regenerative impact on communities, ecosystems, regional economies and the biosphere as a living and constantly transforming whole.”

Foresight can launch us past the systemic wicked problems that constrain our thinking and actions, and open up whole new ways of designing the world around us that make symbiotic wellness between human and planet a reality. As Kiss The Ground’s Karen Rodriquez says when talking about applying regenerative design to ecological health,

“Regenerative agriculture is about more than just stewarding the land; it’s about equity, culture, tradition, mindfulness, and a healthier humanity.”

Author and visionary Jean Russell takes us even further:

“Thrivability builds on itself. It is a cycle of actions which reinvest energy for future use and stretch resources further. It transcends sustainability by creating an upward spiral of greater possibilities and increasing energy. Each cycle builds the foundation for new things to be accomplished.”

This way of thinking places care, empathy, reconciliation and love at the center of generational development and long-term vision.

Human Potentiality: Not only does foresight unlock the possibilities and opportunities around large-scale systems, but it also impacts the potentialities within humans, both as individuals and in community. According to writer and scholar Richard Slaughter,

“Foresight is an attribute or a competence that pushes the boundaries of perception in at least four major ways:

1. by assessing the implications of present actions, decisions, etc;

2. by detecting and avoiding problems before they occur;

3. by considering present implications of possible future events; and

4. by envisioning aspects of desired futures.

When used in this context, images of the future are essentially the manifestation of our expectation that transformation is possible. Creating a vision, be it as an individual or organization, taps into the deepest desires of the people involved and allows them to express how they wish the world to be… The fear and anxiety held about the future by individuals is mitigated through development of futures images, whether they come true or not, and they allow clear decisions to be taken in the present which otherwise may seem fraught with difficulties — the future is a playground in which the boundaries of the present loosen and creativity abounds.”

Our modern expressions of work, education and social connection not only drain us of purpose and passion, but they increasingly strip us of a sense of influence or meaning. Foresight fosters a deep well of transformative sense-making that echoes the interplay of envisioned pathways, anticipatory agency and goal-oriented behavior.

Through an activation of multi-layered consciousness, regenerative design, and personal or group potential, it’s easier to understand why futures thinking is a technology of care, empathy and love — not only for the world around us, but for the world(s) yet to come.

About the authors:

Frank Spencer is a co-founder of Kedge — a global foresight, innovation, and strategic design firm which pioneered The Futures School, a global foresight learning ecosystem. Throughout his career, Frank has worked as a leadership coach and developer with entrepreneurs, social communities, networking initiatives, and SMEs, helping them in areas such as development, innovation, and networking. He holds a Master of Arts in Strategic Foresight from Regent University. With a strong background in both business and academic foresight, Frank was the creator and lead instructor of The Futures Institute: Shaping The Future Now at Duke University’s Talent identification Program Institute, teaching students to use futures thinking and foresight to develop transformative solutions to grand challenges. He has worked on extensive foresight competency-building projects for companies such as General Mills, The Walt Disney Company, Hasbro, Ports of Auckland and various divisions of the U.S. Government. He is a prolific speaker, having delivered keynotes and presentations to conferences and internal teams around the globe for the past 20 years. Frank holds memberships in the Association for Professional Futurists (APF) and the World Futures Studies Federation (WFSF).

Ashley Bowers leverages her expertise in sustainable design, environmental science and regenerative agriculture to illuminate how foresight champions a holistic approach that empowers organizations, institutions and governments to thrive in a world of exponential uncertainty and complexity. Holding a Masters of Science in Agricultural, Environmental and Sustainability Science from the University of Texas and a Bachelor of Science in Sustainability in the Built Environment from the University of Florida, she is passionate about fostering a spirit of learning, unlearning and relearning among clients and alumni; challenging individuals and groups to dive deep into emerging landscapes of change; and democratizing multi-faceted visions of the future. When Ashley isn’t developing trend research, future-oriented maps or robust scenarios, you will find her expanding the TFS knowledge base through the creation of new content, curriculum and capabilities.

  1. https://bigthink.com/thinking/is-human-consciousness-creating-reality/
  2. https://medium.com/age-of-awareness/regenerative-design-and-a-science-of-qualities-445c3ce68dcb
  3. https://plutopia.io/jean-russell-thrivability/
  4. https://www.academia.edu/1924674/Hope_entrepreneurship_and_foresight

--

--

--

The Futures School is global foresight learning ecosystem offering learning events, custom engagements and professional certification. www.thefuturesschool.com

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Recommended from Medium

Two methods for solving sustainability challenges, illustrated by the supply chain

Guesstimate of Life’s Future

Graham bags £30m Birmingham build to rent job

Graham bags £30m Birmingham build to rent job

Traffnetic

Escaping The Flat-Earth Apocalypse

H22 City Expo: ‘Bringing out the superhero in everyone’

Connection is the electric pursuit

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
The Futures School

The Futures School

The Futures School is global foresight learning ecosystem offering learning events, custom engagements and professional certification. www.thefuturesschool.com

More from Medium

Terranascient Futures Studies and Foresight: Sustainability & Re-generativity

The Climate-Gap in Historical Socio-Political Thinking

Learning about Colonialism and Climate

Eight Questions With Featured Grey Swan Guild Member: Tom McCallum