When you think about technology and the future of business, what comes to mind? What are the probable alternative future scenarios? Which is the aspirational future scenario, the one that is truly visionary and world-changing? Conversely, what is the worst-case alternative?
Douglas Rushkoff’s book Present Shock: When Everything Happens NOW includes a section on “Why Futurists Suck: The Real Promise of the Digital Age.” I had to chuckle at the title. And you know what? I largely agree with him.
The true visionary potential for technology goes far beyond finding new ways to run business as usual, keeping the same old story of the current military-corporate paradigm, which infuses not only corporations and politics, but also academic culture and an economy of make-more/mean-less.
Sure, some futurists are comfortable in this status quo, and this limits their predictions, but this is true in any field. You’ll always have people with limited vision beyond what has been and what is, people who are particularly comfortable with the way things are and therefore see no need to radically change anything.
This isn’t inherently a problem with futurists, and in fact, any futurist who locks down on a particular point of view is doing it wrong. Futuring is about alternative futures, about thinking through multiple scenarios and preparing for several probable futures, while we hone in on making the aspirational option the one we realize.
Sometimes, we end up with more than one possible scenario coming true simultaneously. The point of futuring isn’t to predict but to prepare for and leverage the future that shows up. (In fact no one, certainly not futurists, can predict what will happen in the future.) As far as I’m concerned, though, that’s really not enough. Visionary futuring goes beyond preparing and into creating the change we want to see, rooted in the realities of the various scenarios that are most likely to occur, as well as an ongoing process of informed revision based on what actually does occur.
This is why it is so important to me for people to recognize that we can all be futurists in our everyday lives. The questions at the beginning of this post are just the beginning of the questions a futurist asks about a topic, but nothing in these queries puts them in an ivory tower, out of reach of the rest of us. And there’s no such thing as one right answer to any of them.
In fact, professional futurists, of which I am one, need to put our ears to the ground to hear what the public and authors like Rushkoff are saying so that we can self-correct any misnomers or misconceptions, and improve on the valid criticisms, especially if we wish to have any relevancy.
I’m not saying, of course, that professional futurists do not have a level of expertise and experience in the skills and tools required to do futuring well. What I am saying is this: You do not need to be a professional futurist to consider all the possible roads ahead and to recognize that you can always build your own road or better–step outside that flat dimension and recognize when you can fly.