History is Great, But the Future is All We Have Left #49 #cong17

By Gar Mac Críosta.

“Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.”

- John Lennon

We talk about innovation in the present tense (the present), we describe innovation through the lens of previous innovations (the past). But the future is all we have left. Thinking about the future is something we all do but without much thought. This post feels like a bit of a cheat for Congregation (www.congregation.ie) last years theme was the ‘Future’ and this years is ‘Innovation’ I’m going to combine the two things. I’m making the case that without tools to support the innovation process, innovation dies 1 post-it at a time.

This year (& next year 2018) with MindRising we are exploring the area of future thinking and teaching future thinking in schools (and outside of that I get to do this with grown-ups). We will be introducing a whoFuturecasting Toolkit a method, canvas & card-deck that can be used to create futurecasts. Innovation can’t happen without imagination. Imagination is a ‘muscle’ that can be trained. But how do we begin to think about the future. My work as an architect has brought me into contact with scenario planning, strategic foresight, future forecasting, long-range planning, technology adoption strategies etc. Lot’s of good work has been done in this area so this is hopefully a valuable (&fun) addition to the toolbelt.

The Challenges

  1. Organisations who aren’t keeping an eye on the horizon end up being hit in the back of the head by obvious signals when it’s too late
  2. Most organisations struggle to think of tomorrow as being any different from today, the future is today +1 or +10 but it’s linear and predictable. This works well right up until the time when it doesn’t work at all and your irrelevant.
  3. The certainty of uncertainty and our predilection for prediction. Our brains crave certainty it’s the way we are wired, we hate uncertainty and it’s sister ambiguity. As a result we are condition to make predictions, when they come true they reinforce our self-delusion when they fail they are explainable.

“The idea that the future is unpredictable is undermined every day by the ease with which the past is explained.” — Danny Kahneman


I came across The Institute for the Future and Jane McGonigal (Reality is Broken and Betterness) a number of years ago and the work they were doing on the future fascinated me. I started using the lingo and evolving a set of workshops. And then a chance conversation with Tom Graves and a passing remark — “you know Gar you should really turn that into a card deck and game” so I did (well I’m doing).

Futurecasting is a critical element of all innovation initiatives. First let’s get some principles agreed.

  • The Future is uncertain
  • The Future is unknowable
  • The Future is emergent
  • The Future is Unexpected

The wonderful thing about stories & neural coupling

Terry Pratchett described an element called Narrativium the sixth element after — earth, fire, air, water and surprise. The essential element that made all the worlds stories ‘run’. In order for us to think about the future we need to connect our imagination with the power of stories.

“Everything you can imagine is real.”

- Pablo Picasso

Stories are based on beliefs about how things work. Stories about the future engage the imagination (and often under-utilised muscle in many large organisations).

Why stories work?

Neural Coupling — people’s brain pattern’s mirroring each other.

When someone tells you a story, they are sharing an experience and expressing their beliefs about that experience at the same time. In addition both teller and listener are pairing their brains [neural coupling], building relationships and creating social cohesion that makes it easier for them to develop shared goals and move toward those goals in a collaborative, coordinated way.

- Dave Gray — Liminal Thinking

“Serious business people” usually don’t have time for such fanciful nonsense as storytelling and imagination. I argue that they should in fact we all should. You can’t look into the future through the eyes of a spreadsheet no matter how good an excel jockey you think you are!

Futurecasting stories are stories about the future that others can ‘experience’ with you, as you ‘play’ with new ideas. Now that we know we need stories we need some kind of guide to help us build stories about the future.

The basics

How do we help imagine new futures? Well first off it would help if we had some definitions and a language to begin to describe things that we’re seeing.

Rules — laws that govern the changes of all things they apply universally and are typically bi-directional and systemic in nature

  • big , ← → small
  • slow ← → fast
  • fixed ← → mobile
  • rare ← → common
  • states change (liquid ← → gas ← →solid ← → liquid)
  • dumb ← → smart

Impact — describes the effect, impact and direction of something new as it arrives in the world —

  • nothing changes
  • increase — steady, accelerating, abrupt
  • decrease — steady, accelerating, abrupt
  • permanence of effect — transient or permanent

Trend — some observable change that’s happening

  • mega — big global shifts e.g. urbanisation
  • government — how we are governed
  • society, culture & lifestyle- how we live, work, play
  • technology — new technologies & technology based breakthrus influencing and driving change
  • economics & business — shifts & movements in the nature and structure or organisations and businesses
  • environment —

Forces — Kevin Kelly in his books The Inevitable lists 12 forces that are changing everything,

  1. Becoming: Moving from fixed products to always upgrading services and subscriptions
  2. Cognifying: Making everything much smarter using cheap powerful AI that we get from the cloud
  3. Flowing: Depending on unstoppable streams in real-time for everything
  4. Screening: Turning all surfaces into screens
  5. Accessing: Shifting society from one where we own assets, to one where instead we will have access to services at all times.
  6. Sharing: Collaboration at mass-scale. Kelly writes, “On my imaginary Sharing Meter Index we are still at 2 out of 10.”
  7. Filtering: Harnessing intense personalisation in order to anticipate our desires
  8. Remixing: Unbundling existing products into their most primitive parts and then recombine in all possible ways
  9. Interacting: Immersing ourselves inside our computers to maximize their engagement
  10. Tracking: Employing total surveillance for the benefit of citizens and consumers
  11. Questioning: Promoting good questions are far more valuable than good answers
  12. Beginning: Constructing a planetary system connecting all humans and machines into a global matrix: Moving from fixed products to always upgrading services and subscriptions

List courtesy of Wikipedia The Inevitable

Technology Triggers — new technologies that do old jobs in new ways or totally reinvent what is

My heart is in technology and I believe that lots of good can come from unstoppable advances that surround us in ever greater numbers.

Signals — are messages from the future that are all around us we just have to notice them, e.g. someone sitting on a bus with a battery powered hoverboard to take them on the last mile home. Signals are the manifestation of technology triggers combined with trends driven by rules and forces.

Context — where am I and what’s going? e.g. I’m home and bored and it’s raining

Futurecast — a futurecast is a story about the future, it explores the impact of triggers and signals on you in a context sd

Personal Futurecast — Jane McGonigal makes it clear that making it personal to you makes it real and means that you have things to win or lose from this future. Jane says signals are like jellybeans, each has a flavour and when you mix the flavours you get interesting new flavours. Mix up the flavours, take chances, don’t just link connected things.

“Every good story starts with a person in some kind of situation: a problem, a choice, or an opportunity.” Dave Gray Liminal Thinking

Blast Radius — what happens if this spreads

  • Personal — just me is just that just me
  • Local — just in this place
  • Pervasive — everywhere
  • Common & Accepted — it’s the new normal (over-used but useful in this case)

Sunshine — taking the personal futurecast and applying it to the world at large, exploring the amazing positive impacts this future could have on the world

Shadow — taking the personal futurecast and applying it to the world at large, exploring the amazing negative impacts this future could have on the world

Insights — deeper understanding of some issue, theme, idea. Remember these are not predictions they are stories, we have to remember that they aren’t true their goal is not to be true rather it’s to allow us to explore the future, insights are a side-effect AND you won’t

Opportunity — finding a gap that creates an opportunity for something new to exist. Not every opportunity is for you some just exist, you simply acknowledge and let it float away.

So now we have a vocabulary to start describing things in the future so what next I hear you ask where do we start.

Futurecasting Toolkit

“The future is a place where everything can be different”

Jane McGonigal

I spend a good chunk (the most enjoyable chunk professionally) of my life facilitating group workshops. I’m a big fan of having tools to help people structure their thinking, surface their ideas and visualise everything. I noticed a gap in my toolkit with relation to helping people to think about the future. I had been using some of Jane McGonigal’s signals & jellybeans, elements of scenario planning and Grove Context Mapping but there appeared to be a hole in my process. And so the futurecasting toolkit was born.

The Gap

  • Use it to play with an uncertain and unpredictable future
  • Use it to reveal the impacts of signals on your life, world, industry, organisation or business model.
  • Use it on your own to play with ideas and imagine a future good & bad

I’m a big fan of JTBD (Jobs To Be Done) and so here are the jobs that the toolkit does for you as an individual or as a group.

Situation: When I’m confronted with waves of new trends, I feel overwhelmed, I have frustrating glimpses of the future that appear and then vanish

Need: I need a way of harnessing the trends, paying attention to my insights and playing with the future.

Situation: When I’m asked to develop a strategy for an uncertain future with nothing but a vague definition of what that is and what’s required.

Need: I need a way of developing new opportunities & articulating the possibilities that could result.

Tool: Futurecasting Canvas

The Futurecasting Canvas is a tool to help you tell a story about the future.

Futurecasting Canvas Version 0.3 Designed By: Business Model Adventures

REQUEST: I tried to contact Jane so if you read this and you know her then please share. I’ve credited her as the inspiration for this.

Tool: Futurecasting Cards

A set of cards to help you explore forces, trends, triggers and signals.

Tool: Futurecasting Workshop Guide

A guide to using all of the tools and conducting a futurecasting workshop with big or small groups.

“It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.”

- Epictetus

Tool: Futurecasting Signal Notebook

A notebook to help you collect and notice signals you receive from the future. Right now this is just a regular notebook, onenote, phone camera etc. But it will soon be a real notebook.

  • What’s the trigger?
  • Where were you & what were you doing?

Futurecasting Rules

  • Everything is possible
  • No one can be wrong
  • Everyone participates no one dominates
  • Build on the ideas of others
  • Listen & Be Present
  • Look for unusual connections
  • Experiment, experiment, experiment
  • Be BRAVE!!!


Future of my morning health check

Scary future with a health conscious if slightly aggressive smart fridge

The Future for the Futurecasting Toolkit

  1. Anyone at congregation who wants to play with the future can just ask, one round takes about 15 to 25 mins
  2. Participate in a workshop and help me with the prototyping; I’m running workshops in December 2017 and January 2018. Feel free to ask if you can participate in one.
  3. This will all be released under an open source license so if you want to participate, play and try it let me know.

CongRegation © Eoin Kennedy 2017 eoin at congregation dot ie