If you could see your future, would you try to make it better? If you were a Soviet in 1980 and you knew that spiraling debt would destroy your country, would you do something to stop it? If you were a German in 1933 and knew that the Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State would lead to a world war, tens of millions of deaths, and the leveling of your nation, would you oppose it?
Its safe to assume that we would all say yes to these questions. Our only excuse in letting these patterns reoccur is a claim that we can't see the future with any degree of certainty, but is this claim true? Couldn't the Soviets have deduced their overwhelmingly probable financial failure based on a combination of proven economic and socio-political models? Couldn't the Germans have deduced from history that support of absolute power always leads to failure? Why would the Germans have supported a document that circumvented their basic human rights when they had hundreds of examples throughout history that such documents are always eventually used for tyranny and oppression? How could Soviets have possibly thought that the government could endlessly support citizens who took more than they gave to the collective without going bankrupt? On top of that, how did they expect their government to survive financially while maintaining a horrendously expensive and unwinnable war in the Middle East? How could they have not seen the future when it was so evident? What good is history if we cannot learn from its mistakes and plot a better course for the future? These are some of the questions that futurology attempts to illuminate.
Futurology also uses aspects of multiple disciplines to anticipate forces of nature and predict how we will react to those forces. In our fight for survival against natural threats, our ability to plan for a future that has no historic precedent gives us an advantage over other life-forms on this planet, including those that were extinguished eons ago. For instance, taking into consideration various aspects of weather forecasting, mathematical probability, economics, and hydraulic engineering, a futurologist could predict that the New Orleans foundation code requiring only seven days of submersion allowance would not be economically sound. This would be based on the likelihood of a category-five hurricane, the engineered strength of the dikes in the face of such a hurricane, the amount of seawater likely to breach the dikes, how long it would take get rid of the water, and how much it would cost to replace the foundations of those structures that were underground for more than seven days. A hundred years ago, foundations in New Orleans were built so that they could withstand being submerged for weeks without losing structural integrity. The building costs associated with that level of stability came to be considered overkill, not because the likelihood of level-five hurricanes diminished, but because of one additional futurology consideration: a hundred years ago, the federal government would never have paid for the rebuilding of New Orleans. Even though Hurricane Katrina was entirely a force of nature, a futurologist must also take into consideration socio-political trends and the needs of his client. In externalizing costs associated with long-term risks, futurologists have become invaluable resources for shaping corporate-sponsored government legislation.
Methods of quantifying the effectiveness of corporate futurologists have become a complex science in itself, one that seeks to objectively define the difference between fantasy, science fiction, and science. This textbook explores those differences and enables society to use the power of strategic forecasting for more than corporate and political gain.
Enter the Future
In a linear conception of time, the future is the portion of the timeline that is still to occur, i.e. the place in space-time where lie all events that still have not occurred. In this sense the future is opposed to the past (the set of moments and events that have already occurred before) and the present (the set of events that are occurring now).
The future always had a very special place in philosophy and, in general, in the human mind because a huge part of human life needs at least a forecast of events that are to occur.
The Discipline of Futurology
It is perhaps possible to argue that the evolution of the human brain is in great part an evolution in cognitive abilities necessary to forecast the future, i.e. abstract imagination, logic and induction. The earliest cave paintings depicting the hunting for animals did not depict the past; instead, they allowed the anticipation of the future, as only humanity can do.
Inferring what is to come from what is here is what our ancestors did and what we do with futurology. Knowing the future, imagining it, predicting it is in the nature of humans.
Imagination permits us to “seek a plausible model of a given situation without effectively observing it in practice (therefore mitigating risks). Logical reasoning allows one to predict inevitable consequences of actions and situations, and therefore gives useful information about future events. Justification forces us to question our assumptions. Induction permits the association of a cause with consequences, a fundamental notion for every forecast of future time.
Despite these cognitive instruments for the comprehension of future, the stochastic nature of many natural and social processes means that the forecasting of the future is a long-sought aim for people of almost all historic ages and cultures. Figures either actually or pretending to see the future, like a prophet or a diviner enjoyed great consideration and even social importance in many past and even present communities. Whole pseudo-sciences, like astrology or cheiromancy originated with the aim of forecasting futures.
Much of physical science too can be read as an attempt to make quantitative and objective predictions about events.
Some intellectual foundations of futures studies appeared in the mid-19th century. In 1997, Wendell Bell suggested that Auguste Comte's discussion of the metapatterns of social change presages futures studies as a scholarly dialogue. One might make a stronger argument that futures studies as a field originated in the early 20th century, intertwined with the birth of systems science in academia, and with the idea of national economic and political planning, most notably in France, the Soviet Union and Eastern bloc countries.
The emergence of futures studies as an academic discipline, however, happened after World War II. Differing approaches arose in Western Europe (mostly in France), in Eastern Europe (including the Soviet Union), in the post-colonial developing countries, and in the United States of America. In the 1950s European people and nations continued to reconstruct their war-torn continent. In the process, scholars, philosophers, writers, and artists searched for what could constitute a more positive future for humanity, and for their own countries in particular. The Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc countries participated in the European rebuilding, but did so in the context of an established national economic planning process, which also required a long-term, systemic statement of social goals. The newly-independent developing countries of Africa and Asia faced the challenge of constructing industrial infrastructure from a minimal base, as well as constructing national cultural identities with concomitant long-term social goals. By contrast, in the United States of America, futures studies as a discipline emerged from the successful application of the tools and perspectives of systems analysis, especially with regard to quartermastering the war-effort.
Even today, a schism in perspective lingers between approaches taken by scholars in the U.S. and those in other countries: U.S. practitioners often focus on applied projects, quantitative tools and systems analysis, whereas Europeans investigate the long-range future of humanity and the Earth, what might constitute that future, what symbols and semantics might express it, and who might articulate these. With regard to futures studies within the former centrally-planned economies, or within the newly-developing countries, differences with U.S. futures practice exist primarily because futures researchers in the United States have no opportunity to engage in national planning, nor do their fellow-citizens call upon them to construct national symbols.
By the 1960s, academics, philosophers, writers and artists across the globe had begun to explore enough future scenarios so as to fashion a common dialogue. Inventors such as Buckminster Fuller also began highlighting the effect technology might have on global trends as time progressed. This discussion on the intersection of population growth, resource availability and use, economic growth, quality of life, and environmental sustainability — referred to as the "global problematique" — came to wide public attention with the publication of Limits to Growth, a study sponsored by the Club of Rome. This international dialogue became institutionalized in the form of the World Futures Studies Federation (WFSF), founded in 1967, with the noted sociologist, Johan Galtung, serving as its first president. In the United States, the publisher Edward Cornish, concerned with these issues, started the World Future Society, an organization focused more on interested laypeople.
The field currently faces the great challenge of creating a coherent conceptual framework, codified into a well-documented curriculum (or curricula) featuring widely-accepted and consistent concepts and theoretical paradigms linked to quantitative and qualitative methods, exemplars of those research methods, and guidelines for their ethical and appropriate application within society. As an indication that previously disparate intellectual dialogues have in fact started converging into a recognizable discipline, two solidly-researched and well-accepted first attempts to synthesize a coherent framework for the field have appeared: Richard Slaughter's The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies, a collection of essays by senior practitioners, and Wendell Bell's two-volume work, The Foundations of Futures Studies.
1975 saw the founding of the first graduate program in futures studies in the United States of America, the M.S. Program in Studies of the Future at the University of Houston-Clear Lake; there followed a year later the M.A. Program in Public Policy in Alternative Futures at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. The Hawai'i program provides particular interest in the light of the schism in perspective between European and U.S. futurists; it bridges that schism by locating futures studies within a pedagogical space defined by neo-Marxism, critical political economic theory, and literary criticism. In the years following the foundation of these two programs, single courses in Futures Studies at all levels of education have proliferated, but complete programs occur only rarely. As a transdisciplinary field, Futures Studies attracts generalists. This transdisciplinary nature can also cause problems, owing to it sometimes falling between the cracks of disciplinary boundaries; it also has caused some difficulty in achieving recognition within the traditional curricula of the sciences and the humanities. In contrast to "Futures Studies" at the undergraduate level, some graduate programs in strategic leadership or management offer masters or doctorate programs in "Strategic Foresight" for mid-career professionals, some even online. Nevertheless, comparatively few new PhDs graduate in Futures Studies each year.
Futurists is a term used to describe management science consultants who advise private and public orgainizations on diverse global trends, risk management and emerging market opportunities. Some countries call these interdisciplinary practitioners Futurologists.
A key element of all management is being able to anticipate what competitors, employees and customers are likely to do next, in the context of a rapidly changing wider world. Thus it is true that to some extent all effective leaders are futurists.
The futurists are also a group of artists.
A key part of futuring is managing uncertainty and risk. Some trends are relatively clear - for example the fall of telecom costs towards zero or the aging demographics of many countries in Western Europe. The issue is often more about timing than the nature of the events themselves.
Others are very hard to predict, including significant numbers of so-called Wild Cards, or low probability, but high impact events.
Several authors have become recognized as futurists. They research trends (particularly in technology) and write accounts of their observations, conclusions, and predictions.
In earlier eras, many of the futurists were attached to academic institutions. For example John McHale the futurist who wrote the book The Future of the Future, and published a Futures Directory, directed his own Centre For Integrative Studies which was a Think Tank within the university setting. Other early era futurists followed a cycle of publishing their conclusions and then beginning research on the next book. More recently they have started consulting groups or earn money as speakers. Alvin Toffler, John Naisbitt and Patrick Dixon exemplify this class.
Many business gurus present themselves as pragmatic futurists rather than as theoretical futurists. One prominent international "business futurist", Frank Feather, coined the phrase "Thinking Globally, Acting Locally" in 1979. He has written books such as G-Forces: The 35 Global Forces Restructuring Our Future, Future Consumer.com, Future Living, and Biznets: The Webopoly Future of Business. The last three examine the strategic impact of the Internet revolution (what he calls the "Webolution") on business, economics, and society.
Some futurists share features in common with the writers of science fiction, and indeed some science-fiction writers, such as Arthur C. Clarke, have acquired a certain reputation as futurists. Some writers, though, show less interest in technological or social developments and use the future only as a backdrop to their stories. For example, in the introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin wrote of prediction as the business of prophets, clairvoyants, and futurists, not of writers: "a novelist's business is lying".
- Bell, Wendell (1997). Foundations of Futures Studies: Human Science for a New Era. New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA: Transaction Publishers.
- Masini, Eleonora (1993). Why Futures Studies?. London, UK: Grey Seal Books.
- Slaughter, Richard A. (1995). The Foresight Principle: Cultural Recovery in the 21st Century. London, England: Adamantine Press, Ltd..
- Sardar, Ziauddin, ed. (1999). Rescuing All Our Futures. Praeger Studies on the 21st Century, Westport, Connecticut, USA.
- Meadows, Donella H.; D.L. Meadows, J. Randers, and William W. Behrens III (1972). The Limits to Growth. New York, New York, USA: Universe Books.
- Kuhn, Thomas (1975, c1970). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
- Slaughter, Richard (2005). The Knowledge Base of Future Studies.
- Slaughter, Richard (1997). The Foundations of Futures Studies.
- Markley, Oliver (1998). "Visionary Futures: Guided Imagery in Teaching and Learning about the Future," in American Behavioral Scientist. Sage Publications, New York.
- Jones, Christopher (Winter 1992). "The Manoa School of Futures Studies". Futures Research Quarterly: 19–25.
- The Future: An Owner's Manual
- Feather, Frank (1989). G-Forces: The 35 Global Forces Restructuring Our Future.
- Feather, Frank (2000). Future Consumer.com.
- Feather, Frank (2003). Future Living.
- Feather, Frank (2006). Biznets: The Webopoly Future of Business.
To meet the challenges of the future, we need to find out about what we can plausibly expect in the years ahead so we can understand what our options are. We can then set reasonable goals and develop effective strategies for achieving them.
- World Future Society -- The Future: An Owner's Manual
- Futurists have refined multiple useful techniques to help us think ahead.
- USA • 1-800-989-8274 or 1-301-656-8274 • e-Mail
8. Bell, Wendell (1997). Foundations of Futures Studies.
- Futurist (ASF definition) Twelve developmental types of futures thinking
- The Futures Foundation
- Global Change - futurist site - 50 videos, 500 articles and many presentations on world trends
- Shaping Tomorrow - 12500+ organised future links and 1700 + global trends
- The Davinci Institute - Unlocking your future, one idea, one invention, one business at a time.
- The Association of Professional Futurists - a thriving community of professional futurists committed to leadership and excellence in the futures field.
- Social Technologies - The Future is our Business
- Futurology in Iran
- IdeaMarket - Ideas for Future