Post(s) tagged with "the future"
The business community focuses on managing uncertainty. That’s actually a bit of a canard. In an increasingly turbulent and interconnected world, ambiguity is rising to unprecedented levels. That’s something our current systems can’t handle.
There’s a difference between the kind of problems that companies, institutions, and governments are able to solve and the ones that they need to solve. Most big organizations are good at solving clear but complicated problems. They’re absolutely horrible at solving ambiguous problems — when you don’t know what you don’t know. Faced with ambiguity, their gears grind to a halt.
Uncertainty is when you’ve defined the variable but don’t know its value. Like when you roll a die and you don’t know if it will be a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6. But ambiguity is when you’re not even sure what the variables are. You don’t know how many dice are even being rolled or how many sides they have or which dice actually count for anything. Businesses that focus on uncertainty actually delude themselves into thinking that they have a handle on things. Ah, ambiguity; it can be such a bitch.
Dev Patnaik, cited by Robert Safian in This Is Generation Flux: Meet The Pioneers Of The New (And Chaotic) Frontier Of Business
We are in the Postnormal now, where volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity have reached unparalleled heights. We are constantly in a strategy fog, unable to see very far ahead, to plan, or even think about problems and solutions. We live in a time defined by dilemmas: unsolvable situations that can only be coped with, balanced against.
Like a martial artist who knows she may be attacked at any time, by any opponent, with any weapon, the most productive approach is to practice, speculatively, but remain fluid in mind, and unfocused on any specific techniques.
This is why I counsel speculative design as a discipline. Instead of trying to imagine a future world, instead imagine an imaginary appliance of that future world, and its use by the denizens of that future. Then consider the implications of those interactions. That is the equivalent of a karate-do doing kata: we are sparring with the implications of our speculations.
Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language.
Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
Marx doesn’t say that we are forced to use the signs and slogans of the past as we press into the future: we do not yet know the language of the future as we fall into it. Maybe this is part of what McLuhan means when he said,
We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.
In my view, futurism (“strategic foresight,” “scenario planning”) is a vaccination for our civilization’s immune system. It strengthens us. By introducing us to different possible futures, we become sensitive to those potential outcomes, and able to recognize their early signs. We can think about how we would respond to different futures, and argue about what would be desirable *before* it happens… if it happens. That “if” is important. Most of the forecast futures *won’t* happen, and even the “real” future won’t look exactly like our scenarios. It will have bits and pieces from multiple forecast futures, and some items that we didn’t catch. We’ll still be surprised by some things.
It turns out that planning for a set of different possible futures is a good way to prepare, even if the real future is different. There’s usually enough overlap, enough “economies of scope” allowing plans and solutions built for one issue to be effective for another. And even when reality takes us by surprise, the very act of thinking about, preparing for different futures gives us a better perspective. We’re more attuned to how seemingly unrelated factors can combine, leading to novel outcomes. We’re sensitive to the power of contingency. Diversity of ideas strengthens us; we’re more flexible and adaptive. We can’t let ourselves get trapped by thinking about just one future.
Jamais Cascio, The Future is a Virus
Web anthropologist, futurist, author. My focus is the future, and the tectonic forces pushing business, media, and society into an unclear and accelerating future. (More.)
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