Well, look at it this way. The year 2014 is the centenary of World War One. When you hang out in Europe like I do, you stumble over the rubble of World War One, quite a lot. Humanity was in a truly dreadful place, one hundred years ago. The world situation of humanity was truly bitter and hateful and and deadly, and, well, here we are anyway.
That’s the big picture. There are a lot of times and places where “humanity” is headed in no place in particular. Those scenes interest me. Like, little European cultures with weird minority languages, who are just hanging around in obscure mountain valleys, making clay pots and singing, and knifing each other on Tuesdays. You might think that a chrome-and-matte-black science fiction writer would lack a cordial interest in penny-ante cultural scenes like that, but they have their merits. It’s not like we all line up and dash like mad for some end-goal called “The Future.” There’s no victory-condition for being human. The future is just a kind of history that hasn’t happened yet.
I would sum up my fear about the future in one word: boring. And that’s my one fear: that everything has happened; nothing exciting or new or interesting is ever going to happen again…the future is just going to be a vast, conforming suburb of the soul.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Actually, for some of ur our job is foreseeing.
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.