Today, it’s a couple of weeks after the 6 th anniversary of 9/11, when the world changed overnight. We were running a scenario planning workshop on September 11 here in Australia, and we were using wildcards to change the way people thought about the future scenario worlds they had just meticulously created. Wildcards are low probability, high impact events that have the potential to change the world overnight. As we prepared for the wildcard session, we were sorting through our wildcard deck of cards. We wanted to limit options because we didn’t have that much time to run this exercise. We culled from the deck a wildcard that read ‘terrorist attack on major US city’. I said to my colleague – perhaps not relevant for our group, let’s take it out. The workshop ended, we all went home and watched the world change overnight. I learned a lesson that night about the value and need to challenge assumptions, to never dismiss anything as improbable, and to be much more open minded that I thought I was. I learned a lesson about what is important and what is urgent. Think back to 2001 for a few seconds. What’s the scope of change been in that last six years? Think further back. In 1995, did we even begin to imagine that 9/11 was possible? What would we have done differently if we had? What would we have thought differently? What strategy would we have put in place to prepare? Okay, let’s see what this futures thing is all about. (c) Thinking Futures 2007
(c) Thinking Futures 2007
(c) Thinking Futures 2007
Strategy is a bit of an industry now too, and is being reduced to a formula that locks you into closed planning methods. It’s that isomorphic effect. If you look at university strategic plans, underneath the varying degrees of gloss, they all look remarkably similar in content and tone (except for VU’s of course!). I’m not sure that the way organisations plan today actually prepares them to deal with the future and its associated uncertainty, speed and complexity. Strategic planning was designed to document and communicate agreed goals, but it ‘s morphed into an end in itself. The plan becomes the focus rather than the quality of the thinking that goes into the decisions that the plan documents. To avoid this, you need to think about strategy as a three tiered process: thinking, deciding, and then planning – each requiring different separate approaches and tools. Futures work belongs in the thinking phase of strategy development. (c) Thinking Futures 2007
So, if you are trying to develop strategy for your organisation’s future, this question becomes critical. You need to be able to build an organisation’s capacity to understand, imagine and navigate the external world be able to interact with, and survive, in that world now and into the future. Strategic value comes from being distinctive. You can’t be distinctive if you don’t think differently (eg blue ocean strategy). You need strategy of a different form and nature. For organisations to be sustainable, you need fresh perspectives that open up new possibilities. You need to be focusing on futures ready strategy. (c) Thinking Futures 2007
Futures ready strategy is flexible strategy that readies organisations to respond quickly and effectively to the challenges and uncertainties of the future. It prepares you for the day when the world will change overnight again. It is the benchmark for good strategy. (c) Thinking Futures 2007
Someone told me that I should get rid of crystal balls from my presentations because it suggested that futures thinking is not mainstream. Futures thinking isn’t mainstream. People still say to me when I tell them what I do “where is your crystal ball?” The theme of the conference is “Look to the Future”, but how do you do that if we aren’t being challenged to think systematically about how that future might emerge? Crystal balls don’t work. Prediction is a myth. Only your minds can think about what the future might hold, so in strategy terms, thinking is the first step. (c) Thinking Futures 2007
Current planning processes often seem like busy work and the conventional view of planning tends to result in more of the same rather than an innovative plan focused on dealing with the future. No plan survives contact with the future...unless the future drives the plan. (c) Thinking Futures 2007
You are making decisions about the future today that will have an impact long after you have exited that future. You each create micro-futures that coalesce and interact in unpredictable ways to create an emerging global future. Every decision you make matters. Let’s stop for a second here, and look at the images you used to describe the future earlier. Do me a favour and imagine you are in that future – say 2017. Critique your ancestors in terms of their understanding of the impact of their decisions in 2007 on you in 2017. Rate their performance on a scale of 1 to 5 – five is great, one is awful. Okay, how good an ancestor are you today? Every decision you make has an impact downstream in the future. (c) Thinking Futures 2007
Being a good ancestor means making wise decisions today. And, to make wise decisions about the future, you first need to think systematically about it. I can hear you saying, “Yeah, yeah, we all know the future is important, but with everything else that is urgent and that I have to do today, who has the time to think about the future?” But...if you don’t think about the future when you make decisions, what are you sending downstream? (c) Thinking Futures 2007
The future is coming at us – fast. You are planning out lots of different futures every day. You need an anchor point, a reference point to help you make those plans. The past and the present are often used as anchor points for strategy, which is probably not surprising. There are facts about the past and the present, but none about the future, So, strategy tends to be based on what is known about the past and the present. So, all your decisions are about the future, but all your knowledge is about the past . (c) Thinking Futures 2007
You can’t know the detail of the future, but there are enough signals and signs about today that, when you add in lessons from hindsight, will give you a powerful platform to begin building your preferred future or you or for your organisation. But, you need to be alert to these signals. You need to be seeing them before your conscious mind thinks about them. (c) Thinking Futures 2007
Your minds are wonderful things, but they are habitual things as well. There are no future facts because the future is not predictable. When confronted with uncertainty and the unknowable that characterises the future, your minds tend to retreat to explanations based on what is already known. They use your benchmarks of what you know to be right and wrong, how things work, what is real and what is not. They shut down when something new doesn’t match expected patterns. They miss things that might just be important, and make assumptions that often are just wrong. They fall into a certainty trap that does you no favours when dealing with the unknown. The critical element in building strategy then, is to change the way you think about the future. It ‘s about thinking the unthinkable. (c) Thinking Futures 2007
An example – what will matter for universities and the strategy they are now developing, as they face the imperatives of: government policy changes, declining funding, changing student cohorts and expectations, the continuing impact of evil managerialism, technological transformations and shifting workplaces? No wonder we are all suffering from change fatigue! (c) Thinking Futures 2007
Universities have been around since Bologna in the 9 th century, and have transformed often since then. But, you only have to listen to contemporary debates about universities to understand that most speakers are using as their anchor, a reference point whose time has past. (c) Thinking Futures 2007
A new reference point is needed to anchor the next transformation of the university. There are signs today that can tell us how that future of universities might unfold, but we can’t be certain. Do you see them yet? Let’s have a look at some of these signs. (c) Thinking Futures 2007
Globalisation means that time has collapsed into a continuous now. Transactions are immediate and more personalised. Everything is speeding up. Mobility is increasing. But as the world gets smaller, the competition among value systems becomes more apparent. We are living in a global risk society where there are growing threats to international security. For the first time in history, we have global institutions that have the power to alter the global climate, destroy thousands of species or shift the chemical balance of the atmosphere – no individual, tribe or even nation has had that power before. China and India have joined the ranks of world powers, as western democracy seems to be in crisis. Africa is awakening. (c) Thinking Futures 2007
The rise of pervasive computing and the increasing connectedness and intimacy of the world that is resulting will have a particular effect on universities. The new media find their ways into our everyday lives. Virtual reality is becoming real. The concept of singularity when computers become smarter than humans, the rise of ambient intelligence, where electronic environments are sensitive to the presence of people, and the merging of ICT and science conjures up all sorts of possibilities (pimping the brain – manipulating mood, memory, concentration, capacity to learn and general coping skills with drugs, surgery or genetic manipulation). The wife of one of the founders of Google has set up a company to let you get up close and personal with your human genome. How do you understand and prepare for this sort of change if you are using an archaic reference point? (c) Thinking Futures 2007
Underpinned by the global trend around individualisation, students in the future may well not want to learn in classrooms. They may want to learn in their bedrooms, in their workplaces. Students will choose to learn when and where they want to. They will choose to learn how they want to, and they will choose how and when they interact with fellow students. The idea of a university and the idea of learning is changing. (c) Thinking Futures 2007
In the west, the population is aging and shrinking. In the developing countries there is a baby boom. Migration continues to be a major demographic factor. Generational differences – whether you accept them or not – are evident. The ways generations Y and Z communicate and build knowledge IS different to the way baby boomers and even generation X do it. Y and Z are the students of the future, and their preferences – not ours - must be a driving force for university strategy today. (c) Thinking Futures 2007
Environmental awareness in the west is increasing. Corporate social responsibility is increasing – or it seems that way. Clean technologies are being developed. But, environmental problems in developing countries are also increasing. China is sometimes called the chimney of Asia. Climate change is the most visible environmental shift and it demonstrates that once an issue hits mainstream, it surfaces in our consciousness. We see it, and we are happy to think about it and take action. Why did it take so long to become mainstream when we are looking at the same evidence now that we had strong signals about 10 years ago? What if we had tried to reduce carbon emissions 10 years ago? What if we had thought differently then? (c) Thinking Futures 2007
The boundaries around business operations are starting to dissolve, and network structures become more popular. The concept of organisations as living systems is emerging as a viable alternative idea about structure. There is increasing flexibility in working practices and the emergence of hyper-local working – anytime, anywhere – just like student learning. One trend that seems to be emerging is that of working in virtual worlds in the future. 42% of IBM's 350,000 employees rarely comes in to an IBM office. IBM says it saves $100 million a year in real estate costs because it doesn't need the offices. The work force at the Accenture management consulting firm is so mobile not even the CEO has an office with his name on the door. Changing organisational leadership paradigms are emerging that focus around being aware – the concepts of presencing and mindfulness. It’s more around intellectual rather than functional leadership. The industrial concepts of command and control, predictability, and micro-management are dead – but, looking around universities today, you wouldn’t know it. The way universities are managed will need to shift. (c) Thinking Futures 2007
Many write about a corporate malaise caused by an irrational focus on progress and growth, characterised by a sense that we have forgotten how to be human. But at the same time, the values that underpin our western society seem to be shifting. The Cultural Creative movement in the USA is a signal of this. The sustainability movement is another. Many believe this wider values is gaining momentum. When and if it hits mainstream status, its impact might be transformational as well. Along with this, Richard Hames writes of the emergence of an appreciative worldview – that unites humanity and elevates our understanding about how the world works to a new level. If we do shift from a growth mindset to a mindset where we truly accept the rights of, and responsibility for, future generations, there will be a quantum leap forward in how we view the world and each other. Funding of universities in this future will start from a very different reference point to the one we have today. (c) Thinking Futures 2007
A signal of the values shift is the rising power of communities, and the associated NGO movement. The global protest movement is another signal. Online communities yet another. As the world becomes truly global, the need to focus on ‘groups’ increases. There are new forms of residence, living and participation emerging. (c) Thinking Futures 2007
You can’t know with any certainty what the future of universities will be like. But we sure as hell need to be thinking systematically about it today. You need to explore these trends and their implications for your organisation, your issues, your stakeholders. The strategy you build today needs to consider the widest range of options if universities are going to be ready to deal with that uncertainty. And, the strategy you build today needs to move beyond ‘habit’ – for as long as our thinking is governed by habit – by industrial, machine-age concepts such as control, predictability, standardisation and ‘faster is better’ – we will continue to build strategy as we always have, despite its increasing inability to deal with the future. (c) Thinking Futures 2007
We live in uncertain times and face an unknown future. When you have identified all the trends that might be relevant, how do you interpret them to make strategic decisions? (c) Thinking Futures 2007
Data will help, but it’s not enough on its own to be able to begin to understand the complexities of the future. It only tells us about what is going on at the surface. (c) Thinking Futures 2007
For data to be really valuable, you need to dig deeper beneath the surface. You need to trust your ideas, your hopes, your beliefs about the future, and merge the left and right sides of your brain to make your decisions stronger. Why trust data to the exclusion of your intuition for example? Both are subjective when you think about it. Use every interpretive tool at your disposal to explore the implications and consequences of possible options. Test what seems to be real to make sure it is. If you don’t, actions will become reactions. (c) Thinking Futures 2007
The big picture view is critical if you are going to make wise strategic decisions. Escape the confines and constraints of day-to-day thinking to take a more holistic view of what is going on. Think systems. (c) Thinking Futures 2007
Understand where you are now. Understand the impact of your past. Then let go of what you know to imagine the future. (c) Thinking Futures 2007
Is there a point to thinking about the future like this? It depends on your worldview and how you see the world now. It depends on how you understand and approach uncertainty and the unknown. As you approach the unknown, is that you with your arms held high, or are your eyes tightly shut? (c) Thinking Futures 2007
(c) Thinking Futures 2007
Thinking about the futures is innate to us humans – we do it every day. But we usually do it unconsciously and alone. (c) Thinking Futures 2007
Remember the wisdom of crowds – a decision reached by a larger group of people can often be stronger than one reached by an individual mind, no matter how well informed that mind. Futures work around strategy focuses on building strategic thinking capacity and participation by people who have a stake in the future being discussed. It is not a solitary activity. (c) Thinking Futures 2007
(c) Thinking Futures 2007
Environmental scanning is more than seeing newspapers as your authoritative source on the external environment. It’s not just understanding your industry or your competitors. It’s about identifying and making sense of how global trends are interacting and emerging, and what that means for you and your organisation at the local level. Focused environmental scanning helps to filter the information overload. But...for every trend you identify, look for its counter trend. Did you know the counter-trend for information overload is infolust? "Experienced consumers are lusting after detailed information on where to get the best of the best, the cheapest of the cheapest, the first of the first, the healthiest of the healthiest, the coolest of the coolest, or on how to become the smartest of the smartest. Instant information gratification is upon us. So forget information overload: this desire for relevant information is insatiable, and will soon move from the online world to the ‘real’ world to achieve true ubiquity (c) Thinking Futures 2007
Trend analysis is bread and butter for many futurists. But, the good ones also spend time at the edges, where issues are emerging, and where the weird and whacky reign. Dismiss nothing until you have really explored its implications. A group I was working with once invented the concept of the Smarty Loo, which could diagnose potential health problems after you had visited the bathroom. We thought we were at the emerging issues end of this trend line, and were being very weird and whacky. We laughed and laughed about it at the time, but a year later, the Japanese reported the first prototype. Not as sophisticated as ours mind you, but ... nothing is impossible. (c) Thinking Futures 2007
Remember the 9/11 story? Do you have to wait until you experience another wildcard event before you reflect on the quality of the thinking that goes into your strategy? Recognise your assumptions and challenge them – what are you missing, because you just don’t think it’s real, or it will never happen? How do you know your perspective is the right one? Will it stand up to the test of time? Or the test of another culture? (c) Thinking Futures 2007
This is about worldview and how you make sense of the world. It’s about being conscious of how you make meaning – your beliefs, your inner prejudices formed from past learnings that condition how you determine what is reality. Just as there is a lot driving the surface trends we investigate, there is a lot that drives your worldview that is unseen. You need to get very clear about your worldview if you are to make wise decisions. (c) Thinking Futures 2007
To deal with the unknowable and the uncertain, you need an open mind about what might be. Open to seeing more, and open to re-learning what you always thought to be true. It’s about being reflective, and open to the possibility that you might be wrong. That your anchors might no longer apply. (c) Thinking Futures 2007
Think outrageously – you just never now where it will take you. (c) Thinking Futures 2007
But think collectively. Involve many people in the development of strategy. Move beyond just seeking feedback on draft plans. Ask staff what they think about the future of their institution – their hopes, dreams, beliefs, motivations. Use those words. It is staff who have to implement strategic plans so not letting them participate in authentic ways in the development of those lans risks ineffective implementation. And we’ve all been there. Strategy without people is strategy without a future . (c) Thinking Futures 2007
When you go big picture and you think global, you enter a strategic conversation about what might be. You will come up against divergent views. This is good. The world is a big place, and not everyone sees it the same way that you do. There are clashing value systems at work. What can you learn that will strengthen your strategy? (c) Thinking Futures 2007
Because what is reasonable today will probably not be reasonable in the future. (c) Thinking Futures 2007
Okay, the critical question... (c) Thinking Futures 2007
(c) Thinking Futures 2007
(c) Thinking Futures 2007
If you go into the future maze blindfolded or with your eyes shut, you are entering the ‘flatland’. Ken Wilber, a US philosopher, says this is the space that has emerged because current western ideologies around economic growth, seeing nature as a resource, and cultural hegemony result in sterile, machine led notions which dominate thinking about the future. That thinking is linear, the future is more of the same, it’s taken for granted, and there seems no possibility – or need – to break with the past. If you open your eyes and see the potential future that a linear extrapolation of the flatland generates, then you will think differently about the future. You need to take off the blindfold that keeps you in the flatland. (c) Thinking Futures 2007
(c) Thinking Futures 2007
(c) Thinking Futures 2007
As an example, lets spend a few minutes watching this video about EPIC – the evolving personal information construct. (c) Thinking Futures 2007
So what are the implications of this sort of future world for universities? It’s about the media, not education, but if information evolves like this, what does it mean for learning? For academic work? For how we communicate? For how we write policy? For how we manage? (c) Thinking Futures 2007
(c) Thinking Futures 2007
People – involve many and build shared views Process – participative and overt Information – data plus intuition and ideas AND scope – go big picture, go deep. Time – past, present and future AND scheduling time into your work to think about the future Thinking – strategically, broadly and often, plus permission to imagine what might be (c) Thinking Futures 2007
You can ignore the future, but you’ll be sorry when it bites you unawares! Because when it does, there will be plenty of people waiting – including me - to answer your question about what bit you – and the correct response will be “it’s the future, stupid!” (c) Thinking Futures 2007
Focus - t here’s no point thinking about the future, unless there is an endpoint, a purpose in mind. Otherwise, you open yourself up to the sceptics – that was cute, but what a waste of time, now let me go back to my real work. Understand your worldview . Understand your organisation’s worldview. Involve many – remember the wisdom of crowds. Scan the environment – broadly. Go big picture. Analyse your scanning hits – dismiss nothing. Interpret for your situation. Integrate global and local. Use your findings to think about and imagine what your future might be like. Seek out every option possible. Seek/Determine relevance and plausibility Test, question, challenge assumptions. Consider strategies for today. Decide , implement and monitor . (c) Thinking Futures 2007
Environmental scanning : four quadrant scanning – inner, outer, individual, collective. Emerging issues analysis – scan at the periphery to see what might be important over time. Keep an eye on it. Understand the implications before it becomes a trend. Scenario Planning – one of my favourites – creating preferred futures and increasing your strategic options. (c) Thinking Futures 2007
Enhanced strategic thinking that uses your collective intellect to: connect trends and make sense imagine and appreciate possibilities harnessing change, create futures and respond to emergence adapt to change, innovate and keep learning . You will develop the skills of strategic navigation and strategic foresight – much more interesting and challenging than being a great strategic planner, let me tell you You will build futures ready strategy. (c) Thinking Futures 2007
What and how you think about the future will shape that future. People create the future as individuals and in the organisations in which they work. So there is much you can do as an individual. Think future, act today. (c) Thinking Futures 2007
Compare these words with the words used by participants to describe their planning processes at the beginning of the session. Identifies and connects what will be important in your future Flexible and keeps your options open Shared and owned by people who built it Takes futures generations into account. It means something – its written form doesn’t sit on the shelf. You – and everyone else in the organisation - use it every day to inform decisions. (c) Thinking Futures 2007
Back in 1999, when the Vice-Chancellor of Swinburne said to me ‘we want you to do foresight’, I had to google the word to understand what it meant. Mind you, at the time, I had little choice about learning quickly, since my job had been disestablished, and my new position came with foresight. Just another challenge, just another change, I thought. Lots of them in my career in tertiary education. But...this turned out to be very different. I said to someone a few years later “I know I think differently now, but I can’t tell you how”. A few years further on, I realise that my worldview has shifted, and my take on the world of tertiary education, universities, academic staff and Vice-Chancellors has shifted. I am much clearer about what I value in my life. My focus on people has increased. From someone who absolutely loathed group work when I was studying, I now understand the power of collective wisdom. I can see how thinking about the future in new ways will make a difference to our organisations and to the planet. But, thinking is not tangible, and can’t be measured by a KPI. That’s what we are up against. Just another set of challenges really Now, we all come to futures from our own positions and our own levels of understanding, and our own degrees of openness. But, futures is about people ... People will create and shape the future, not technology, not globalisation and not organisations. And remember, strategy without people is strategy without a future. WAIT So my challenge to you as you leave today is: are you ready to change the way you think about the future? Thank you. (c) Thinking Futures 2007
(c) Thinking Futures 2007
What is this futures thing all about anyway?
What is this futures thing allabout anyway?Maree ConwayTertiary Education Management ConferenceSeptember 2007
• When you think about the word ‘future’,what images spring to mind?
• What words would you use to describeyour organisation’s strategy processes?
• Do organisations develop strategy todaythat prepares them for the future?
• How do you make the strategy processmore effective, more meaningful, moreconnected and more innovative?
EmergingIssuesTrendsMainstreamTimeNumber ofcases;degree ofpublicawarenessScientists,artists, radicals,mysticsNewspapers,magazines,websites, journalsGovernmentInstitutionsFew cases,local focusGlobal,multipledispersedcases,trends andmegatrendsAdapted from the work of Graham Molitor, Wendy Schultz and Everett RogersInnovatorsEarly adoptersLateAdoptersLate MajorityLaggardsTodayLook on thefringe - weirdand whacky!FutureGet smart about analysing and interpretingtrends and emerging issues...
Question and challenge all those assumptionsthat underpin how you see the world - and whatyou don’t see.
Think about your organisation’s strategydevelopment processes...is your organisationwearing a blindfold?
• But...if you take the blindfold off, how doyou avoid becoming overwhelmed by theuncertainty?
EPIC• Watch with open minds.• Dismiss nothing.• Suspend disbelief.• Anything is possible.
• What are the implications for universities in thefuture?• What might learning look like if this futureeventuated? What would academic work looklike? What would managers do?• What might you do today to prepare for an EPICworld – or avoid it? What might you dodifferently?So what?
What is futures about?• Futures work is about making wisedecisions today to ensure a robust andsustainable future for you, for yourorganisations, and for future generations.
What is futures about?• People• Process• Information• Time• Thinking
Most importantly, it’s about being ready for thefuture rather than waiting for it to bite you...
How do you usefutures to build wiserstrategy?• Focus• Worldviews• Involve many• Scan, analyse, interpret• Think and imagine• Ensure relevance and plausibility• Test, question, challenge• Decide, implement and monitor