Transcending the learning futures flatland: a futures-orientated perspective for higher education leaders. Luke van der Laan University of Southern Queensland Australian Centre for Sustainable Business and Development
Follow the Sun – learning futures• ‘Spaceship Earth’ – humanity hurtling through space• ‘Time machine Earth’ – inexorable movement through time(Bell, 2003) An inspirational challenge to leaders – not only are the people mapping learning futures, space travellers; they are also time travellers. BUT only have a one way ticket toward the future.
Structure• Flatlands – a critical view• Sustainability: the challenge and the imperative• Futures Studies: an alternative perspective• Foresight, futures thinking and strategic thinking.• Evidence of how to smother innovation.• Leadership model for realising creative emergence
Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.Lord Kelvin, British mathematician, physicist, and president of the British Royal Society, spoken in 1895.
Flatlands – A Critical Approach to Futures• Early Futures / Futurology: Prediction, forecasting and control.• Led to a reductionist framework for futures work – the ‘flatlands’ of futures work (Wilber, 1995)• Implication: Insufficiently understood and problematised change.• Technology-LED paradigms remain dominant.• Consequence – constrained futures / futures paradigms.
Flatlands: the background• Instrumental rationality discovered by Western industrial civilisation led to raw technical power – the power of emerging technologies.• Notions of growth, optimism and vitality and economic dominance.• Western-style progress and design has overwhelmed contemporary developmental models: ‘the way things are’, unquestionable, hegemonic (Slaughter, 1998)• ‘Pop Culture’ and ‘Pop Futures’- reinforce the paradigm Flatlands.
Flatlands: now• Metamorphosed power – shift from ‘Western’ to ‘globalised’ designs embedded in dominant paradigms (Still predominantly controlled by traditionally Western culture)• Underpinned by western-style culture, society and economic models.• Technological civilisation carrying with it success & dynamic opportunity BUT also creating significant polarities and broadening gaps in distribution and access.• Global Forecasts largely fail to list major changes in the higher education sector in the top 10!
That idea is so damned nonsensical and impossible that Im willing to stand on the bridge of a battleship while that nitwit tries to hit it from the air.Newton Baker, U.S. secretary of war in 1921, reacting to the claim of Billy Mitchell (later Brigadier General Mitchell) that airplanes could sink battleships by dropping bombs on them.
Flatlands: Learning Futures• Terminology acknowledges the domain and work in Alternative Futures• Caveat• Possible examples: – ‘Generation Theory’ based research – ‘Past Success’ breeding failure – ‘The’ future of education – ‘Dominant Approaches’ to education – ‘Language’ dominance – ‘Technology led’ as opposed to technology enabled – ‘Universal Connectedness’ not really connected
Sustainable Higher Education“Sustainability and sustainable development are notproblems or projects amenable to reductionist thinking leading to a solution or an end point, indeed no-one knows what the conditions are for sustainability or sustainable development” (Loveridge, 2009)
Sustainability• Ability of systems and organizations to continue indefinitely while consistently exercising provident care (Senge et al, 2006)• Common counter-intuitive responses to the future – Reductionist thinking to make sense of complexity? – Short-termism to manage complexity?“you will realise that you cannot reduce your risk by simply letting the long term take care of itself … for in complex systems, even doing nothing could have escalating consequences” (Stacey 1992, p. 18)Leadership imperative to transcend dominant paradigms and open up the emergence of innovation.
Obstacles“Given a choice between changing and proving that it is not necessary, most people get busy on the proof.” John Galbraith• Future phobias, paradigm paralysis, info mania, reverse paranoia (Gelatt, 1993)• Sense-making is done in terms of families, tribes, religions and nation states – organisations reflect the same self-interested focus / myopia.• Strategies for sustainability will fail if myopic views are not transcended.• Connection between human consciousness and physical world is not esoteric – it is an imperative and leads to living organisations.Senge et al., 2006, Learning for Sustainability
A severe depression like that of 1920-21 is outside the range of probability. Harvard Economic Society, Weekly Letter, November 16, 1929. Why have so few economists foreseen the credit crunch? Her Majesty the Queen’ question to the London School of Economics, 2009In recent years economics has turned virtually into a branch of applied mathematics, and has become detached from real- world institutions and events … What has become scarce is a professional wisdom informed by a rich knowledge of psychology, institutional structures and historic precedence Prof. G Hodgson et al. in a formal response to the Queen’s question, 22 July 2009
‘The Future’ "The future doesnt exist, never did, and never will. By definition, the future hasn’t happened. And when it does happen it becomes the present, and then quickly becomes the past" (Gelatt, 1993)• Removed from empirical observation and from present choices?• Too random and complex to be understood (bounded rationality)?• An open epistemological space / domain of uncertainty?A ‘blank canvas’ for expressing viable images of the future shaped and influenced by decisions and actions in the present.
Is man at present a self-willed being who creates his own futures; or is he a time-bound creature clinging desperately to today for fear of what tomorrow may bring?There is no volition without an object, and the object of a volition is that a fiction of the mind becomes a fact. de Jouvenal, 1967Humans have the innate creative ability for imagining the future. Polak, 1961 MOVE FROM PREDICTION OF THE FUTURE TO SHAPING HOW THE FUTURE MAY EVOLVE
Futures Studies? “The methods of futures studies include tools for describing possible, probable and desirable variations of the present and drafting possible images of the future. By looking at the variety of different possibilities, we can come closer to shaping the future – rather than predicting it. Future studies offer valuable tools to understand and shape the development of oursocieties.” 13th International Conference, 2011, Finland Futures Academy University of Turku
Understanding the Future• Plurality of discourses / epistemology• Foundational Futures Concepts – Used Future – Disowned Future – Alternative Futures – Alignment – Models of Social Change – Uses of the Future
Foundational Futures conceptsFoundational Concept QuestionUsed Future Have you purchased a used future? Is your image of the future yours?Disowned Future Have what we excelled at become our downfall? Have we pushed the future away?Alternative Futures The same future means making the same mistakes – Future Shock. Have we explored alternative viable futures? Have we prepared for uncertainty?Alignment Have we aligned our futures landscape? Is our inner alignment in-step? BAU – Strategy – Big Picture - VisionYour Model of Social Change Do we believe the future is positive / bleak, open-ended or out of our control? Do our actions today create the future? Have we explored the impact of our future?Use of the Future How and to what extent do we use our insight and foresight? What levels of the future are we engaged in changing?Inayatullah, 2008
Levels of Using the FutureWhat level of ‘using the future’ do you desire?• Training? Helping to create new skills?• More effective strategy? Facilitating innovation?• Creating capacity? Decolonising, deconstructing the anticipated future?• Emergence? Paradigm shifts? New Futures?• Meme change? Changing the ideas that govern institutions, society? (Dawkins, 1989)• Microvita change? Changing the fields of reality? (Sarker, 1991) “Futures Thinking ultimately can go so far as mapping and changing memes and fields of reality” (Inayatullah, 2008)
Futures / Futures Studies / Futures Research / ProspectiveA PRACTISE TO TRANSCEND THE DOMINANT, LITANY BASED PERSPECTIVES OF THE FUTURE BY DISCOVERING, PROPOSING, EXAMINING AND EVALUATING POSSIBLE, PROBABLE AND PREFERABLE FUTURES
Why a futures studies perspective?• Need for broader preferred futures: – Need for transdisciplinary systematic view of the future. – Need for viable integrated views of the future (Integral Futures) – Need for a causally layered views of meaning (Causal Layered Analysis) – Need for multiple views of the future (Alternative Futures) – Need for a ‘memory of the future’ (Foresight: individual and methodological) – Need for epistemologically viable views of the future (Futures Literacy)
So what?• Post-normal times / post-normal capabilities.• Futures management for a futures-orientated time.• Competitive advantage or differentiation?• Stimulating creative emergence / innovation / strategic thinking.
I think there is a world market for about five computers. Thomas J. Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943.
How forward?A pragmatic hybridisation of disciplines to achieve the Triple-V approach (van der Laan, 2011)LOGIC:1) Open up creative / imaginative VIABLE possible futures (foresight capability and futures thinking)2) Enhance Strategic Thinking to capture and make VISIBLE a preferred future3) Formulate VALUABLE innovative strategies – and shape futureNEED:Leaders that can activate the process and have;• Future Orientated Thinking• Individual Foresight• Strategic Thinking capabilityIN ORDER TO ACHIEVE;• Social Foresight - developing foresight capacity in a critical mass of members of organisations, systems, societies.
Foresight / Strategic Thinking• Role of foresight (make VIABLE) and strategic thinking (make VISIBLE) recognised as imperative (to making VALUABLE).• Investigation of relationship between individual foresight, strategic thinking and strategy formulation.• Structural Equation Modelling (SEM)• 101 CEOs (34%), 110 Senior Managers (37%) of large Aus and South African organisations• 62.5% Post-Graduate level qualification
Foresight / Strategic ThinkingFindings:• Foresight and Strategic Thinking are a)distinct and b) positively associated cognitive capabilities.• K-12 and undergraduate education positively moderates the relationship between foresight cognitions and analytical cognitive capacity within the context of formulating strategy.• Exposure to futures concepts / methods positively moderates the relationship between foresight and the generative / creative cognitive capacity within the context of formulating strategy.Van der Laan, 2010
• Organisations that have a predominantly rational / transactive strategic mode are likely to suppress the generative / creative strategic thinking of its leadership.• Those elements of strategic thinking that are creative, innovative, time-orientated, ambiguous and yielding greater levels of emergent strategy are suppressed (-.25 correlation)Consequences:Innovation / creative emergence is less likelyAvailable human capabilities are suppressedOrganisational strategy remains static and directive
• Future-orientated thinking : – Creatively imagine infinite hypothetical future possibilities in order to foresee and adapt to environmental changes. – Generative process of creative problem solving and divergent thinking in order to detect gaps in knowledge, patterns and trends.(Fortunato and Furey, 2009)• Individual Foresight – human ability to creatively envision possible futures, understand the complexity and ambiguity of systems – provide input for the taking of provident care in detecting and avoiding hazards while seeking to achieve a preferred future.(van der Laan, 2010)• Strategic Thinking – strategic thinking is regarded as a synthesis of systematic analysis and creative (generative) thought processes – that seek to determine the longer-term direction of the organisation.(van der Laan, 2010)
Leadership Model for Innovation• Significant empirical evidence suggests importance of foresight and strategic thinking in facilitating generative / creative / innovative emergent strategies.• Plus need to transcend ‘flatlands’• Requires a leadership model that is viable, visible and valuable (Triple-V) in mapping sustainable learning futures.
Triple-V Model STRATEGY FORMULATION STRATEGIC FORESIGHT THIN KIN G Analytical / Orientation to Systems Time Education orientated Level Cognitions Industry ORGANISATIONAL Experience STRATEGY Foresight PROCESSES Education Age Creative / Framer Generative Foresight Style Cognitions VIABLE VISIBLE VALUABLE(van der Laan, 2010)
The Futures of Learning Futures?• Familiarity with symbolic and methodological aspects of futures (how are alternative futures produced and examined)• Enhancement of ‘foresight’ literacy (using futures concerns as sources for projects and creative initiatives)• Encouragement of constructive and empowering attitudes (shift negative attitudes to constructive preferred futures)• Development of future-orientated thinking and leadership• Support ‘ big picture’ thinking (and the continuity of change)(Slaughter, 2002)
They couldnt hit an elephant at this dist…General John B. Sedgwick, Union Army Civil War officers last words, uttered during the Battle of Spotsylvania, 1864 But we can hit the sun!