Future Friday: Can you develop the skill of envisioning the future?

Take time to think about the future of work for your company.
Take time to think about the future of work for your company.

On the way to work have you ever thought about a conversation you are going to have later in the day? You thought about how it would likely go, but then also thought of another direction or two the conversation could take? If you have then you have the beginning skill of what it takes to be a futurist.

It is not that hard

In a book I am reading, Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg, the author says that “… experiments show that anyone can learn to habitually construct mental models” and that is what a large part of being a futurist is all about. Futurists don’t predict the future they construct models of possible futures. It is constructing stories about  the way things might go in your life, in your job, or in your business. Duhigg then also says “It is easier to know what’s ahead when there is a well-rounded script in your head.”


Of course you need to have some idea of what is going on in your life, job, industry, etc. and that involves paying attention to trends. In my 7 Steps to becoming a practical HR Futurist, I talk about parceling out the trends for people to pay attention to. Then you sit down once a week or once a month and talk about what people have read. One person may talk technology, another demographics and yet another legal trends. You create stories about how those trends may impact your business. As time goes on the stories get refined and different stories are created. You ask different questions and create different answers. None of the stories you created may come to pass, but it is likely you will be better prepared to handle what does show up.

Three basic questions

One futurist, Glen Hiemstra, suggested, in an article in called How to See the Future, that there are three basic questions you need to ask when looking at trends. The first of these is Is the potential future technologically feasible? Science fiction writers create a lot of technology that that is just not possible. Everyone’s favorite space explorers, the crew of the starship Enterprise, regularly the teleporter, a great device that is just not possible by the laws of physics. So for something to occur it has to be actually possible. A secondary question about technology is, is it feasible in large scale?
Hiemstra’s second question is, is it economically viable? Technologies such as virtual reality and solar power are certainly real, however their costs are such that neither may be economically viable enough for you company to make an investment in the technology. I think virtual reality would be a great training tool, but I am suggesting to my small clients that they need to move in that direction anytime soon.
Hiemstra’s third question is, is the technology socially or politically acceptable? For example we are talking broadly now about driverless cars, so you have to ask when will they become accepted by society or the legal system. Yes, the technology is moving in that direction but when will it be accepted by society?
Asking these types of questions and creating a set of stories that take into consideration these factors will help you be prepared with answers when the time comes to implement changes. Rather than answering the question with a response of “we will look in to it” you can say “In our investigation we think we are probably three years away from the technology being viable enough for us to institute changes in our hiring, training and compensation systems.”
That is a much more strategic sounding answer.

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