Developing a Culture of Foresight by Joining the World Future Society (2 of 8 Ways)

A while back (OK, a long while back) I posted a blog about a way (1 of 8) to help others spend a few minutes regularly thinking about the future.  Basically, it’s sharing your horizon scanning “hits” with them, whether they be personal friends or workmates/colleagues.

This second method is simple – become a member of the World Future Society.  The WFS is a nonprofit organization founded in 1966.  It’s the best organization of its type for the person who has a general interest in the future.  It bills itself as a neutral clearinghouse for ideas, forecasts, and resources about the future.

I’ve been a member since 1971.  At that time I was majoring in Political Science at the University of Washington.  Vietnam, riots, hunger strikes and power to the people.  The days of rage.

I came home that summer to mooch off my parents.  I couldn’t find a summer job because of the inherent evil nature of capitalism.  Because I was too young to sit in a bar all day, I spent afternoons at the public library.  I discovered The Futurist, the magazine published by the WFS.  As a result of being exposed to studies of the future I began thinking, writing and studying a bit differently.  My grades improved.  A little.

You’re probably not worried about your grades.  But you may be worried, or at least concerned, about your ability to manage change, both personally and professionally.  I am.  That’s why I’m a member of the World Future Society.

So check it out.  If you don’t want to spend $79 I encourage you to sign up for their free email postings.  It’s great information and no gimmicks.


Unique Internship Available

Two years ago I let you know about an opportunity to earn a certificate in strategic foresight.  Yes, it’s been a long time since I last wrote.  My negligence is a long-story – probably at least a two-beer chat.

Well, have I got a new great deal for you!  Actually, it’s directed to you who may have a bright, motivated college-age kid, friend, employee, or relative who wants to help save the world.  Or, perhaps more realistically, build up the kind of experience that may actually result in gainful employment.

The gig is a summer internship at the Institute for the Future from June 25 – Aug 3.  The Institute is in Palo Alto and I can attest to the quality of this organization.  But wait, there’s more!  It pays $3000.

Texting Our Way to Oblivion

Not long after cell phones became ubiquitous  it seemed like every other person I saw, whether in the car or on the sidewalk, was jabbering into one of these little gee gaws.  I kept wondering, “What do all these people have to talk about all the time?”  Talk, talk, talk.  Now, I’m a busy guy with a lot of responsibilities and tasks to accomplish.  I help run three businesses, have over 200 employees and I travel.  Granted, I don’t have children.  But I still don’t get it.  What are they talking about ALL THE TIME?

Yesterday I really went nuts.  The Pew Research Center released a new study titled “Teens and Mobile Phones.”  The findings are that teens are sending enormous quantities of text messages each day.  The typical American teen sends and receives 50 or more messages per day, or 1,500 per month.  But wait, there’s more!

31% of teens send and receive more than 100 messages per day, more than 3,000 messages a month.

15% of teens who are texters send more tha 200 texts per day, or more than 6,000 texts a month.

A little Google research reveals that there has been a 107% increase in text message use in the U.S  in the past year and that 2.5 billion are sent each day in the U.S.  More text messages are sent per phone than phone calls.

What bugs me is that I think (I may be wrong) that most of this is just chatter.  I define that by example:  “Hi, what are ya up to?  Nothin.  Me neither.  Where are you?  At the mall.  Cool.  I’ll catch ya later.”  OK, that’s innocent enough.  But here’s my mega-concern.  If (almost) all of our young people are spending most of their time chatting back and forth and are so addicted that many sleep with their gee gaws under their pillow, when are they actually thinking?  Aren’t they just skipping their way across the lake of life?

Research has shown that your brain needs at least 15 concentration-filled minutes to get into the zone where you’re truly focused and doing your best work.  I know many young people are in school and actually do concentrate once in a while.  But what about the rest of the time?  A successful, well-adjusted life requires time to think – to concentrate, to focus, to noodle things through.  Our collective future as a culture and society demands this.  We have problems that need thought.  I’m worried that the next generation of policy-shapers and decision-makers are texting their way into oblivion.  This worries me.

Developing a Culture of Foresight by Taking Five Minutes for the Future (1 of 8 Ways)

“We live with our gaze firmly fixed on a point about two seconds into the future . . . both the past and the future as mental categories are threatened by the tyranny of the moment.”
Tyranny of the Moment: Fast and Slow Time in the Information Age, Thomas Hylland

One of the greatest challenges of my career has been to get people, often employees, to think a little more about the future for the benefit of the organization, as well as them personally.  The obstacle to this is simple – we are all too busy to do so.  It appears a luxury, not a necessity.  The immediacy of the present shoves out the importance of the future.  This is especially pronounced during tough economic times.

Five years ago I came up with an idea to counter this.  It’s called Five Minutes for the Future.  It’s based on the assumption that we can all take at least five minutes every few days to consider some aspect of the future that may relate to the organization we work in or our own personal lives.  When introducing this to our employees I asked them not to take offense to this – that I wasn’t implying that they don’t think about the future or plan ahead.  None of us would be successful if we neglected this aspect of our lives.

In the introductory email I sent to them I explained that they could anticipate periodically receiving brief summaries of new developments, trends or issues that may have implications important to them and/or the business.  And, of course, I encouraged their feedback.

Here are some I have distributed:

A device, in the prototype phase, that is portable and can indicate in five minutes whether or not a person is infected with a certain virus.
Notification of the First Annual Consumer Genetics Show held in 2009.
Legislation introduced in New York and New Jersey requiring RNs to attain bachelor’s degrees within 10 years of licensure.
A miniature digestible computer chip attached to a conventional medication that sends a signal to a device worn on the skin.  This band-aid-like device, in turn, wirelessly transmits information to doctors with readings about the patient’s vital signs.

My final comment in my introductory email was “Most of your are younger than I am.  You will be living and working with these developments long after I retire.  Even if you don’t find them intellectually intriguing you must keep up with them or you will be rendered obsolete.”  (For those of you who don’t know me, yes, I’m in the healthcare field).

So, if you are even somewhat interested in developing a culture of foresight in your organization or department try Five Minutes for the Future.  It works.

I will describe seven additional ways to develop a culture of foresight in future posts.  They are all practical and effective.

Will Your Child Be a “Norm” or a “ESI?”

One of the greatest challenges of futures studies is the “so what factor.”  Forecasts can be believable and often very compelling, but most people draw a blank when it comes to identifying  implications to one’s life or organization.  It’s a difficult mental challenge that can leave your right brain reeling.

This is why I’m so impressed with the article “The Singularity’s Impact on Business Leaders: A Scenario” in the current issue of The Futurist magazine.  The singularity is a forecasted time when the pace of technological change will be so fast and far reaching that human existence will be irreversibly altered.  Our brain power – the knowledge, skills, and personality quirks that make us human – will be combined with our computer power in order to think, reason, communicate, and create in ways we can scarcely even contemplate today.  But you don’t need to reschedule your vacation – we’re looking ahead to approximately 2030.

You may be retired in 2030 (ish) but your children likely won’t be.  (In fact, retirement is becoming an obsolete concept but that’s for another day).  If your son or daughter are (or will be) knowledge workers the singularity may make their career very wierd.  It will divide human leadership and followership into two distinct categories – those who will be “Enhanced Singular Individuals” (ESIs) and “Norms.”  Your daughter may work with a colleague whose parents wanted to give him every advantage.  Foregoing higher education, they took advantage of the accelerating development and convergence of technologies such as nanotechnology, bioengineering, supercomputing, materials development, and robotics.  As a result, he became a ESI, making him a valuable asset to the organization but a real pain to work with.  His highly advanced physical (he works 80 hours a week), psychological (he is always in a good mood), social (he can read other people’s thoughts and adjust his behavior accordingly), and mental development (he has the ability to generate mental models of higher orders of complexity) make for an organizational development challenge.  For example, your daughter may not know if he is a ESI or a Norm.  The organization has a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding human enhancement.

Today we grapple with Generation Y in the workplace.  The next HR issue may be those pesky ESIs.  But a more immediate implication of the singularity may be knowing that the money you’re saving for your child’s higher education may be spent otherwise – on the most advanced application of human-machine interface.

A Convergence of Weak Signals

“Weak signals” is a concept most futurists are familiar with.  They are seemingly incidental ideas or developments that, taken in isolation, do not hint at meaningful change.  However, put enough of them together and you realize you may be on to something.  I think I’m on to something.

Weak signal – A few weeks ago a friend told me that her teenage daughter came to her and said, “Mom, I think I’ve discovered something about myself.  I can’t concentrate like I used to.”  It turned out she was experiencing frustration while trying to absorb a lengthy magazine article.

Weak signal –   About three years ago, I was waiting to get my hair cut.  The only available magazine was the kid’s edition of People.  Flipping through it I soon realized there were no “articles.”  There were only snippets or “sound bites.”  Oh, and lots and lots of pictures.

Weak signal – Have you noticed how fast many younger people speak?  If so, you’re probably older than 30.

Weak signal – In 2008 one of the most successful products was noise-cancelling headphones.

Weak signal – Stevens College has a new campus program of “intentional silence,” designed to help today’s digital natives take a break from the constant noise of their wired lives.

Weak signal – Amherst College recently hosted a “Day of Mindfulness.”  It was intended as a break from information technology.

Scheel’s prediction – There is developing a backlash to too much chatter in too little time.  Thoughtful (or just burned out) people will increasingly recognize the necessity of contemplation, solitude  and tranquility.  Unplugging will become the new status symbol.  The weak signals have created a trend.  It is now time to watch for the countertrend.

Watch Out for this Guy

If you have not heard of Fernando Flores, you probably will.  He is a dangerous genius who may dramatically impact the future of management.  Some are saying that what Peter Drucker did for organizations, Flores is doing for individuals.  In a Fast Company article it is said that “Before Peter Drucker, there was no science of management.  Before Fernando Flores, there was no science of organizational transformation.  Flores has defined the terrain, drawn the maps, created the language – and built the rocket ship to take you there.”

Why do I think he is a dangerious genius?  Rembember Werner Erhard and his Erhard Seminars Training (est) courses?  These began in 1971.  By 1988 one million people had attended this cult-like, human potential “training.”  But by 1990 he experienced a high personal burn rate.  His family turned on him, the IRS came after him and his company fizzled out.  He psychologically messed up a lot of people, i.e., his followers.

Fernando Flores certainly has street cred.  He was the finance minister of Chilean president Salvador Allenda which resulted in spending three years as a political prisoner.  He has a Ph.D from UC-Berkeley (his thesis, written in 1979, was Management and Communication in the Office of the Future), and he has founded two successul companies.  He is worth $40 million dollars.

Any thoughtful student of the future, or even the present, no doubt senses at least some need for organizational and personal transformation.  The dynamics of the future will demand it.  So I have taken note of an observer stating in the current issue of strategy+business that in every conversation, Flores focuses on “inventing the future that is possible for him and the human being he is talking to.  He’s always had ambitions for other people that are bigger than their own.”  I like that.  He has said that when you find yourself in seemingly untenable situations you don’t need solutions, you need transformation.  I like that, too.  “Hope is the raw material of losers,” I’m still thinking on.  But you have to kind of like a guy who occassionally goes out and buys $1,000 worth of books and the rearranges his work schedule to give himself time to read them.  I like that idea.  A lot.

His next big idea?  To combine social media, politics and human potential to create “pluralistic networks.”  That sounds like something to watch out for.

I Was Right on the Bottom Line

I’ve gotten to know a fellow better.  I’ve sat next to him at a few business meetings and, a couple of weeks ago, we killed some time at the airport together.  I have long known that he is financially very successful.  I figured it was because he was always crunching numbers.  Crunch, crunch, crunch.  It caused self-doubt.  I have never focused on the bottom-line like I know he does.  Oh, I know its role.  But it’s not the leading actor.  Or is it?  Back to self-doubt.

However, academia has addressed this doubt.  According to recent survey of 520 business organizations in 17 countries and as reported in the December 2009 issue of Harvard Business Review, making the bottom line your top priority may not be the best way to improve profitability.  The research shows that CEOs who put stakeholders’ interests ahead of profits generate greater workforce engagement – and thus deliver the superior financial results that they have made a secondary goal.

The researchers were testing the hypothesis that if a CEO’s primary focus is on profit maximization, employees develop negative feelings toward the organization.  They tend to perceive the CEO as autocratic and focused on the short term, and they report being less willing to sacrifice for the company.  Corporate performance is poorer as a result.

Like many of you I’m confronted by staff, both individually and collectively, with questions.  Unless I can respond with an operational answer, I simply say “Do what’s right.”  It’s worked for over 20 years – most of them profitable.  I’ve been right all along.  I just needed to be reminded of it.

P.S – Strictly from a financial perspective, airports remain the wrong place to drink.  And that’s the bottom line.

Mapping the (Your) Future

If you’re like me, it’s a lot more enjoyable looking at a map when you don’t need it.  I think it’s because you can take your time and let it stir your imagination.  That’s what I suggest you first do with Trends & Technology Timeline 2010+.  (Note: You likely will have to adjust the magnification on your screen).  Then, with some familiarity, you may want to create your own map.

The first thing you will notice is that the trend map looks like that of a subway system.  This is an impressive and fairly new way to visualize information.  I like it.  But don’t let it deceive you.  There is no certainty to the routes and the terrain.  The map does not illustrate the future, rather it lays out alternative or possible futures.

Beyond just using it to noodle around how can this guide to alternative futures be approached?  Here are some suggestions:

  • Attentively pursue specific paths (financial services, home and family, work and business, etc.)
  • Zoom out and ask yourself if the time zones make sense
  • Identify which trends and developments are (or may) affect your own life or your organization
  • Plan a time to sit down with your team and begin creating your own trend map as you now have a useful template to work with

I will close with this observation:  Many from Gen Y don’t know how to use a map nor can they apply the concept of north, south, east and west.  Soon you will be able to add the maps in your glove box to your personal museum of slide rules and wrist watches.  Come to think of it, isn’t “glove box” a cute term?

In the Future Your Portfolio May Be on Drugs

Some athletes take performance-enhancing drugs to be more successful.  I don’t do that.  I’m not an athlete and, even if I was, it’s illegal.  It’s also dangerous.

But what if I could take a drug that would enhance the chances of achieving a better return on my stocks? And it wasn’t illegal or dangerious.  Someday I may be able to.

A new field called “neurofinance” – which adds biology to the mix of economics and psychology – is working on it.  Claremont Graduate University is the first in the world to offer a Ph.D. specialization in neuroeconomics.  It’s called The Center for Neuroeconomic Studies.

Of course, much like a stock evaluation, half say buy and half say sell.  Brian Knutson, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at Stanford, believes that neuroscientists may develop psychoactive drugs or neuroceuticals, that make people better, more profitable traders.  Zach Lynch, managing director of NeuroInsights, believes such drugs may be just a few years away.  “The whole investment community will be scrambling to get these things,” Lynch says.

On the other hand, Alan Greenberg, the former chairman of the executive committee of Bear Sterns has said, “There’s smarts, there’s guts and there’s instincts.  The other stuff – behavioral, neuro, whatever they call it – is horseshit.”  (Note to self – Bear Sterns went belly-up in 2008).

For now, I don’t need Prozac.  Or Viagra.  But, looking at my portfolio, I sure could use some help in that area.