Three days in the lives of futurists – together
AusForesight2007 is now part of history and memories. We came together in a national event with one tireless international guest Peter Bishop to reflect, react and respond.
- We reflected on the meaning of futures in our lives and in the world.
- We reacted to what we have learned and sensed and felt as futurists.
- We responded on the society we form a part of.
The setting was Sydney, surrounded by views of the harbour and the Opera House, the bridge, the parks and mostly wonderful weather.
Two of the organising committee members Peter Hayward and Serafino de Simone welcomed the attendees and reflected on the origins of this year’s event in years of tireless work by Jan Lee Martin and the leading names in foresight from Australia: Richard Slaughter, Sohail Inayatullah and a number of others and also the importance of the previous year’s event in reforming the Australian foresight community.
Dominique, Serafino and Peter: three organising committee members
Last year many of Australia’s futurists had never met each other face to face or any other way.
This year the idea was to get us all to talk to each other more in depth. And talk we did. The first day we covered lots of ground through an intense dynamic conversation on what we had encountered as pressing issues and then what we faced as practitioners personally.
The lively conversation confirmed, raised eye brows, challenged views, winged, got real, despaired and got hopeful.
Some topics which got attention were:
- What is it that makes people change their habits.
- Why do people carry on the old tracks even when their lives are at risk.
- We see behaviors which suggest that us humans are milking the current model before it collapses.
- With so much negativity in the media on change, we felt that futures work needs to be offering potential for hope or ways to initiate positive ripple effects from positive personal actions and then help bring about the wider outcomes.
One fitting quote here on the impact of the negativity was, “When you’re on the Titanic you might as well get drunk”.
Futurists often work in small entities, one man/woman bands, and this causes a lack of leverage regionally and globally. We spoke about the numbers of ways in which we need to balance between the potential in the alternatives we see and the receptivity of our audience. Our client is often a corporation [government, education system] whose attention is firmly – all or nothing bet – on delivering on the short term numbers regardless of the chance that it is that ‘all chips on the same square bet’ which is terminal when carried forward with blinkers on.
Beware the taboos
One issue which was raised was the fact that it does not matter what group of ‘aficionados’ we talk to there are always the taboo views which are tricky to deal with. It is hard to say anything controversial and not face the smile that says, “Where have you been to bring that one up?'”. And futurists fall into the same trap. Mention the word growth and somehow it seems to bring up that smile on many a futurist’s face – it is somehow counter agenda.
Holism is hard work. It requires re-examination and redefinition of words and concepts we throw around, we cannot play this forward as if the words meant one thing to all people.
Ready for change?
A fundamental question to ponder is, “What are we prepared to give up to get somewhere different?”. This goes for individuals as much as for corporations. If the old way isn’t so hot and is going to run out of steam, what’s it going to be, what is a keeper and what is a giver upper?
We react differently to radical change – we have three prime flavours: Party, pray or pioneer. Futurists may be in all three while pioneering was considered to be part of our professional make-up. I know a few who are definite troopers in the party camp but equally present in the pioneering troupes.
There was one impassioned speech from a lady with a dream which reminded me of something I heard in my latest visit to the US in Camden Maine, which was “Martin Luther King did not get to his achievements by saying – “I have a problem””. Dreams, passion and persistent actions towards those dreams is what miracles are made of.
On what are the ways in which to get oneself into the zone of those passions, one key point was “Identifying your unique strengths and using those in the service of others”. It is what vocations are made of where the goals are bigger than the individual often petty concerns.
Voices for the future
As we roamed from table to table and room to room and from inside to outside event elements there was one conversation that kept on emerging in various guises. It could be called ‘voices’.
- Futurists as a group do not speak up strongly enough about the areas of concern, futurists have not supported minority voices or even understood them.
- Futurists have various voices depending on what the futurists backgrounds are.
- Should we consider segmenting the field more clearly like engineering or marketing has for the flavours to be understood better and heard?
- Are the young heard in a meaningful manner?
…but what about me?
Foresight involves pattern recognition. Sometimes us futurists need to take good care of recognising our own patterns and where those are leading us. The elements of our life so far are landmarks of our evolution and our path into our own future. Remember the moments of delight and passion, remember the moments of drudgery. It is wonderful when those moments of delight come together into one bigger whole of a happy you.
In one of the discussions we were trying to get to the essence of human competitiveness and lack of negotiation in the bigger picture engagement and it led to a discussion on the need to shift from competitive intelligence to connective intelligence and collaborative intelligence. Naomi Klein‘s book The Shock Doctrine was mentioned for its qualities for re-energising. One tenet in it being that clarity increases energy. Clarity of where we are and what we are doing.
We all have to do many things we don’t like, living in rather tyrannical situations. How do we deal with it? We shared our various ways to find a spiritual stillness. How do we divorce ourselves from the situation and find the distance and peace? For me, as I have found out lately, it is blogging [still practicing]. Mowing the lawn I think was the most likely activity to gain ground globally. My lawns are in constant need of mowing the lawn, you are welcome anytime 🙂
Integral foresight foreplay…letting lose on the second day
I could not attend all the events during the second day but the two that I did were very good sessions of sharing practitioner experiences.
They were led by insightful approaches to setting the scene for a good conversation. The first one I attended was on the applying integral foresight in our work. As Richard Slaughter has said now in a number ways and said it again, ‘integral’ is not an ideology, it is a model or a framework and helps us be more inclusive of the dimensions of influence in any situation. Chris, Josh and Gretchen outlined their experiences and here are some key dimensions which I took away as important things for all to remember.
Gretchen, Josh, Richard, Chris
It is not very useful to use the model explicitly to try and explain the state of the world with it. Rather it is more important to use it to cover the ground but leave it at the back of the mind as a frame of reference. This way the focus is on the area requiring futures thinking rather than on the method to get to the solutions and opportunities. Some readings suggested were naturally Ken Wilber‘s books but also Francisco Varela and Evan Thompson on people as autonomous beings and as meaning making individuals.
One danger with the model is that a practitioner compartmentalises people into different stages and people are really at many stages all at once for various situations and contexts of their lives. One way the integral method makes a difference is that it pushes for re-examining other methods and improves their comprehensiveness when taken from an integral perspective.
The second session I attended was aptly called “From foresight foreplay to corporate consummation”. The room was full. Sex sells. Marcus and Steve did a great job weaving a human interest story into the progress with a client.
We took a journey through key works of foresight and strategy which gave us part of the puzzle and the focal questions which we in the room were going to explore through discussion from our own experience on what works and what does not. Some of the questions were: What is foresight effectiveness? Is the field’s value understood? What to do about it?
Other fields which the group found to be equally difficult to put a direct dollar value to the results are public relations and design. With the cooperation of the participants we ended up in a warm embrace with our client(s) but we were wondering about what it made us futurists as we did end up in that warm embrace and we did a paying gig :-)…….
Thanks it was fun!
Oliver coined a nice sentence for how he saw the consequence and thrill of our field, “The unbearable lightness of seeing”.
Further building the community
We wrapped the event by discussing our future as a community, the ways in which we’d like to engage for an improved future of the field.
After some months of deliberation on the ways in which the community can help itself we are now well on the way to forming an Australian professional foresight association.
A youth event in the park
Sunday we had a treat by Janine and Liz Cahill at Victoria Park. It was time to launch www.globalyouthfutures.org. We had a number of activities around rethinking and re-perceiving future and providing youth a voice.
A crowd scene – people listening to stories about the future and rap
Sustainable Sydney and some alternatives being envisioned – through art
Re-expression through recycled computers and toys
Thank you: Peter, Richard, Dianne, Wendy, Marie, Peter, Luke, Stephen, Steve, Marcus, Nicola, Terri, Jan, Peter, Brian, Brendan, Pat, Ian, Julien, Ian, Anita, Adam, Charles, Matthew, Liz, Janine, Roslyn, Chris, Barbara, Hugh, Robert, Maree, Gretchen, Josh, Oliver, Steven, Amy ……and the many others apologies if name isn’t here I am mainly listing those I paraphrase here in some way shape or form, apart my own thoughts and reflections on it all.
Here you can find more on the event.