Some things about the future just cannot be anticipated. How does the discipline of future studies and futurology factor those in when creating possible scenarios of what awaits the culture? Futurology allows for something called the wild card. The wild card is the term used by futurologists to describe events that are extreme and have a major impact on the entire planet.
The greatest example in recent history would be the attacks on the Twin Towers on 9/11 2001. The fall of the Berlin Wall would be another.
With the wild card, people don’t see them coming, or they failed to read the signs of the trends clearly to anticipate their unfolding. The wild card allows for the unpredictable. You can “scan the horizon” for all sorts of possibilities, and yet when the wild card shows up, the story changes.
That wild card is rooted in Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, which is grounded in the quantum mechanical discovery that at the smallest levels of the universe there is chaos. Futurologists rely on the structure of mathematics in quantum mechanics. The debate continues as to whether this is an art or an actual science.
Mind you, we live in a world where we need experts in the field of future studies, who can comprehend the changes from the past, along with the changes from the present, and offer us more-than-likely scenarios for what changes in the future will look like. Much of the leaps made in technology, medicine, commerce and trade, and other areas are the result of those who have embraced the studies and findings of those who specialize in futurology.
Perhaps one of the most well-known advocates of future studies was Walt Disney. He was extremely interested in manned missions to space and in particular to Mars, as well as in building sustainable cities of the future along with amusing children and adults alike. At Walt Disney World, EPCOT is the culmination of Disney’s “conditional optimism” (sic) for the whole of humanity. The Geosphere known as Spaceship Earth is filled with Disney’s fascination with the flow of history from the past, through the present, and into the anticipated, possible, predictable, and preferable future.
Futurologists will suggest that if one is willing to take the necessary steps to develop what is known as strategic foresight the future can be anticipated more clearly. Strategic Foresight is a discipline that is oriented towards planning, however, it is planning that moves from the future into the present. The challenge with strategic foresight is that it exists under conditions of uncertainty, precisely because it is all about thinking future-present rather than present-future.
It’s about taking into account the possibility of many alternative futures that could potentially unfold, as well as the probable futures that will unfold based on current trends, and then also coming up with a sense of a preferred future that can be factored in. Then, like Michael Jackson’s famous “moon walk,” you walk back from the future into the present and see how you got there. It is the reason scenario planning has replaced strategic planning in many large corporations globally. The actions taken on possible scenarios require flexibility and adaptability to what wants to unfold and emerge.
The entire model of strategic planning is giving way to scenario planning, and has been for a number of years. Change is taking place so rapidly, at an exponential rather than an incremental level, that any sort of planning model that isn’t based on anticipating what wants to happen within a context of multiple scenarios is bankrupt.
What is the lesson in all of this for you and for me? The only constant we can count on is change. The whole idea of strategic planning seems to be rooted in the illusion that we can be in control of the future. We are delusional if we think we can be in control of the future. Rather, we need to be prepared for the future through a variety of scenarios. You have to be quick to your feet and strong in your steps if you hope to seize the future.