How to spot good “futurism”

This is an English translation of a thread I recently tweeted in Spanish. Of course, the recent hype around “futurism” — notice the scare quotes — to which it refers is, to some extent, particular to Mexico and Latin America. However, I believe the overall argument and the check list applies to futures work in general.

Maybe I’m biased due to an effect of selective attention but it seems that, these days, everyone is a futurist. What I mean is that more and more individuals and organizations are trying to appropriate “the future” to capitalize on it.

If the wave has not reached you, wait a few months.

Who am I to call them out? Nobody. The future is there for everyone to imagine, share, and discuss.

I myself, through my teaching, have tried to get more people — most of them designers — to incorporate foresight into their personal and professional lives.

So, what’s the problem? The proliferation of “experts.” The future is a very sexy topic — perhaps more than creativity, innovation, digital transformation and “disruption.” So, as has happened before, many will try to rub a bit of that sex appeal.

What can be done? The usual: develop a critical stance to discern what is valuable and what is not, to distinguish between honest efforts and quackery.

Not only in other people’s work but, what’s most important, in one’s own work as well.

Thinking about this, I developed a kind of ‘checklist’ — completely tentative and personal — to recognize those honest and valuable efforts to think about the future.

I share it here if you find it useful.

1 / Proper foresight work does not try to predict the future. So, I distrust all predictions. The work I find interesting is generally focused on:

a. (Collectively) imagining multiple futures, and / or

b. Understanding how and what people imagine about the future.

2 / There is no real foresight if images of the future are not proposed. One has to put or demand #SkinintheGame. In addition, these images of the future must be at least one or two decades ahead.

It’s not that useful to speculate about next year.

3 / While these images of the future are the product of imagination they must be based on some type of research and analysis focused on the present: weak signals, emerging issues, trends, people’s imaginations elicited through ethnographic studies, etc.

4 / Such emerging issues or trends should cover a broad spectrum of reality. I’m disappointed by reports or narratives that focus only on technological issues. Values, culture, the environment, politics, etc., are equally or even more important.

5 / The most interesting images of the future are those that take into account the new, everything that changes, but also everything that remains and what could return.

6 / The most valuable foresight work speculates about multiple futures. That is to say, it adopts what Jay Ogilvy called “a scenaric stance”: a position that always contemplates more than one scenario and thus transcends the most naive forms of optimism and pessimism at once.

7 / The most important foresight and futures work aims to critically intervene in the present. And it does so while being explicit about the values ​​that inform such criticism. I am increasingly impatient with work that speculates for the sake of speculation. #FuturesPorn

8 / We already have enough dystopias. If this stage of history were a design process (and it is) we have already gone through the divergence stage. It is urgent to converge on positive images of the future.

9 / The most important development in foresight and futures in recent years is the integration of design practices. The most effective and affective speculations are those that use audiovisual, tangible or ‘experiential’ media to communicate futures.

Number 9 is my favorite number so I will leave it there.

Before finishing, just a couple of clarifications:

One: Most of those 9 points are well established in the futures/foresight field. I only present them here from a personal perspective and in a convenient format.

Two: The best foresight/futures work usually meets several or even all these criteria at the same time. The more, the better.

If you reached the end of this thread and you want to know more [and you’re based in Mexico]. Alfredo Narváez and I will be teaching another design futures bootcamp at Centro this fall. Starting date: September 22. More info here.