A Foundation of Foresight
When I joined Institute for the Future (IFTF) in 2008, it was in a time of economic volatility: The mortgage crisis. Banks that were “too big to fail.” People worrying they would be laid off from their jobs — as organizations, reeling from the global effects of our national economic meltdown — struggled to adjust. It was a particularly interesting time to immerse in foresight, just when everyone was asking: Shouldn’t we have seen this coming?
The aim of foresight is to anticipate the future in order to make better decisions in the present. At IFTF, you develop a discipline of constantly scanning the horizon for signals of change, separating signal from noise, and generating insights and actions. Foresight is a sensemaking process.
Over time, any budding futurist comes to appreciate the importance of the past. Most trends and disruptions don’t just “happen” overnight. They take years to evolve. After nine years at Institute for the Future, it’s clear to me that if you want to develop futures literacy, you also need to be a student of history.
It also helps to forecast in community with others, which is why this beloved place is so dear to me. The intellectual generosity of my IFTF colleagues is such a gift, and we sharpen each others’ thinking every day. Over the years, I’m especially grateful for the mentorship of Bob Johansen, Kathi Vian, Marina Gorbis, and Jean Hagan.
Today I reflect on the range of experiences I’ve gotten to have over the past 9 years at IFTF. So many engaging topics and places: conversations about the future of cities in Mexico City, the future of media in Bern, the future of governance in Reykjavík, the future of water in Riverside, the future of advertising in Cincinnati, the future of finance in San Antonio, the future of beauty & grooming in New York, the future of human connection in Kansas City, the future of retail in Seattle, the future of dining in Los Angeles, the future of human resources in Cedar Rapids, the future of memories in San Francisco and more.
The unusual became expected at Institute for the Future. Like the time back in 2012 when we had a Tacocopter demo (taco-delivering drone) in our office before drones were widespread, or just last week when we experienced the Virtual Reality immersion-in-a-shipping-container-on-a-decommissioned-aircraft-carrier. And many memories included participating in meetings around the world through many iterations of robot versions of myself (my favorite of which is the Beam by Suitable Technologies).
Each time you would invite me to be a thought partner, you let me into your world — whether it was at a Fortune 100 company, a philanthropic organization, or a government group.
You have shared the worries that keep you up at night, and your hopes for the kind of future your organization will make.
I see you. I regard each of you as champions of change, and it has been an honor to run alongside you (sometimes literally — you Corporate Athlete people are no joke)!
Today — on my last day at Institute for the Future — I want to pause and reflect on the foundation of foresight that I will bring with me into the next phase of my career. I wish that everyone had an opportunity to learn the tools of foresight by immersing in this way.
Later this month, I will begin work at The McConnell Foundation in a newly-created position, Program Officer for Community Vitality. I am excited for this opportunity to apply foresight to civic life.
Alan Kay once famously said that “the best way to predict the future is to invent it.”
I look forward to joining with community partners to #makethefuture together and to working with The McConnell Foundation’s team of smart, visionary, community-minded people.
Here’s to the future, Rachel