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What do you expect from a futurologist?
I was disappointed by the Microsoft Visions of the Future event in London, though to be honest, we left before it was finished. We had heard, or partially heard three long rambling speeches. The visuals were on domestic-sized screens that only a handful of people could see, and the audience had started talking amongst themselves.
What I heard wasn’t very new either. I have been treated to at talk by a futurologist elsewhere and I was stunned then that there was little, if anything, new in the speech. Puzzled by this happening again, I shot off a question on LinkedIn: what do you expect from a talk by a futurologist?
The first few replies thought I meant “fortune teller” and some others thought “a waste of my time”. James Stuart replied more seriously. He suggested two features:
a) pointing to inter-relationships between events that aren’t immediately obvious
b) helping the audience understand that the future is made through their choices.
What do psychologists and futurologists have in common?
I thought that what James suggested resonated with a brilliant description of the practice of psychology that I found years ago. I am sorry I don’t have the reference still. If you recognize it, please do let me know.
All psychologists, whether we are clinical, educational or work/occupational, do three things:
a) We have models and ideas that we can put at our clients’ disposal.
b) We have experience of other people solving similar problems.
c) We stick with our client while they think through their predicament and experiment with a solution.
First, on the basis of published ideas, we know what questions to ask. Then we have some idea, from observing other people, what it is like to be faced with the dilemma facing our client. And importantly, we are loyal to our client while they are struggling with a problem that is intimidating.
- It is important that we can observe patterns that are not obvious to other people.
- And we understand the object of the exercise is action.
When I listen to a futurologist, I want to hear them point to interactions between emerging events that require data and models far deeper than I have available from public media. And the information must help me see what action I must take. I must experience an “aha!’ and intense relief that I now know what to do. I still have to do it, but I need some clarity about what I want to do next.
Of course futurologists are probably talking about the macro-environment: politics, economics, social change and technological change. Models of psychology are usually about ways individuals make sense of the world: hope, intimacy, vocation, & schooling.
My understanding of the future
In psychology, I find the 21st century so exciting that I find it hard to think ahead.
As a vision of the future, it is worth flicking through Jane McGonigle’s presentation at SXSW 2008. Jane believes that eventually we will all be in the business of happiness. And she can outline the psychological principles to engineer happiness.
Curriculum Illusione is a Dutch site that gives you an interactive time line to map the future, and, how you intend to interact with it. It is quite challenging.
I would be interested in your opinion of both.