As anyone who has taught a class or run a training workshop knows, having to teach others something very often requires you to reflect more deeply on your own expertise. What is most important for others to learn? What really are the key concepts and intellectual tensions in my field? And perhaps most importantly, how do a relate all of these things to my students.
Over almost 20 years of doing futures research and foresight work professionally, I have had that internal conversation with myself many times, and never more intensely than when I sat down to begin working on my new book, 4 Steps to the Future: A Quick and Clean Guide to Creating Foresight. In trying to offer a streamlined and straightforward process for newcomers to foresight, I found myself having to return to these questions about what is essential to good futures thinking and ultimately, for good foresight work.
There will be many professionals out there, more seasoned than I, who may find these thoughts uninspiring. Yet, I feel that having to go through this thought process, this internal questioning of our professional knowledge and assumptions, is a wholly beneficial and necessary process in order for each of us to revisit, reaffirm, and to grow.
So, what did I end up thinking about when I sat down to work on my book? I tried to strip away all of the (wondrous) nuance and complexity of foresight work and I looked for the more essential questions, the more fundamental issues we deal with when we are trying to anticipate and envision the future. And just like that (well, there was a little more to it…), the outline of the 4 Steps framework began to emerge.
- Looking backward, what has changed in the history of your issue? And almost more importantly, why did those changes happen? What things stayed the same?
- When you look around today, do you see those same dynamics at work? What new types of changes do you detect today?
- Thinking forward, in what ways might those things combine to create different pathways into the future? What would those scenarios look like?
- Finally, given all of the foregoing, how could you reassess and rethink your goals and preferences for the future? What becomes your new vision for the future?
Once again, the experienced foresight professional will not find any of this terribly surprising, and I think that’s as it should be. 4 Steps to the Future is not a treatise on high order foresight philosophy or a discussion of advanced methodologies: it is an introduction to foresight and a streamlined process for a newcomer to conduct their own project.
Writing the book was certainly enjoyable, but I think that the process of having to think deeply about what we do, why we do it, and what is most essential for others to think about was the most rewarding aspect of the experience.