A deeper understanding of future patterns of change -and potential disruptions- is enabled by futures studies and strategic foresight. The future of future studies, foresight, and longer term thinking is to invite people and organizations to make more informed and imaginative decisions in the present in the face of new challenges and complex dilemmas, and ultimately, to facilitate better futures for all.
The challenges of population growth, disruptive environmental and ecological jolts, widening socioeconomic inequalities, and tension between mainstream populations and extremists are complex, immense, frightening and urgent. The effective and efficient delivery of innovations to tackle these and other intransigent social and ecological challenges has never been more critical. The upside: while such challenges may threaten the way we do things, they simultaneously present opportunities to do things better for enhanced futures.
Individuals, communities, organizations, and national and global governance institutions face an imperative to enhance their capacity to navigate global realities now and in the future. Because these realities by their nature characterized by volatility and potential for extreme impact, the capacity for organizations to pivot from their current trajectory to preferred futures as they traverse the territory ahead will be critical.
But we are stuck with widespread asystemic thinking: the inability to think about complex systems and their dynamics. We faltered because of our failure to consider risk in its full context, especially when dealing with coupled risk—when multiple things can go wrong together. We were hampered by our inability to think about second- and third-order effects and by our susceptibility to scientism—the false comfort of assuming that numbers and percentages give us a solid empirical basis. We failed to understand that complex systems defy simplistic reductionism. In complex systems, one can think about linear interactions and complex or nonlinear interactions. In linear interactions, we can add numbers to guess at combined impact. Predictable events for which we have built infrastructure and expectations; our system anticipates. Tipping points, phase transitions (water boiling or freezing), and cascades and avalanches (when a few small changes end up triggering massive shifts) are all examples of nonlinear dynamics in which the event doesn’t follow simple addition in its impacts. In many complex systems, efficiency, redundancy, and resiliency pull in different directions. Nonlinear dynamics and complex-system failures can also come about because of tight coupling between the components. Tight coupling means that every part of the system moves together, which in turn means that even small things can cause a crisis.
If we think of terms of everywhen -adapting notions of interconnectedness of time, place, and us from the perspective of complex system thinking we will understand how all of our actions impact futures for each one of us. Such understanding can inform actions in the now to ensure the best perspectives for the near and far future.
So much of what happens in 2030 and beyond rides on what we do know we do know. Are we going to let humanity stumble into a less than optimal future? Follow the tumultuous path to inevitable conclusions?
We have an infinite number of possible futures ahead of us -from the blistering to the blissful, from voices replete with desperation to those exuding hope and joy. The evidence about the challenges awaiting us on the other side of this decade is incontrovertible. It is patently clear that the emerging trends and realities, if ignored, will cause extreme social, ecological and economic damage over the long term. We cannot look away, cannot ignore. Immediate change to our trajectory is within our control.
We happen to the future.