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Skip to 0 minutes and 5 seconds In the previous topic, we established that predicting the future might not be as easy as it sounds. And one could be very careful. We need to recognize the fact that because of rapid change, prediction can be rather problematic. So what, then, is futures thinking all about? We’re not predicting. What are we trying to do? We’re actually trying to gain more foresight about the future. As I said a bit earlier, without using the words this implies exploring underlying causes of change. It implies gaining more knowledge about those trends influencing the future. It implies gazing ahead. It implies being proactive when thinking about the future.

Skip to 0 minutes and 46 seconds And much of what we’ve seen in the last few topics can be summarized and the point could be driven home by looking at a quote by a very well-known futurist and scenario planner, Kees van der Heijden. In a book he wrote a few years ago, he makes the following point. He starts off by pointing out that, and I quote, “the complex nature of change means that predicting events is impossible.” That point, we’ve established already. In fact, he goes on to say it’s actually quite dangerous to try to predict events, because predicting implies inflexibility. It implies a need to become locked into one specific prophecy, which is probably going to be wrong.

Skip to 1 minute and 28 seconds So he goes on to say, that if we’re not in the game of predicting, what are we trying to do? And he uses this image. He says of much greater value is the ability to recognize what he calls dots on the horizon– if you like, dots on the radar screen. Those signs of change that will effect every organization, every country, every entity. Then once you’ve recognized the dots, there’s a second task. That is to understand the significance of these dots. The third and final task is then how the organization needs to adapt to these signs of change.

Skip to 2 minutes and 6 seconds Now, I’ve taken the liberty not of rephrasing these words, but summarizing them in the form of three questions we should be constantly asking and answering. So when he talks about recognizing dots on the horizon, we can ask the question, what? What’s going on out there in the big, wide world? What’s happening in the world of economics, in the world of politics, in the world of technology, the world of the social environment? What’s going on there? And when he says we need to understand the significance, we can ask the question, so what? What stories are they telling us? An earlier example we spoke about– aging. So, that could be a dot on the horizon. Aging is happening.

Skip to 2 minutes and 46 seconds And then we ask ourselves, so what? What are the implications as we reflected on a little bit earlier. And the third challenge is how do we adapt to what we’ve discovered? This is answering the question, now what? So, three questions– what’s going on? Secondly, so what? And thirdly, now what? And the ultimate first prize from all of this, if we do this work correctly, an organization should be able to say, ah, we spoke about those changes, say, 10 years ago. We flattened out the implications. And, very importantly, we figured out how we’re going to deal with it. So, if and when something were to happen, we prepared for it. Like many disciplines, you develop a strange kind of vocabulary.

Skip to 3 minutes and 32 seconds One phrase we use in future studies is developing a memory of the future. Which, of course, grammatically sounds a bit silly. But the idea is exactly what I just tried to suggest. If something were to happen, we should be able to say, oh yes, we spoke about that five, 10, 20 years ago. And at the time, we came up with a strategy to deal with it. So, we cant predict the future, but by doing our work correctly, we can prepare for the future. We can develop foresight, and learn how to deal with change if it were to happen.


Future Studies, also called futurology, is the study of postulating possible, probable, and preferable futures and the world views and myths that underlie them.

Discuss an example of a world view from the past 100 years that has subsequently proven to be incorrect. What impact did this have on the world?

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This video is from the free online course:

Futurism and Business: Dealing with Complexity

University of Stellenbosch Business School Executive Development