It was great to see the oil systems model developed by Houston Foresight alum and Adjunct Faculty Jim Breaux highlighted in the August issue from the Perspectives wiki. Our program has long used material from the site’s author and publisher, Gene Bellinger. The wikis is part of his “Perspectives Project,” which was “established by and for those who believe a systemic perspective provides the best foundation for creating effective approaches for dealing with challenges and shaping a better tomorrow. Our purpose is surfacing noteworthy relationships and their implications, to provoke thought, foster deeper understanding, create insights, and enable more effective action.” Right up the foresight alley!
On the wiki, Bellinger does a voice-over explanation of how he interprets Jim’s model in a 3 minute video clip. Thanks to Jim for spreading the word about the good work coming out of our program! andy Hines
It is great to see the follow-up work we did for the original “Future of Student Needs 2025 and Beyond” get published on the student-powered section of Lumina Foundation’s website. A key recommendation of the original work was to set up a portal for students to provide input into the discussion on the future of higher education.
So much of the work being done and discussion takes on the institutional perspective – the student voice is often overlooked, so we thought it would be cool to have students engage with our content about the future.
After some internal discussion, the client agreed and we worked with smallbox, a design agency, to provide content for the site. We commissioned a separate and smaller team and generated a wide range of content about the future of student needs that was designed to provide an interesting and interactive experience for site visitors. In the picture from left to right – top row: Andy Hines, Alex Whittington, Johann Schutte, Maria Romero; bottom row: Katie King, Jason Crabtree, Ben Lummis, Will Williamson.
There’s quite a range of interesting material to play with: the full report, key insights, blog posts, emerging needs, and more to come! Andy Hines
The Houston Foresight program was once again well represented at the WFS/APF annual conference held this year in Washington DC from July 22-24. Congratulations to Julie Steele and the new team at WFS for simply pulling this conference off, given that they took over only a few months before the conference. As usual, I spent more time focusing on APF matters, an doing a lot of catching up with old friends.
WFS Best of Houston
Our 16th “Best of Houston” session was another great success. The students shared the highlights of their projects as well as commenting on their experiences as foresight students. This year’s session featured four students:
The APF had its sold-out Pro Development Day at the Hillyer Art Space in the artsy Adams Morgan neighborhood. [Apologies to anyone who was unable to get in – the room was packed to capacity]. It was a very lively mix of advice, talks, and group discussions. My personal favorite was a two-hour reflection by Hawaii futurist Jim Dator on his career as a futurist.
The 2016 APF Most Significant Futures Works Awards were announced on Saturday evening. I have been involved with running this program since its inception and I think it’s really important to recognize good foresight work. I am very pleased to note that our own Professor Emeritus Oliver Markley has become a two-time winner of the MSFW award. He won a prize for editing the “Symposium on Intuition in Futures Work,” an article collection published in the Journal of Futures Studies. The full list of winners is below:
Category 1 Advance The Methodology And Practice Of Foresight And Futures Studies (Note: All three are equal winners….no “places”
Category 2 Analyze a Significant Future Issue
Category 3: Illuminate the Future Through Literary Or Artistic Works
We did not have any winners at the APF Student Recognition competition this year. It suggests increasingly tough competition. Last year, our students swept the individual graduate school category, and I thought this year entries were quite on par. So, it’s like we’ll have to up our game for next year!
In Other News….
Dr. Hines gave the pre-conference Master class “Introduction to Foresight,” which is a terrific opportunity to introduce people to the future, and how we teach the future at Houston Foresight. He also presented the final version of the APF Foresight Competency Model. He and the team worked on it for much of the last year, and it was great to see it come to fruition. – Andy Hines
It occurs to me that a new category we might monitor is how often futurist appears in “scare quotes.” When we say someone is a doctor or lawyer, we don’t put it in scare quotes. But many times “futurist” is, i.e.: so-and-so is a “futurist” who is going to…. A scare quote is a “phrase to signal that a term is being used in a non-standard, ironic, or otherwise special sense. They may be used to imply that a particular expression is not necessarily how the author would have worded a concept.” The latter interpretation fits with the emergence of the accidental category we’ve developed for tagging the articles. This category captures those usages of futurist where we found that the author was called a futurist, most likely without their consent, or we could infer that their primary professional identity was not as a futurist, but they were focused on a future-oriented topic and thus adopted futurist as a descriptor. Remember, anyone can call themselves a futurist. For that matter, anyone can call themselves a doctor, but they aren’t typically allowed to operate without credentials.
For example, I found the following header in one of the pieces: “How to be a futurist.” I’ll remove the name to protect the innocent: “[So-and-so] was a software programmer for Makerbot and a grad student from MIT’s Media Lab when he got asked to be a futurist consultant for the TV series Minority Report, which launched last year.” And he goes on to provide tips on being a futurist. There ya go!
That said, I check all the pieces in this last quarter and had a measly three scare quotes: two for futurist and one for clairvoyant. I think that’s progress. My recollection is that these square quotes used to be use much more frequently, so it’s good that they seem to be less necessary.
The Q2 FIM stats include 207 articles focused on “futurists.” Our analysis suggested 58 of these were “fresh” mentions (12 were repeated on multiple days) of relevance to foresight and professional futurists, that is, not about the art movement or band. Our media savvy friend Jack Uldrich came in at 9 mentions this quarter. Ray Kurzweil of Google came tied Uldrich this quarter with nine mentions as his public speeches continue to draw the attention of media outlets. So, 58 unique mentions in 90 days is two every three days. As we’ve been seeing — the public is not being overwhelmed by professional futurists!
Apparently, it’s New York Times week for Houston Foresight alums. After posting a story about Jerry Paffendorf’s appearance, I learned that our own Alum and Adjunct Faculty Dr. Cindy Frewen, She is quoted in the Times on July 20 in an article, “Future Houses: 3-D Printed and Ready to Fly.” Cindy has a background as an architect and has an ongoing interest in the future of cities. Here’s the quote:
“Look at what happens when cities shrink,” says Cindy Frewen, an architect, urban futurist and adjunct professor at the University of Houston Foresight Graduate Program. “It’s not pretty. Look at Detroit.” As a quarter of its population drained out of the city from 2000 to 2010, tens of thousands of buildings became hazards instead of homes.” There’s more…so check out the whole piece.
A shout out to Cindy for mentioning our program, and it was noted by the UH College of Technology in their Communication Update. Thanks Cindy! – Andy Hines
Houston Foresight alum Jerry Paffendorf’s entrepreneurial activities continue to gain recognition – last week he was featured in the New York Times, in piece called “Mapping Detroit, Inch by Inch.” Some of you may remember his incredibly clever entrepreneurial purchase of a vacant lot in Detroit that he mapped and parceled out into one-inch square lots and sold to folks for $1 a square. [I should have bought one!] It was part of a larger effort to digitally map the city in order to provide the city with better information about the state of properties – ultimately to help fight blight. That successful activity lead to more work in digital mapping. Jerry is currenlty the CEO of Loveland Technologies, which has grown beyond his successful efforts in mapping Detroit to the San Francisco Bay Area. He has built a business with a growing team “dedicated to putting America online parcel by parcel.” They work with governments, developers, neighborhood groups, and individuals to gather and present information about property in clear, actionable ways.
Jerry’s work is an excellent example of entrepreneurial futures — — it was great to see his work recognized and a shout-out for plugging the Houston program!
The news of Alvin Toffler’s death on June 27, 2016 brought back memories; “back to the futures,” so to speak. Toffler’s classic book Future Shock, actually co-authored with his wife Heidi Toffler, was published in June, 1970. The book soared to worldwide blockbuster status, selling millions of copies. Toffler made “futurist” into a well-known, mass media term. I suspect a number of people who found their way into the University of Houston-Clear Lake’s Studies of the Future program in the later 1970’s were inspired by Toffler’s book and subsequent documentary film.
Ah, 1970: 500,000 people were killed in Bangladesh by a cyclone, 67,000 killed in Peru by an earthquake; the Apollo 13 mission to moon was aborted by technical problems; the United States invaded Cambodia; protests against Vietnam war continued; four student protesters at Kent State University were shot dead by National Guardsmen; The Beatles broke up; Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin died due to drug overdoses; the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty went into effect; the Boeing 747 began the “jumbo jet” commercial airline era; the first Earth Day was celebrated; the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began operation. And more.
Events whirled: the “peace and music” optimism of the Woodstock concert in August 1969 gave way to the ill-fated Altamont concert in December 1969, on the footsteps of 1970. Pressing “pause,” some technology came into question. By the end of 1970 the U.S. Senate rejected a new appropriation to further plans for the Boeing prototype of a civil supersonic transport, or SST. But concurrently the famous photograph “Earthrise” that was taken on Apollo 8 likely helped spur the environmental movement–exemplified by Earth Day. Truly an image for the future!
How to make sense of it all?
Toffler pointed out that until the early 1970’s “the word ‘futurist’ was virtually unknown in American intellectual life” and that the word “futurist” “now  denotes a growing school of social critics, scientists, philosophers, planners and others who concern themselves with the alternatives facing man as the human race collides with an onrushing future.” Making predictions was not the objective, futurists “focus…on the array of alternatives open to decision-makers, stressing that the future is fluid, not fixed or frozen.” (Toffler, Alvin. Ed. The Futurists. New York: Random House, 1972. Print. Pages 3-4.)
Toffler noted: “Having watched the arrival of new technologies and having lived through the ’60s and seeing a whole bunch of other social changes taking place, I concluded that change was in fact accelerating, and that most people didn’t have a kind of organized picture of what was going on, and so we began thinking about this and trying to organize our heads and create mental models for trying to understand this. It was the dawning recognition on our part that something humongous was happening, and that it was like secret knowledge because nobody else, nobody else got it….
It occurred to us that when you go to a foreign culture you’re…bombarded by strange cues, by visuals and sound and other inputs that…may be different than the ones in your own culture and may be hard for you to understand and some people get truly disorientated and upset and the sociologists and anthropologists call it ‘culture shock.’ What happens if a new environment comes to you, where you are, and comes to you rapidly, so that you don’t understand its inputs, its cues; and the answer to us was, if you can have culture shock by relocating to another location in space, you could have ‘future shock,’ by in effect, relocating in time: a future comes toward you that you don’t understand.”
Looking back since the book’s publication, critics have pointed out that Toffler was mostly “a prolific reporter of technological and demographic change, an observer of society and trends, and a popularizer of catchy phrases” and that “the underpinnings of many of the ideas advanced in Future Shock remain problematic.”
Others gave praise, noting that, looking forward from 1970, the book outlined the “electronic frontier of the Internet, Prozac, YouTube, cloning, home-schooling, the self-induced paralysis of too many choices, instant celebrities, and the end of blue-collar manufacturing.”
Perhaps what made Future Shock so popular was not specific forecasts but a forward-looking observation that “the rate of change has implications quite apart from, and sometimes more important than, the directions of change.” Amid disequilibrium it was okay to prepare for time yet to come.
Conceivably the main message drawn from Future Shock is that futurists–many of which now use “foresight” not “futures” in describing their work–are mainly change agents dealing with very long time frames. They often use scenarios to better understand change and help people prepare for possible, probable and preferable futures. People, armed with forecasts, are able to mobilize and produce results; for example, a 1974 report that the Earth’s ozone layer was threatened from chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) gases led to the 1987 Montreal Protocol that ended industrial CFCs, and eventually to 2016 evidence that the ozone hole is “healing.” Forty plus years and counting: not long for a futures / foresight practitioner…. Gary Philip Hamel
Our design expert on the Houston Foresight team, student Maria Romero, is at it again. After doing a beautiful job with updating the Framework Foresight process and cone, she turned her attention to our scanning process. The history of “our scanning process” merits a few comments. For years we have been teaching scanning with a minimal structure or process, noting the “arti-ness” of it (more art than science). It was always a bit unsatisfactory to get to that point, so a few years ago, I started looking for ways to bring more process and structure to our scanning. As always, we did the beta with students, and tinkered and adjusted, and maybe a year or so ago, I feel like we came up with a pretty solid process.
The quick-and-dirty explanation. We organized the scanning process into three steps: finding, collecting, and analyzing.
The graphic shows a couple of outputs — the “strong” signals of change feed the baseline forecast, and the “weak signals” provide ideas and inspiration for the alternative futures.
A tip of our collective hat to Maria for such a wonderful representation. Andy Hines
The bonds are strengthening between foresight and design. We recently received our first physical shipment of beautiful new magazines as part of the Houston Foresight Program’s collaboration with MISC. MISC is published by Idea Couture…. “where design meets business, insight meets foresight, and empathy meets economics.” One of our alums, Emily Empel, the co-head of futures, joined the firm a few years ago after spending time with Disney, and raves about the combined power of foresight and design (and she instigated the program’s collaboration with the magazine). We are listed as a co-publisher along with KAOSPILOT (a “hybrid business and design school for entrepreneurship, creativity, and innovation), CEDIM (takes a design, innovation and business approach to education), and OCAD (Strategic Foresight and Innovation). What an amazing set of collaborators!
Our first contribution is coming out in the Spring “gamechanger” issue: “Exploring the future of Anything and Everything.” It’s a two-pager that introduces readers to our program and our core approach of Framework Foresight, and highlights four recent student framework projects. The layout is quite elegant. I’d say more but I can’t give away the story before the issue is out!
I recently used the image of my tv hero Agent Dale Cooper of Twin Peaks to note synchronicity, or when multiple signals from different places are telling you something. I just got back from hearing a dissertation on the role of scenarios in foresight and design from newly minted Dr. Danila Zindato who visited with us last Fall….at a design school in Italy (more on that later) and a few months ago I wrote about future-friendly design in the new PDMA product handbook. And, well, for years many professional futurist colleagues have been exploring design and foresight together. I suppose sometimes the signals get louder! Andy Hines