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
Congratulations to recent alum Omar Sahi (scroll down to see his photo and bio) on being hired as an analyst at The Futures Company. He was brought on board after serving as an intern for three months. The Futures Company is growing its foresight practice, and this is a really prime gig!
Omar graduated last year. He was a terrific student, and served as my GA (grad assistant) and was also recognized as the 3rd place winner of the APF’s Annual Student Recognition Program for his forecast on “The Future of News Media.” He also presented his work at our “Best of Houston” World Future Society session last year.
It is great to see Omar continuing his work in foresight with a well-respected foresight consultancy. Well done, Omar!
Omeke, a former football player at Rice (yes, all kind of backgrounds!), brought great enthusiasm to the program. He balanced a challenging “day job” as a teacher with classes. He assisted me in work for the APF that supported the development of a foresight competency model and a foresight ecosystem map. Jason was very active throughout his time in the program, always eager to volunteer for extra-curricular activities. As a brand new student, he joined me for an afternoon workshop and ably facilitated a breakout group (I knew then he was going to be just fine). He did our first internship with UNICEF, getting us off on the right foot with them. He was part of our team that helped out with the HISD Urban Debate League. And to cap it off, he earned a six-month internship with Disney! Jeffrey came to us as an already established HR professional with the goal of enhancing his thinking and tool kit. Like Omeke, he was able to balance the program with his demanding day job, and move the program rather quickly. I appreciated how often he was able to bring his work experience to the classroom and see linkages to what we were teaching to what he was doing.
We hope – no, make that expect! — that each will stay involved with the foresight community as they take their next steps! Andy Hines
Alum Garry Golden recently published his first TechCrunch article looking at micro fuel cells and scenario of refueling portable devices. It includes what he dubs a playful scenario timeline looking at ways the idea of ‘refueling’ (not recharging) might unfold in US at least:
Leaping from buzz from Burning Man, Apple shifting supply chain focus, China + Intel joining hands in solid state energy conversion devices, Time magazine ‘Cordless Christmas’, and then Amazon-Walmart getting into retail fuel business.
He observes that the idea of retail-shelf based portable fuels and refueling devices is “something I’ve been banging the drum on for more than a decade and makes the case for a rational, logical evolution of manufacturing, product design benefits, natural market drivers and social good as making a stronger case for putting clean fuels on retail shelves and cutting the cord. Fuel conversion beats stored charges is my MO [mode of operation].”
For folks interested in future of energy issues — a few other hings to share.
Keep up the good work, Garry! –Andy Hines
Jason Crabtree will become resident futurist for the Workforce Planning, Analytics & Insights department at Disney Parks & Resorts in Orlando this summer as part of their paid professional internship program. While there he will be focusing on the challenges and risks associated with the future of employment in order to better support business decisions specific to workforce issues and talent management strategies. In addition to this exciting professional opportunity, he looks forward to making the most of his time in Florida. With Cape Canaveral, the Florida Keys, and the Everglades all close by and the Bahamas and Cuba only a boat ride away, he should have plenty to keep him busy!
Ben Lummis spent the Spring semester as an intern for the Policy Planning Unit in the Data and Research division at UNICEF, and it was just extended through his graduation from the foresight program this August. His focus is to further develop the organization’s foresight knowledge base with methodologies for youth and suggestions for application to particular age groups and regions around the world. UNICEF truly has a global impact” Lummis says. “Their passion for youth issues exemplified by extensive reporting and encompassing groundwork is a daily inspiration.”
Johann Schutte will be interning at UCB, a multinational bio-pharmaceutical company with headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. He will work with the Atlanta operation, which has recently established an internal foresight capability. He will assist with environmental scanning on a wide range of topics, as well as working on a few specific topics. In addition to research and analysis, he will also do some workshop design and facilitation