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Futures Research, briefly

wicked problems: complex, multifaceted problems that are difficult to define, have multiple causes, and no clear solution.

Futures ungrounded in reality are fantasies.

We start with the notion that possible futures are already in progress.​ Complex, numerous, and varied forces influence how futures unfold.

These morphing forces seep or bang into each other creating black swans and emergent outcomes. Or even orthogonally go separate ways. 

We need not venture into darkness. We can investigate those forces and then imagine the multiple ways the future might bloom.

Probe research leads to Strategic Planning

Standard Consulting Firm Practice

Futures Practices

All Four Futures Stages

 PRESENT 

01/ PROBE

Establish the theme. Gather and evaluate current behaviors and events that might signal a future already in progress. Prepare to parse signal to noise.

Why PROBE is essential to the process

Reality is where the future is in progress today. If our actions today will make a real difference, it’s because they are grounded in actual trends and drivers of futures already in progress. Here we use our futures lens to produce and evaluate studies, reports, and everyday observations of changes. Futures without reality are fantasy.

In an ongoing engagement, Futuists scan for signals of relevant changes in real conditions.

 

The idea here is to orient ourselves to emerging realities while allowing for creativity, not being strictly positivist.
 

Graphic suggesting evolving future conditions

 POSSIBLE 

02/ ANALYZE

Consider trends and drivers of the present. From "what" to "then what". Genenerate scenarios arising from combinations of emerging conditions.

Why ANALYZE is essential to the process

Here’s when we make sense of observed and reported signals. It has a name: “sensemaking”.

 

It’s critical at this stage to exit our usual ways of seeing things. We have time-honored frameworks, prompting card decks, and game-like methods to achieve this mental state.

 

Here we can begin to see the conditions that will influence possible, plausible, probable, and desirable futures, and see timelines more clearly.


The ideal outcome of this stage is ongoing monitoring of conditions in relation to proposed futures to iteratively reassess goals and try new low-fidelity experiments – all to track alignment with emerging realities and calibrate follow-on actions accordingly.

Futures Cone
Futures Wheel
Horizons and Certainty graph
Futures Triangle SITRA version

 POSSIBLE 

03/ INHABIT

Feel the consequences. Immerse in scenarios to spark 'what if' dialogues. Create immersive environments, artifacts, and design fictions to inhabit each potential future.

Why INHABIT is essential to the process

Statistics and charts inform the intellect.

 

Something visceral spurs ideas for action when artifacts and immersive experiences ignite a sense that a certain future could be real and this is what real might feel like.

 

This feeling is more than empathy – it’s a change of consciousness. It’s closer to wisdom. It is powerfully persuasive.

Others experiencing a Design Fiction, Immersive Installation, or Speculative Design is an indirect form of taking action.

A residential community that looks like a New Mexico pueblo in the year 2035. Has a vegetable garden, children, a truck.

 PRESENT 

04/ ACT

Go from 'what if' to 'what now'. Lay out preferred and intriguing futures and the near-term conditions required to set them in motion.

Why ACT is essential to the process

A more open mind with an installed radar primed for sensing and making sense of signals is a valuable strength. But there’s more. There’s taking action.
 

The best rigid plan we might form now is an overall vision and mission.

 

Then, a strategy based on preferred futures with contingencies is actionable and realistic. Over time, that strategy morphs as conditions emerge and evolve.

Here’s where we try low-fidelity iterative experiments to learn what might work today to point the world toward a preferred future. Such experiments also help clarify the pervasiveness and intensity of signals.

An experiment in planning a prosperous New Mexico pueblo for 2035

Futuring resembles a Hero's Journey

Joseph Campbell Hero's Journey illustration

Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey

The Futures Process depicted as the Hero's Journey

The Futures Process

Colorful Shapes

Shimoshi NM Services

Our deep knowledge and experience in generative and formative research + vivid imagination create enriched explorations of future possibilities.

Dator's Four Futures

Futures Resources

We look for direct and oblique frameworks, diagrams, methods, tools, with unflowery explanations that vividly illuminate the futuring ecosystem. 

This curated list is a public service.

Let’stalk

Elena Leyes gestures to a projected slide that says "No vision of the furture should be presented as a given without alternatives."
And now? No vision of the future should be presented as a given without alternatives.

Elena Leyes for Futures Probes at the Festival of the Future at Munich, Germany's Deutsches Museum, June 2024. 

How ideas and assumptions shape futures 

 

Why futures can’t be objective and are, in fact, just another battlefield 

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