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Witness to Futures Organizations in Progress

Updated: 3 days ago

Something is happening and there is no good way to describe it.

Nor is there a generally understood outward expression of it, or an easy way to calculate who’s involved, where these people are located, what they think about what’s going on or if they’re even fully aware that this is a thing that’s happening.

This something might be an emerging trend. It may be a passing fad. Or it may linger to influence various life domains. It may eventually drive other trends.

An Art Deco-styled Turducken - a cross between a turkey, a duck, and a chicken. Which is a stuffed roasted dish invented in the UK.
Rendering of a Turducken in the wild. (by Copilot with Microsoft Design)

Maybe it was once one thing in one context and now it seems to be something entirely different in another. Or it’s the same as it was but it has shifted to other contexts and matured into something different there – but it’s too soon to tell exactly.

This something may be a signal of transition to one possible future. We might collect several interacting signals and try to make sense of them in a larger scenario. Then, fortified with evidence and experiments, we foresee whether these scenarios are probable, plausible, merely possible, or off-the-charts unlikely.

The Way We Are

Here’s an easy probe for detecting signals: observe changes in how we behave collectively.

Individual ways of connecting and collaborating have a symbiotic relationship with social organizations, now as ever. Shifts in expressions of personal and social identities and socio-economic class have spurred new kinds of collectivity and our attachments to these entities.

For example, since the decline of the pandemic we have witnessed a reluctance to commute to workplaces when that work could be done at home or wherever.

For another example, we’ve been wondering what independent futuring organizations are called and how they are structured. Because how all of us identify and organize ourselves effects what we do. To wit, we wonder about the future of generating all kinds of futuring.


The Rabbit Hole of Futures Organizations

In a growing catalog of 60+ dedicated futures organizations worldwide, the most common appellations are determined by what they do. Most conduct bona fide research or at least collect signals; exploration of some kind. A fair number offer design or communications expressions such as speculative design, design fiction, or immersive environments. Others produce client deliverables like branding.

It breaks out like this: is a group resetting client mindsets or is there a tangible deliverable? Or both?

A screenshot of our Aboard Landscape Analysis
A sample of futures organizations worldwide, shown on Aboard


These are the most common self-designations of futures organizations.

Institute: the most common term applies to groups often affiliated with an academic organization or has a history of an academic process/methods/tools.

Think Tank: carries a military or governmental connotation and is noted for often being peopled by white men with an elite education. Since excellence in futuring depends upon diverse and inclusive life experiences and perspectives, this term is being declinated by futurists. However, the term does convey a sense of independent research and outcomes unbiased by client agendas. The usual model is an in-house superstar expert or a collaborative in a topic(s) that intends to influence public policy.

Studio: as these groups execute art and design processes and deliverables, Studio has a natural resonance. Like Think Tank, Studio can imply a sense of independence. But when applied to advertising and branding strategies there is a clear expectation of tangible client requirements.

Laboratory: connotes an experimental science environment - fits those with a creative + technical orientation.

Hub: a fairly bland term that suggests a centralized repository of resources and/or network with nodes that share aspects of similar activities.


What, then, is Shimoshi NM?

We toyed with adopting each of these terms and considered resulting impressions others might get of our organization. With our own intended contributions to the futuring field in mind, we also needed to read the morphing situation: how futuring and its uses to the world are changing.

For instance, strategic foresight was once purely about arriving at multiple future scenarios and outlining strategies for each as conditions change. Now we may no longer need to present futures work in a way mostly palatable to military and corporate organizations by using the term “foresight”. Or “strategic”. But the term “strategic foresight” does allude to that valuable mindset shift that can seem like a value-add to a tangible deliverable.

In another instance of change, the reputable futurist Scott Smith said in a seminar recently that futuring cannot be allowed to only apply to risk management. Futuring must address mundane life as well.

Futures work is not about predicting desired targets. It’s about opening one’s mental aperture to include possibilities. To the initiated, creative perspectives and methods as applied by social scientists and designers are systematic and also, by necessity, nonlinear and intuitive.

To the uninitiated, these methods can seem merely mystical and, as such, unreliable.

A janky treehouse with interesting windows in a Scandanavian woods.
Treehouses are excellent places to huddle.

Futures work veers outside strict scientific methods to embrace multiple ways of knowing. This is because what we try to envision has not yet happened, which calls for analysis infused by diversity of thought.

Our DNA is anthropology, itself a linear and nonlinear exploratory and investigatory field. We are comfortable huddling with designers and artists and data scientists.

The Problems with "Think Tank" and "Hub"

We’ve had to consider our comfort level in providing certain services, what the market wants, and what organizational structure can pull all that off. The idea of a think tank has its uses – the ability to conduct independent research regardless of funder agenda. But we are emphatic about collaboration, especially bringing in young and very diverse and imaginative participants. So an elitist impression will not work here.

A digital cartoon of a group of tents in a square configuration. The stones in a circle at the bottom is the helipad.
A draft rendering of a basecamp from a game design in progress.

Hub is a good basic concept – as a center for a basic system.

To be more explicit, though, we are inclined to call Shimoshi NM a basecamp – a more organic, functional, and multidimensional system. As the first and most important base of resources and place for mountain climbers to huddle, it is a reasonable analogy for now.


Expect Weirdness in Transitions

It’s lamentable that our society recognizes achievement only at milestones but hardly ever in process. Yet we can agree that the world exists in varying states of stability. Instability is a time of transition, to transformation.

We yearn for re-evaluation of institutions that work as intended but produce misaligned benefits. We are intrigued by technologies but wary of their effects. We are unaligned on values that could produce many great ideas for future directions for us all and the means of enacting those directions.

We need basecamps for expeditions. Sources of equipment and training and knowledge. They can be known centers but they can also bloom organically and generate organic ideas from arguments and experiments. These are basecamps for trying and seeing what works and what doesn’t so much and celebrating moments of achievement in progress, large and small.

Shimoshi is one such basecamp: to observe signals and to experiment and to imagine and create.

A rabbit hole dug into the side of an old arroyo beneath an old pinion tree in Northern New Mexico.
An actual rabbit hole. (photo by the author)


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