Humans are good at pattern recognition. But we see patterns based on personal experience and things that are close and familiar. This is called confirmation bias because that act of recognition typically confirms what we already believe. See also: Confirmation Bias in Foresight: Scanning to Find What You Already Believe. That is the biggest and most routine bias in observing change. It's more an instinct and even if people know better, they lapse into thinking that way. 

There is no "everybody"

Converse shoesA great example is our assumptions about Millennials. It's common to see them as tech-savvy, urban, Starbucks-frequenting, plaid-wearing, indie-band-listening. That stereotype is a shorthand we use for understanding and explaining them, but it's dangerously narrow. It has been fixed in our heads and gets reinforced all the time. Then we look for it in the world and say to ourselves, "there's another one".

In fact, we base much of our view of the Millennials on what is a few percent, total, of people born 1980 to 2000. There is no "they all" you can lump together. What's everyone else born between 1980 and 2000 doing?

The same is true for Baby Boomers, Gen X, Hispanics, immigrants, Republicans, etc. etc. There is no everybody.

What to do about it

1. Check yourself. To understand the world and how it's changing better, examine your assumptions about what's going on. Assess your biases and face them. Write them down, say them out loud. Say, "of course I am biased because I am _________."

2. Step away from your worldview. Do what you can to deepen your understanding of others. This means getting past stereotypes, and wholesale categories. Read and view stories told in others' voices. Talk to strangers. Listen.

3. Walk a mile in another's shoes. Immerse yourself in other communities where you can. Watch and listen. Read and view stories from diverse viewpoints. Follow Instagram or photoblogs from places and cultures and groups far and far different from you. Think of someone quite unlike you. Then, look at things with those different eyes. For example, if you are exploring change for a consumer product, go to a store that sells products like that, "wearing" a different persona. What would that person see and care about? You can't get 100% there, but you will move off the safe zone of things that are familiar and comfortable to you.

4. Be ready to be wrong. Assume your conclusions will often be wrong. This means, despite your hard work at trying to transcend your biases, assume you won't get there every time. Knowing you might be biased will protect you from relying too much on your "certainty" about what's true.

Take these steps and you'll stop just confirming what you think you know. You will start knowing new things.

Another post: Talk to the Frog, has a parable to tell that relates to this post.


The ridiculous scenario

by John Mahaffie on March 14, 2017

"Any useful statement about the future should at first seem ridiculous"
— Dator's Law, Futurist Jim Dator, University of Hawaii Manoa, [Source

Jim Dator says that to be useful, a statement about the future should at first seem ridiculous. But we fight the ridiculous trying to be responsbile thinkers about the future. 

"Don't waste time, that's crazy."

"Let's not get off track here."

"Oh, here we go, this is where the rubber hits the sky!" 

Of course, the ridiculous future is not often what we end up with. So why bother with it? To provoke better insights and action, we have to stretch our thinking. Rather than steer clear of an at-first-ridiculous idea, you should embrace it and play with it.

Until you’ve explored things that at first blush are “impossible” or “can’t ever happen” you haven’t explored the full landscape of meaningful, impactful change. The Wright Brothers told a incredulous world, after all, that humans were going to fly.

An example of a ridiculous scenario

“What if there was zero packaging?” We surely can’t manage unpackaged orange juice. But the concept lets you wonder about a future with far less packaging. Or a system for the containers we use with food and other products to be permanent and reusable. Or a marketplace in which packaging is no longer thought of as a nuisance and waste, but as an investment. So the ridiculous idea bears fruit. And it does so by leaping past thoughts of small-scale changes to show the potential for more transformational ones.

So take this as a cautionary to be sure we don’t too readily only see continuity, that we don’t miss significant threats and opportunities, that we don’t fail to explore the full landscape of possibility. 

NOTE: For more on scenarios, see: Why We Need Scenarios to Be Ready for the Future.

A previous post is similar: “the Unspoken Scenario”. Another is, “Come over to the dark side.” In those analyses, the missing scenarios are “unspoken”–perhaps unspeakable or “dark”. But the missing scenario can also be a wildly positive view of the future. 


You can’t be what you can’t see

March 9, 2017

"If you have the words, there's always a chance that you'll find the way." –Seamus Heaney, Irish poet and playwright "You can't be what you can't see," attributed to Marian Wright Edelman, American civil rights activist, and others. "To give a thing a name, a label, a handle; to rescue it from anonymity, to pluck […]

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5 foresight steps for dealing with community resistance to change

March 7, 2017

I recently met a couple who are leaders in their small Southern US town. They are not elected leaders. They are self-driven change makers. They are working hard and spending their own money to improve the town. They have planted thousands of flowers and created a festival to build town pride and draw visitors. They are planning new spaces […]

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Keep an eye on the future while righting the ship

March 1, 2017

In a crisis, organizations focus inward, and work to put things right.They right the ship as a top priority.  But in a crisis, the long-term still needs attention. An organization fixing things can come up short in laying the stepwise plans its needs for its desired future. Fixing things is reactive, and reacting is not […]

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A Change Recognition Scale: Driving awareness and understanding of change

February 28, 2017

When you talk about change, especially big changes in society and technology, people are not all in the same place in their awareness and understanding. This shapes their recognition and acceptance of new ideas and organizational strategies. If your goal is to promote new ideas, products, or processes, or marshall organizational response to change, you […]

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When only you see the future

February 28, 2017

You are intuitive, a trend-spotter, comfortable with conjecture, ready to explore something uncertain–the future. Right? Other people you have to deal with are fact-minded, narrowly-focused, prefer what is knowable, and are focused on what they are doing right now. Sound familiar? Because you are talking about the future, maybe they think you are crazy and […]

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Confirmation bias in foresight: Scanning to find what you already believe

February 23, 2017

Confirmation bias is getting attention in American politics. It is the tendency we have to pre-filter what we see and read according to our established views. Confirmation bias closes our minds to new ideas and other viewpoints. We end up in a protective bubble of our own making. This is also a trap in foresight. The act […]

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Governance and foresight: Views of a futurist/trustee

February 21, 2017

This post accompanies “Pitfalls in Governance”  Foresight needs to become instinctual and habitual for boards. Jeff De Cagna of Foresight First LLC, is doing seminal work on this. He coined the phrase “duty of foresight” to accompany the other duties of trustees: duty of care, duty of loyalty, and duty of obedience. Foresight is an ongoing process—a culture […]

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Pitfalls in governance: Views of a futurist/trustee

February 21, 2017

This post addresses the non-profit governance roles of Boards of Trustees. See related post: Governance and Foresight Those in governance have a distinct role that may be at odds with the organizational roles they are used to. In the governance role, you wear a different hat. I bring to this question my own experience in […]

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