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Getting to know the anti-you

Children on Losuia Island, Papua New GuineaNo one is "normal." I count realizing that about myself as a useful bit of self-knowledge, and I think in my work in foresight, it is critical. First, by being different, we each have the chance to bring a fresh perspective, and different information to what we do. If you are in an organization that constantly consumes data about averages, such as market survey figures, your views and experiences bring a useful and different perspective. But if you let yourself think you are "normal," you are viewing the world with a bias. We each see things from a unique point of view, potentially at the expense of other views. That is why you should get to know the anti-you. In anything you encounter, it's natural and right to have your personal reaction. So let that happen. What do you think? Would you buy this product? etc. But then, try to channel the values, feelings, worldviews, and choices of others. Say, "OK, that's my view, what would people in other places think?" Here's where you can try to bring in the perspective of your anti-you. Think of someone you know and understand well, but who has a different set of views and experiences. For exploring technology, social change, and so on, in the United States, I often think about my mother-in-law, Nancy. She lived in a different place and had a very different perspective on life from mine. Because I knew her extremely well, she could help me understand things from a different perspective. We lost Nancy just recently, and I will very much miss her unique perspective. A friend, Lauren Albert, whom I've been corresponding with about foresight, likes to use characters she knows well from literature to look at things from a different perspective. How would Ishmael from Moby Dick react? What about Elinor from Sense and Sensibility? Literature is a great source of different perspectives. I often also try to think about things from a non-Western point of view. I studied Anthropology in college and graduate school and was steeped in the practice of non-judgmental exploration of cultural differences. In my futures work, I think about the perspectives of a poor child in the developing world. I don't know any of those children personally, but have travelled and met and seen people with strikingly different lives from mine. It's powerful to draw on what awareness I can of their very different lives. I keep pictures on my office wall of a village I visited in Papua New Guinea, and a group of kids I met there (see the image above). Perhaps they've helped me over the years to fight the tendency to think narrowly about the world and how it's changing. I am committed to letting them help as often as they can.

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{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Tina Russell April 1, 2008, 11:00 am

    I finally decided to write a comment on your blog. I just wanted to say good job. I really enjoy reading your posts.

    Tina Russell

  • Roland L. Beanum April 1, 2008, 2:20 pm

    I really admire your view point of the ability to have introspection. It is one of the qualitiies required in western human beings that will set the proper attitudes to solve some of the world problems and place ALL of the earth beings on an equal footing. Your attitudes and work is to be greatly admired in an ever changing world.


    Roland L. Beanum, MBA
    Economic Advisor
    Consulate of Papua New Guinea
    Los Angeles, California

  • John Mahaffie April 1, 2008, 6:29 pm

    Mr. Beanum,

    Thanks for your note. I was very much inspired by the people I met in your country. They showed me great hospitality and generosity, they took an interest in me and what I was interested in. They looked out for my safety and taught me things. That set my thoughts in a good direction, and I wish more of my American friends could have such an experience.

    John Mahaffie

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