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Just a digger

I studied Southeast Asian Archaeology in college around 1980 under Chet Gorman. I was a huge admirer. Since he took his coffee black, so did I, and I do to this day. Chet taught us up close and personal details about ancient life in the valleys and caves of Thailand. As I understand it, on his expeditions in the region, he even explored in some of the war zones, including Cambodia, at the tail end of the Vietnam War. Chet also told us he sailed some of the islands in Southeast Asia in an outrigger canoe, loaned him by an island chief. He was totally cool.

Chet used to say that he was just a digger, and that he left theories to others. His job was to reveal what he could about the past, as accurately as he could, with his spade and trowel, and a powerful analytical mind.

I have lately been thinking about Chet, who died at just 43 of cancer while I was still at the University of Pennsylvania. I liked his sleeves-rolled-up approach to his discipline and his modest view about just being a digger. In my work as a futurist, I have come to feel the same way. My tools are like his spade and trowel. Nothing grand or complicated, just good careful work.

I learn a lot from my peers’ exploration of ideas about foresight and when they share ideas from new and old theorists and philosophers. The conversations on the Foresight Network and the Association of Professional Futurists‘ listserv are rich, deep, and cutting edge. But most abstract thinking about the futures field doesn’t take a firm footing in my thinking, unless and until it meets up with experiences I’ve had over about 21 years exploring the future.

That is why you will see that Foresight Culture is about the nuts and bolts, and practicalities of exploring the future. It’s not a place where I try to break new ground on theory, but perhaps I can do so on practice–on applied futures. That is where I know I can bring some value. My colleagues continue to advance the theory, practice, and methodology of the futures studies field. I am happy to take a place with them, trowel in hand, on the applied futures beat.

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  • Randy Scheel May 28, 2008, 1:03 pm

    John:
    Amen! I’m almost as smart as the next guy and close to being “well-read” in literature related to futures research. I, too, have been doing this for a long time. One thing I learned many client engagements ago, as well as relating to my staff in the health care industry is – they don’t want a bunch of esoteric mumbo-jumbo. They want practical, easy to understand information and insights. I enjoy theory on rainy weekends but on Monday morning I deliver practicality.
    –Randy Scheel

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