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In which the futurist contradicts himself

I’ve written at length about the importance of raising awareness of the world around us, the forces of change, and the emerging future. [See these posts] I have advocated the tools of Web 2.0 as central tools for environmental scanning [see here]. I stand by all of those thoughts, but need to interrupt myself to counterweigh that advice.

Too many of the information tools of our lives raise the risk of destroying our capacity for, or habit of, deeper thought and analysis. What happens is, we get access to an enormous amount of information about specific things: new gadgets, new data, new business models. But the “big picture” goes missing, or we are so overwhelmed by the nitty-gritty that we don’t have time or energy left to consider the broader sweep of change, and its implications.

Fortunately, other foresight tools can come to the rescue. While monitoring trends can lead us to breaking down the future world into bits and parts, scenarios, forecasting, and deeper futures analysis each insist that you delve into bigger picture futures, and build a framework for thinking about a coherent whole. That task demands consistency, thoroughness, and well-thought-out analysis. Most of all, it demands quality time from you. You need the time to focus and get good thinking done.

So I urge anyone working to keep the future in focus to not miss the forest for the trees or even the leaves. Trend blogs and electronic news sources are great for spotting new technologies and other clues to change. But you need to put the story together more comprehensively, too.

You can find some of the people and organizations that grapple with the bigger picture of the future, and work to frame thinking about it in ways that are clear and useful. This is what I try to do in my work, and it’s the hallmark of the sources of insight I find critical. I have added a special page on this site, “Reframers” that offers links to some of my favorites.

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  • Brian McLaughlin July 10, 2008, 10:57 am

    John –
    I don’t think you are contradicting yourself regarding the the scanning tools you have cited in the past – like many things they are context-sensitive…we CAN use them to examine the marketplace around us, in the appropriate “big picture view” that is necessary to extract insight into our specific market niches.
    Thank you for consistent postings that warrant “consideration” rather than “scanning”! (Many business blogs need only be scanned for nuggets- far fewer demand we pay attention…)
    Brian McLaughlin
    Syracuse, NY

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