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Darwinian Futures? — Why we should leave emotions in when exploring the future

“Why should a corporation have to survive?”

“Why not let it fail? Creative destruction is good.”

These are statements that it is easy to make intellectually, but hard to take personally, if you are involved with a company as an employee or shareholder, or just as a concerned member of the community.
The world and human society in it are great big, interlocked systems that evolve and change no matter what we do. Often in discussing the future, people find themselves reflecting on how those systems can “take care of themselves.” For example, overpopulation leads to famine, which leads to a loss of population. Or, market forces will sort out the weak from the strong companies.
These ideas are valid and interesting, but they may be conversation stoppers at best, and de-motivators, more likely. When you want to explore potential futures and what they mean to an organization, a community, and so on, you need to keep the focus on what you and others who are stakeholders in a system can control or influence. There is almost no point in studying a system if you don’t really care what happens to it.
Also, the time horizon of a “self-correcting” system is not likely the ideal time horizon for the people who are stakeholders in a system. Sure, Detroit’s economy could recover as new industries grow there. We can say that the massive loss of jobs and failure of businesses in Michigan, centered on the automobile industry, is an inevitable, cyclical re-balancing of part of American industry. New industries will rise up to take the place of the lost ones, and will create new jobs. But naturally for the people who have lost their jobs, things are not going to re-balance quickly enough to pay a mortgage or send a child to college. They care about conditions in Detroit, right now, and what to do about them, right now.
What this tells us is that most of the time working with people to explore the future, we have to take a view as a participant in the system that we’re exploring. We can’t leave passion out of it, and the people we want to engage in exploring the future certainly won’t. Even if you succeed engage people intellectually in some “what-ifs” that ignore the needs and emotions of people involved, ultimately they won’t be successful in moving to new, positive thinking about what they will do next. We have to care about the future to help make it the way we want it.
Image: lightmatter, via Flickr, cc license
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