Postulating Possible, Probable, and Preferable Futures

With regards to futurology and future studies, I’ve recently posted on the principles of forecasting as well as the origins of opportunity – two distant yet related topics that exemplify the breadth and depth of the field.

As my own futures research has progressed, I’ve found various sources that have proven to be quite valuable in guiding my curiosity and conjecturing. I think some of these are worth passing along:

  • Acceleration Studies Foundation (ASF) – ASF is an educational 501(c)(3) nonprofit engaged in outreach, education, research, and selective advocacy with respect to issues of accelerating change.
  • Futurology (Wikipedia)
  • Institute for Alternative Futures – The Institute for Alternative Futures (IAF) is a nonprofit research and educational organization founded in 1977. IAF and its for-profit subsidiary, Alternative Futures Associates (AFA), specialize in aiding organizations and individuals to more wisely choose and create their preferred futures. IAF works with clients to create forecasts, scenarios, goals and strategies that are the essential tools for transforming organizations to succeed in times of rapid change.
  • Institute For The Future (IFTF)
  • Principles of Forecasting (ForPrin)
  • Shaping Tomorrow – Online community of futurists and futures research
  • Shaping Tomorrow (Ning Network)
  • “The Time Lords” (Financial Times, 1/30/2007)
  • World Future Society (WFS) – The World Future Society is a nonprofit, nonpartisan scientific and educational association of people interested in how social and technological developments are shaping the future. The Society was founded in 1966 and is chartered as a nonprofit educational and scientific organization in Washington, D.C.
  • World Futures Studies Federation (WFSF) – The World Futures Studies Federation (WFSF) is a global NGO that was founded in the 1960s to encourage and promote the development of futures studies as a transdisciplinary academic and professional field in all parts of the world. WFSF operates as a global network of practicing futurists – researchers, teachers, scholars, policy analysts, activists and others from approximately 60 countries.

In a nutshell, futures studies is exactly that – studies of the future. It’s about the determining the total set of possibilities for tomorrow, finding the most probable of outcomes for tomorrow, and leveraging advanced knowledge to even shape the future.

Wikipedia, as spread across the spectrum of credibility as it may be, provides a pretty decent explanation of the mindset needed to be truly forward-looking. What qualities are required of a futurist, within any organization or for any requirement or need, to fully anticipate the unknown using the set of resources at his/her disposal (data, intuition, logic, technology, vision, science, etc.)?

  • Trend Assessment – The competency to understand trend directions, weak signals and wildcards, assess their likely impact and effect on one another and respond in a timely and appropriate manner
  • Pattern Recognition – The ability to see patterns rather than individual factors
  • System Perspective: The capability to envision the entire system rather than the isolated components
  • Anticipation: To anticipate short and long term consequences over time, novel situations and geography
  • Instinct & Logic: To rely on a combination of instincts and logic rather than purely rational analysis

Yes, there is a plethora of philosophical, political, religious, scientific, and even incomprehensible factors that may give shape to the future (or take that shape away). But that should not deter us from facing it head on. We all need to work smarter not harder, avoid surprises, exploit new opportunities, plug weaknesses, and (where possible) influence the future.

math in 2010 and beyond

If we want to fuel future growth and innovation in mathematics, three worlds must meet in the middle.

In 2009, we see three distinctly developed worlds:
  • The Communities: Math + People = Associations, Publications, Journals, Groups, Departments (ASA, IMS, WFU Math, etc.)
  • The Connectors: People + Technology = Social Media & Social Networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, iPhone Apps, etc.)
  • The Foundations: Math + Technology = Software/Web Applications (Wolfram|Alpha, SAS, R, Matlab, Mathematica, Statistica, etc.)

In 2010, we need these three worlds to mold into one, unified experience. With whom does the responsibility lie and when does it start? You and now.

the many faces of vision

According to Wikipedia, “analysis is the process of breaking a complex topic or substance into smaller parts to gain a better understanding of it.” Much of math and science is the same – breaking a large problem into smaller components as a solving technique. We can apply that same technique to gain a better understanding of a words, phrases, and concepts, as I exemplified with the earlier digestion of an Emerson quote.

In most dictionaries, in text and online, the word “vision” has several definitions. Most simply, vision is sight. In business, visions are lofty, longer-term goals of a company. For some, vision is perception, intuition, foresight, and perspective. For others, visions are dreams, ideals, hallucinations, and objectives.

For me, vision encompasses the thoughts, feelings, goals, and desires of an individual to reach an optimal state regarding their self, their groups, the world, and beyond. NOTE:”Groups” refers to a circle of friends, local community, company, class, charity, family, neighborhood, geographical region, political party, etc.

To dive deeper, let’s answer three questions about vision with word lists:

1. What makes vision impaired?
Violence, Stress, Selfishness, Ego, Prejudice, Doubt, Ignorance

2. What makes vision repaired?
Silence, Selflessness, Faith, Consciousness, Awareness, Reflection, Solitude

3. What makes vision shared?
Expression, Compassion, Understanding, Appreciation, Gratitude, Respect, Graciousness, Collaboration

By creating word groups for these types of questions, we can better understand the mechanisms by which our visions can be diminished, restored, and maintained. We can see what stops the train, what can get it back on the tracks, and how to get more people aboard.

And even though vision may be defined differently for each individual, I think we can all agree that the definition includes some sort of internalized thought applied to the external world. Bound by this attribute alone, we can gain collective insight as to how we can read the many faces of vision.


“Selfishness is vision impaired, consciousness is vision repaired, and graciousness is vision shared.”

“Vision without action is a dream. Action without vision is simply passing the time. Action with Vision is making a positive difference.” – Joel Barker

“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” – Jonathan Swift

“Vision looks inward and becomes duty. Vision looks outward and becomes aspiration. Vision looks upward and becomes faith.” – Stephen Wise