An Introduction to Future Thinking

If someone told you they could predict the future with certainty, they would be lying. So what is the point of future thinking, why does it matter, and is there even a basic methodology?

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What is Future Thinking?

There seems to be a human curiosity and excitement about tomorrow and what the future will bring. Human history is full of stories and tales about oracles, sages, and other deities with the ability to see into the future.

Most people think about the future on a daily basis, but usually in the context of their personal life. Future thinking, however, is thinking about the future in an organized way and with the help of different methods, strategies, expertise, and resources. Future thinking belongs to the field of future studies and has several names, such as futurism, futures, and foresight.

Since it is impossible to predict the future with certainty, future thinking is not about predicting what will happen. It is about what could happen, possible scenarios we can imagine based on different circumstances, and how we can build strategies based on those scenarios.

Why does Future Thinking matter?

Future thinking is used for many different purposes and is especially important for companies and organizations for their long-term planning. Future thinking can be used for strategic planning, risk assessment, opportunity scanning, scenario training, innovation, marketing, trend analysis, investment strategy, and more.

How does Future Thinking work?

There are many approaches to future thinking based on different methodologies and strategies. The method we use at Roth Resilient has its roots in traditional future studies but was modified to address concerns we think are the most important.

Future thinking starts with a question, a challenge, or an issue. We need to know what we will be analyzing and clearly define the purpose of the exercise. It is also necessary to clearly define the time frame of the situation. We recommend using a timespan in the region of 5-20 years. A shorter timespan than five years would potentially be more about trendspotting and short-term planning than future thinking. Using a timespan longer than 20 years can also create issues. The further ahead we want to think, the more difficulties and problems will arise. The more abstract everything also becomes.

It may seem counter-productive to look back when we want to do future thinking. But the second step is to research historical developments, trends, and patterns if applicable. Can we learn something from history? How did paradigm shifts, disruptions, and inventions in the past affect people and industries?

The third step is to look at the current situation using market research, trendspotting, data collection, and expertise. The goal is to understand the dynamics of the market.

At this point, we have collected information and knowledge about the historical development and the current state. Now, the process of actual future thinking starts. Using a combination of the material we have acquired and our imagination and creativity, we visualize different scenarios, developments, and potential solutions to the original question.

The challenge is that there could be an infinite number of scenarios and alternative futures that we can come up with, so we need a strategy to structure our thinking. The solution is to divide the scenarios into five different groups:

Probable Future
These are the scenarios we expect will happen. These would be the mainstream scenarios that seem most likely.

Possible Future
These are scenarios we think can happen, but they are less likely than the probable ones.

Preferable Future
These are the best-case scenarios that can happen.

Undesirable Future
These are the worst-case scenarios that can happen.

Unexpected Future
These are scenarios considered wildcards, such as an unexpected paradigm shift, disruptions or scientific breakthroughs in the industry, and other things that can be difficult to imagine.

Roth Resilient - Future Thinking Model

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Thinking even further

If you have done everything according to our method, you now have several future scenarios divided into five groups. So what is the actual purpose of all these scenarios? What do we do with all this future thinking?

We now probably have a clear vision of where we want to go because we want to end up in the preferable future. We also know where we absolutely do not want to end up. We can now use these scenarios to organize different strategies and tactics.

We can potentially identify signals and warning signs that will alarm us if we are heading in the wrong direction, a good foundation for risk mitigation strategies. In the same way, we can use the scenarios to identify and propel actions that could bring us closer to the desired outcome.