Stalking individuals for the future

One way of doing environmental scanning is to track unusual individuals.  Peter Schwartz recommends this (Art of the Long View (1991), 73).

Here’s a good example, Steve Wheeler spotting four “game-changers” for next year.

Futuring as better than curing

Another way of thinking about futures work: it’s a preventative health measure.  Mental health, in a way, or organizational:

In my view, futurism (“strategic foresight,” “scenario planning”) is a vaccination for our civilization’s immune system. It strengthens us. By introducing us to different possible futures, we become sensitive to those potential outcomes, and able to recognize their early signs. We can think about how we would respond to different futures, and argue about what would be desirable *before* it happens…

Human civilization has a weak immune system when it comes to futures. We can sometimes recognize when something big is imminent, and act. We rely on clumsy, inefficient tools like finance, religion, even “look before you leap” to make us look forward and consider our choices. So more often than not, we’re taken by surprise, shocked when something big happens “out of the blue.” We haven’t prepared for big changes. Our immune system needs to be strengthened. But how do we do something like that? (I suspect you know the answer.)

Crowdsourcing predictions

Here’s a little example of crowdsourcing predictions from Hacker News.  Heavy on tech and startups.

One way predictions go wrong

One useful reason for medium-term predictions missing their goals comes from Ezra Klein’s reflection on Medicare costs:

Why are Medicare costs growing faster than Congress predicted they would back in the late 1990s? What created the gap between how much we budget for Medicare and how much we spend on the program?

It mostly comes down to a handful of medical specialities that have grown much faster than expected…

Radiation oncology, for example, overshot what we expected it to cost by just about 300 percent. General surgery, however, has actually cost much lower than expected while opthalmology is just about on target.

So a useful tip: break down trendlines into multiple stands, then test them for individual variations.

Looking for the Web curve’s top

Maybe the Web is about to plateau, then crash, argues the head of Forrester research.

Several reasons for this interesting (and sad) forecast.

First, mobile devices: increasingly central to human experience, and not very Web-centric.

He said technology is migrating away from the PC/Desktop model, as well as what he called the Web cloud.

Colony asked LeWeb attendees to consider “what we will hold in our hands 5 years from now.”

Second, apps: instead of the browser, people will flock to apps.

…the so-called App Internet, which offers a “faster, simpler and better Internet experience.”

The App Internet market is worth $2.2 billion, according to Forrester Research.

And decision makers at 41% of companies are now moving away from Web-based software toward the App Internet, Colony said.

Third, social media on the Web has finished expanding.

…adoption of social media in urban areas was now extremely high and “running out of hours and people.”

Declaring, in effect, that we are socially saturated.

That means “we are in a bubble,” he said, adding that a post-social world was on its way that would “sweep away some of the nonsense like Foursquare.”

Colony is articulating Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s nightmare.

I’ll read the speech itself next.

Extrapolation fodder

Here’s a fun set of trends from 2011.  We can use them to extrapolate into 2012 and beyond.

1. The UnCollege Movement Begins
2. The Ecosystem of Innovation Gets the Fuel it Needs
3. The Death of the Traditional Textbook
4. Gates Foundation Backs Education as a Venture Investor
5. Private Equity Bets on Education Giants
6. The Big LMS Gets Some Competition
7. New Tools for Early Adopter Instructors
8. Edmodo Builds First Whole Network of K-12 Users
9. Chegg Buys Its Way Into a Network of Post-Secondary Users
10. Professional Development Is Easy for Tech Entrepreneurs
11. Schools Are Scaling, and so Are Professors

We can have fun criticizing these (esp. #11), too.

Two problems for futuring: the past and the present

Today we learn that American housing market data for 2007-2010 was significantly flawed.

For example, :

2008 was the worst year for home sales during the housing bust, with only 4.11 million sold, down 16% from the previous estimate of 4.91 million.

Home sales for the first 10 months of this year were also revised downward. October’s sales pace was lowered to a rate of about 4.25 million sales per year, from an original estimate, from an original level of 4.97 million.

Fewer home sales than reported.

This makes extrapolation difficult, weakening the starting data.

5 in 5: an IBM vision

IBM looks for five technologies looking big in five years.

The method:

The Next 5 in 5 is based on market and societal trends expected to transform our lives, as well as emerging technologies from IBM’s Labs around the world that can make these innovations possible.

So a mix of trend analysis and local work.

The results:

In this installment: you will be able to power your home with the energy you create yourself; you will never need a password again; mind reading is no longer science fiction; the digital divide will cease to exist; and junk mail will become priority mail…

The presentation:

(via AllThingsD)

Black swans swimming towards education

What black swans could strike in 2012?  This is a fun list of possibles for education.

For example, two opposing ones on books:

Copyright Bans Open textbooks in the US


Free books for everyone!

Two that have nothing to do with digital technolog:

Black Swan 5 – Oil his $400/barrel
International students stop coming

Good to see more traction for peak oil in this space.  I appalled a conference last year by speaking to it.

I like the idea of brainstorming big-impact, low-probability events.

The dissolution of the universities

Another futuring method involves reaching back in time, using historical examples as analogies for the present.

A visitation.

For example, Walter Russell Mead thinks of an early modern antecedent for state-university relations in a stressed economy:

Our universities today look a lot like the monasteries in the time of Henry VIII: vulnerable targets for a hungry state.

Nice sentence.  It would make a fine discussion prompt, all by itself.

Mead explains it thusly:

State legislators are going to be wrestling with questions like whether to cut the pensions of retired state workers, cut services for voters, or raise taxes.  In this atmosphere, the research university model (in the humanities and, economics and management accepted, the social sciences) may not long survive, at least in the public sector.  (Highly endowed private universities may keep the old model alive.)

Note how that discussion takes pains to unfold higher education in some diversity: private vs public institutions, humanities vs STEM.

Interestingly, Mead’s starting point is that Bauerline article we noted.

There are other historically-grounded futures practices, which we’ll get to. I’m starting to read a recent book on the subject, History and future : using historical thinking to imagine the future (David J. Staley, Lexington Books, 2007).

(image from Wikipedia)