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Mon Apr 9, 2012, 09:42 AM

10 Big Mistakes People Make in Thinking About the Future - Sara Robinson/AlterNet

10 Big Mistakes People Make in Thinking About the Future
By Sara Robinson, AlterNet
Posted on April 3, 2012, Printed on April 9, 2012


Being a working futurist means that I think a lot about how people think about the future. It also means spending a lot of time with people who are also thinking about their own futures.
Typically, this involves a dialogue between three distinct groups.

First, there's usually a small handful of very foresighted people, who are aware of their own blind spots and biases, and who are eager and open about the prospect of soaring into a wild blue sky to gather a lot of exciting new information. 

Second, there's a larger group of people who don't usually think at 50,000 feet -- but are willing to go there if they're with people they trust. Their wings aren't sturdy, and they are prone to some very common mistakes in thinking, but they're often the most gratifying group to work with. What they want is permission to let go, encouragement to go big, and a watchful eye to keep them out of the rocks and ditches. 

And then there's a third small group that's very resistant to the idea that anything could or should change. I've spent a lot of time over the years thinking and writing about that last group, because I'm fascinated by the question of what drives change resisters. What they want from me is safety -- the reassurance that if they overcome their natural reticence and try to embrace some constructive thinking about change, they won't end up all alone somewhere terrifyingly unfamiliar.

snip

To the end of helping progressives think more productively about the future we're trying to create, here are 10 of the most common mental hiccups that keep people from seeing the bigger picture and planning for it with a full measure of courage and intelligence.

http://www.alternet.org/visions/154773/10_Big_Mistakes_People_Make_in_Thinking_About_the_Future_/

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Arrow 14 replies Author Time Post
Reply 10 Big Mistakes People Make in Thinking About the Future - Sara Robinson/AlterNet (Original post)
Mira Apr 2012 OP
CrispyQ Apr 2012 #1
tnlurker Apr 2012 #2
canoeist52 Apr 2012 #3
NV Whino Apr 2012 #4
saras Apr 2012 #5
Uncle Joe Apr 2012 #8
KurtNYC Apr 2012 #9
Uncle Joe Apr 2012 #6
supernova Apr 2012 #7
KurtNYC Apr 2012 #10
Uncle Joe Apr 2012 #11
KurtNYC Apr 2012 #12
Uncle Joe Apr 2012 #13
bemildred Apr 2012 #14

Response to Mira (Original post)

Mon Apr 9, 2012, 09:52 AM

1. Bookmarking to read later. -nt

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Response to Mira (Original post)

Mon Apr 9, 2012, 10:07 AM

2. For later reading

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Response to Mira (Original post)

Mon Apr 9, 2012, 10:14 AM

3. Here's one to ponder...

3. Avoid groupthink. Another reason the Most Likely Future tends to obscure everything else is groupthink. Every group has basic assumptions about how the world works -- what's realistic, what's plausible, what's nonsense, what can't be discussed. The longer the existing set of operating rules has been in place, the more pressure people feel not to question that -- and the crazier you look if you do suggest that other futures are possible.

In fact, it's arguable that when a group that's reached a point where no other futures are even discussable, it's a clear red flag that they are vulnerable to being flattened by some new situation that comes out of the blue -- or any of the many other places they're no longer looking out for change.

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Response to Mira (Original post)

Mon Apr 9, 2012, 10:40 AM

4. Excellent read

Thanks for posting this.

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Response to Mira (Original post)

Mon Apr 9, 2012, 11:48 AM

5. Everything we're going through now was predicted decades ago...

 

...by people almost exclusively written off as bitter, insane conspiracy theorists.

Find some writers from the sixties or seventies who predicted our current quasi-fascist government. Invasive body searches, high-tech spying on millions of innocents, illegal remote-control warmaking, fundamentalists with significant political power, global corporate dominance, the continuing extermination of native cultures worldwide.

How seriously did we take them? How much mainstream press did they get?

Why would we take people who accurately predict the future today any more seriously?

"The future won't be like the past" - therefore your predictions will fail in unpredictable but probably serious ways.
"Trends end" - but there's no way to tell that something is a trend until it ends.
"Avoid groupthink" - abandon American consumer culture completely. "Fixing" the economy isn't going to fix anything real.
"If it's taboo, it's probably important" - yep, like that taboo about shitting in your well even if you don't believe in germs.
"Any useful idea about the future should sound ridiculous at first." - wait - you just said "avoid groupthink", which is what makes new seem ridiculous.
"What stays the same?" - Scientific principles, the behavior of the physical universe. What varies wildly? Human culture and therefore human "nature". The fact that nearly everybody can be addicted to Western culture (often against their will in the case of genuinely non-Westerners) doesn't demonstrate anything at all about its superiority.
"The other side is not always wrong." - maybe good advice in the 1000-year big picture, but not helpful currently with any of our major problems (i.e. lawless war, corporate rule, religious fundamentalism). In those issues, there is a clear lawless criminal element that cannot be argued or justified into being anything other than "wrong", i.e. against all planetary life.
"Be aware of different change theories." - no duh. Isn't this what college is for?
"Don't think in five or 10 years" - you can't meaningfully think 100 years ahead (according to all the rest of this), so to think long-term means to generalize about the future based on the past. Sometimes brilliant, sometimes useless.
"Better yet: don't assume anything, ever." - this will leave you an utterly mindless consumer, with no further guide to action than your immediate impulses. Join the Pepsi generation.

About as useful as Herman Kahn was as a futurist.

It's also interesting that the "ten theories of change" the article refers to doesn't acknowledge any negative human emotion as a force for change, as well as being saturated with the manifest destiny progress message - technology and development make everything better for everyone, except for minor spats.

Basically there are two kinds of futurists. One kind works for places like the Project for a New American Century, or the Heritage Foundation, and makes things happen. The other kind explains to us why we have to go along with what the powers that be have determined is the correct path.

An example - consider the end of technology, but NOT the end of humanity, as a possible future. Does the article help?

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Response to saras (Reply #5)

Mon Apr 9, 2012, 12:28 PM

8. What about # 8, the lust for and obeisance to power?

8. Power. Change happens when powerful people and groups decide to alter the status quo to further increase their power. Nobody really understands the future unless they're part of this elite; and the majority of us will have no say in their machinations. (Some Power theories argue that it's better just to let these well-connected people make the decisions anyway.) Over the next 20 years, they will continue to consolidate their control over nations and industries.

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Response to saras (Reply #5)

Mon Apr 9, 2012, 01:06 PM

9. well said

You pointed out all the self contradicting points in the piece (and saved me a lot of time by writing them up so concisely).

I kept waiting for the author to give examples and when I got this one it pretty much torpedoed their humility:

"Six years ago, I wrote about the right-wing's up-and-coming assault on contraception. It sounded completely off-the-wall at the time..."

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Response to Mira (Original post)

Mon Apr 9, 2012, 12:02 PM

6. I like the author's conclusion on #4.



4. If it's taboo, it's probably important. The thing you are not discussing -- the elephant in the room -- has a very high probability of being the very thing that will put an end to the present era, and launch you into the next phase of your future. Worse: the longer you ignore or deny it, the more at its mercy you will ultimately be when the change does come down.

A big part of being a futurist is to gently get people to start thinking and talking about those taboo subjects, the ones that are too scary or painful to think about. The very act of bringing those hard issues out onto the table and beginning to grapple with them, all by itself, has tremendous power to make people more courageous and resilient. The elephant only has power as long as we refuse to talk about it. When we finally confront it, its power becomes ours.



As for her change bucket all ten seem quite logical to me, I imagine they all rotate, take turns or combine to create change depending on which one (s) have reached critical mass at the time.

http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/why-change-happens-ten-theories

Why Change Happens: Ten Theories

Thanks for the thread, Miral.


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Response to Mira (Original post)

Mon Apr 9, 2012, 12:07 PM

7. Thanks, wonderful article

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Response to Mira (Original post)

Mon Apr 9, 2012, 02:30 PM

10. Many of those aren't "mistakes" but rather guidelines

and I am going to mildly disagree on the litmus tests that something has to be taboo to be important, and that useful ideas have to sound ridiculous.

I think a big mistake in predicting and steering the future is not seeing the present clearly; not accepting things as they are. For example, Congress is exempt from insider trading laws so you have to factor their self interest into the future of the country. The system rewards congress people for changing laws in ways that have playable effect in the stock market. And you can flip that over -- the Supreme Court knows their ruling in Obamacare but won't release it for months. A good indication of what the ruling is ("will be") could probably be determined by looking at the stock trades of Clarence Thomas's wife.

Another loophole into the future is secrecy. No secret can exist without a lie to cover for it (unless it is "an unknown unknown"), so any long term plan based on certain things staying secret is doomed. Secrecy is an illusion in the sense that nothing that 2 people know is actually a secret, it is just unknown, or unaccepted as fact, by the majority. So look under a lie, find the secret and you have a piece of the future.

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Response to KurtNYC (Reply #10)

Mon Apr 9, 2012, 03:06 PM

11. If something threatens the status quo power structure ie: global warming it becomes "taboo."

For far too long the corporate media either altogether ignored the issue or obfuscated the message being presented by the overwhelming majority of the world's scientific experts re: the earth's climate.

The subject for all practical purposes was taboo to the corporate media because it threatened their gravy train of commercial dollars being supplied by the existing status quo, change resistant fossil fuel and automaker industries; which was primarily gas and oil reliant.



4. If it's taboo, it's probably important. The thing you are not discussing -- the elephant in the room -- has a very high probability of being the very thing that will put an end to the present era, and launch you into the next phase of your future. Worse: the longer you ignore or deny it, the more at its mercy you will ultimately be when the change does come down.

A big part of being a futurist is to gently get people to start thinking and talking about those taboo subjects, the ones that are too scary or painful to think about. The very act of bringing those hard issues out onto the table and beginning to grapple with them, all by itself, has tremendous power to make people more courageous and resilient. The elephant only has power as long as we refuse to talk about it. When we finally confront it, its power becomes ours.



Had the Internet never come along and the corporate media continued to ignore this critical "taboo" subject even longer than they did, the elephant in the room aka: global warming would gain increasing power to affect change and not to our liking.

By bringing the "taboo" subject up repeatedly whether via the Internet or Johnny come lately corporate media, humanity has taken some of that power to affect change away from the "taboo" subject that being the dysfunctional status quo dynamic which had been in place for so long.







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Response to Uncle Joe (Reply #11)

Mon Apr 9, 2012, 04:00 PM

12. Earth Day started in 1970, Kyoto in 1997

I don't think we are ignoring it, we just aren't dealing with it effectively. Even in corporate media seemingly taboo subjects get talked about -- Family Guy, TDS and many others. Michael Moore had a show on Fox where he told 'The Awful Truth.' Global warming is talked about frequently by the Right and by corporate media.

So I don't see the subject of Global Warming being taboo. What IS taboo is talking about or planning for a car-free future or a future with far LESS manufacturing and consumption of disposable goods, or planning for a future with a massive reduction in the global population due to crop failures, drought, heat stroke and tropical diseases.

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Response to KurtNYC (Reply #12)

Mon Apr 9, 2012, 05:34 PM

13. If you fire the most knowledgeable people of your organization, the truth becomes taboo.

One can either be stupid or one can play stupid.

The former is "ineffective" the latter is deliberate hiding through obfuscation a taboo subject, in this case that being the truth about man magnified global warming and playing stupid is precisely what the corporate media has been doing in regards to the truth of global warming, climate change.



http://news.stanford.edu/news/2009/february18/aaas-schneider-climate-change-media-021809.html

"Business managers of media organizations: You are screwing up your responsibility by firing science and environment reporters, who are frankly the only ones competent to do this," said climate researcher and policy analyst Stephen Schneider, in assessing the current state of media coverage of global warming and related issues.

Schneider, a coordinating lead author of Chapter 19 in the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published in 2007, is calling for the news media to employ trained reporters in covering global warming. He discussed this and other issues Feb. 13 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Chicago.

"Science is not politics. You can't just get two opposing viewpoints and think you've done due diligence. You've got to cover the multiple views and the relative credibility of each view," said Schneider, the Melvin and Joan Lane Professor for Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies at Stanford, in an interview before the annual meeting. "But that is not usually the problem of the well-trained reporters, who understand what is credible.

"The problem is CNN just fired their science team. Why didn't they fire their economics team or their sports team? Why don't they send their general assignment reporters out to cover the Super Bowl?" Schneider said.





http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_coverage_of_climate_change

A study of US newspapers and television news from 1995 to 2006 examined "how and why US media have represented conflict and contentions, despite an emergent consensus view regarding anthropogenic climate science." The IPCC Assessment Reports in 1995 and in 2001 established an increasingly strong scientific consensus, yet the media continued to present the science as contentious. The study noted the influence of Michael Crichton's 2004 novel State of Fear, which "empowered movements across scale, from individual perceptions to the perspectives of US federal powerbrokers regarding human contribution to climate change."

A 2010 study concluded that "Mass media in the U.S. continue to suggest that scientific consensus estimates of global climate disruption, such as those from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), are 'exaggerated' and overly pessimistic. By contrast, work on the Asymmetry of Scientific Challenge (ASC) suggests that such consensus assessments are likely to understate climate disruptions. ... new scientific findings were more than twenty times as likely to support the ASC perspective than the usual framing of the issue in the U.S. mass media. The findings indicate that supposed challenges to the scientific consensus on global warming need to be subjected to greater scrutiny, as well as showing that, if reporters wish to discuss " both sides" of the climate issue, the scientifically legitimate 'other side' is that, if anything, global climate disruption may prove to be significantly worse than has been suggested in scientific consensus estimates to date."

(snip)

A recent search of Lexis-Nexis computerized database for any mention of the term 'global warming' in the following three news papers, Christian Science Monitor, New York Times, and Washington Post, found articles that were not concerned with the greenhouse threat but which only mentioned it in passing.

Nor did the newspapers fail to ignore any research which could conceivably cast doubts on the reality of the greenhouse effect or on the need for actions.One article, for instance, wrongly led readers to believe that scientists now believe that human-induced global warming is most likely a fiction, and that the warming we have seen is due to solar cycles. Many other reports of scientific developments implied that global warming would be good for us.According to Moti Nissani, when the devastating effects of El Niño were reported, the likelihood that El Niño itself is caused by global warming was either whispered in passing, and always attached to an emphatic question mark, or flatly denied.

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Response to Mira (Original post)

Mon Apr 9, 2012, 06:51 PM

14. Great stuff.


"A time is marked not so much by ideas that are argued about as by ideas that are taken for granted. The character of an era hangs upon what needs no defense."

Jonathan Lethem "The Ecstasy of Influence" Harper's Feb. 2007


“When logic fails, when reality has no complete description, what is the truth? Is it not relative? An approximation? Or ever (horrors) mere opinion? Hence, is it not wise, even where the harshest judgment must be rendered, to be temperate in one’s thirst for retribution? To be mindful of what you are destroying today in pursuit of this or that fantasy of utopia?”

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