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Youth Leaders Make the Future

On June 16 from 8am-1pm, Institute for the Future and the Center for Creative Leadership will host a Train-the-Trainers module on Futures Thinking, designed for those who work with young people on leadership and self-development.  Registration is now open!

California Pioneer Sparks Education Revolution


My kids and I are students at the biggest school in the world, that started in Sal Khan's home in Mountain View, California. 

Superstructing the Next Decade: 2009 Ten-Year Forecast

We're excited to make the 2009 Ten-Year Forecast materials—Superstructing the Next Decade—available online.

On conversation and extremism

It's conventional wisdom that groups generate ideas and plans more moderate than those of individuals. Groups and discussion encourage compromise, smooth out extremes, and guarantee moderation. It is also one of the unspoken assumptions of facilitation and group-oriented scenario work. Facilitation and scenario-building, the thinking goes, builds a sense of collective spirit by helping groups develop a shared vision of the future.

Tinkering and the future

My latest article, on the nature and future of tinkering, appears today in issue 22 of Vodafone Receiver:

Almost forty years ago, the Whole Earth Catalog published its last issue. For the American counterculture, it was like the closing of a really great café: the Catalog had brought together the voices of contributors, readers and editors, all unified by a kind of tech-savvy, hands-on, thoughtful optimism. Don't reject technology, the Catalog urged: make it your own. Don't drop out of the world: change it, using the tools we and your fellow readers have found. Some technologies were environmentally destructive or made you stupid, others were empowering and trod softly on the earth; together we could learn which were which.

Millions found the Catalog's message inspirational. In promoting an attitude toward technology that emphasized experimentation, re-use and re-invention, seeing the deeper consequences of your choices, appreciating the power of learning to do it yourself and sharing your ideas, the Whole Earth Catalog helped create the modern tinkering movement. Today, tinkering is growing in importance as a social movement, as a way of relating to technology and as a source of innovation. Tinkering is about seizing the moment: it is about ad-hoc learning, getting things done, innovation and novelty, all in a highly social, networked environment.

What is interesting is that at its best, tinkering has an almost Zen-like sense of the present: its 'now' is timeless. It is neither heedless of the past or future, nor is it in headlong pursuit of immediate gratification. Tinkering offers a way of engaging with today's needs while also keeping an eye on the future consequences of our choices. And the same technological and social trends that have made tinkering appealing seem poised to make it even more pervasive and powerful in the future. Today we tinker with things; tomorrow, we will tinker with the world.

Interesting question

One of the things that can powerfully affect the future is the radical decline in price of a currently expensive good or service. The invention of the printing press made books (and later newspapers) exceptionally cheap; the Industrial Revolution did the same for a whole host of manufactured goods; and more recently the same thing happened with information technologies.

An Arab Proverb About Forecasting

Working my way through Kishore Mahbubani's recent book, "The New Asian Hemisphere", and came upon this great Arab proverb on the topic of forecasting:

He who speaks about the future lies, even when he tells the truth.

At IFTF, there is a broad understanding based on experience, that no one can predict the future. But we rarely say that no one should... perhaps we need to be as aggressive about that as these ancient sages.

Seeing the future in stock photoraphy

An article in today's Slate looks at how stock photography houses commission photographers to shoot scenes that advertisers are going to want in the future. Essentially, "suppliers of the world's commercial imagery are making bets on what life will look and feel like in the near future."

Getty gave me lists of the most popular search terms on their database for 2006, 2007, and the first half of 2008. Only three entries showed up in the top 10 on all three lists: business, people, and woman. (Woman climbed from eighth to fifth to first, which Waggoner attributes to the increasing global presence of women in the workplace and thus the increasing global demand for photos and video depicting women in the workplace.)

Other terms fade in and out. Soccer makes a single top-10 appearance in 2006—a World Cup year. (Getty will refresh its soccer content as the 2010 World Cup approaches in the expectation that soccer will be ascendant.) In a development that may be of no surprise to you, Christmas has been showing up earlier and earlier. "It hit the top 10 in June last year," says Waggoner. "We usually don't plan for it until August."...

Beyond the numbers, sometimes the composition of images can tell a story. "We saw a big shift after 9/11," says Waggoner. "Family entered the top 10 in search keywords and in revenue-generating subject matter for us, but there was also a change in how families were shown. Whereas before it had generally been everybody in a row, now a child was often moved to the foreground of the photo with the parents' attention focused on him. And there was a lot more black and white being used, suggesting a sense of nostalgia." In the last couple of years, the trend has shifted back toward photos of lone people looking into the camera. Waggoner surmises that this is "testimonial" imagery, playing on the appeal of real people as authentic-seeming message-bearers.

One can't make too much of this-- stock photography is as subject to the whims of fashion as any field-- but as an indicator of popular mood, it's interesting.

Long term future: Inner planets collide

Astronomers looking at the long-term future of the solar system have concluded that "a collision with Mercury or Mars could doom life long before the Sun swells into a red giant and bakes the planet to a crisp in about 5 billion years." USCS astronomers Gregory Laughlin and Konstantin Batygin, and Jacques Laskar of the Observatoire de Paris, ran computer simulations of the solar system. According to the New Scientist,

The studies suggest that the solar system's planets will continue to orbit the Sun stably for at least 40 million years. But after that, they show there is a small but not insignificant chance that things could go terribly awry....

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