If we are to Think about the Future in a way that helps us thrive in that future, we must excel at connecting dots. I developed the Future Scenarios visual in an attempt to help visualize the dots, as well as the various intersections that amplify the impact of those dots. In parallel with this scenario view, I have looked at various aspects of social change that both influence and impact these scenarios – and vice versa – but until now, those views were separate. Convergence is occurring not just across the technology and future scenario curves, but also the various aspects of social change. So in the interest of maximizing future thinking impact, I have combined the two views and will describe a connecting the dots scenario. First, the new future scenario visual:
There is an interesting bi-directional tension at work here, as the social dimension is impacted or squeezed by the curves, while at the same time, social change has a reciprocal effect. I have viewed each of the future scenarios as a paradigm shift in and of itself, and the same can be said for the various elements of social change. It is the volume and ultimate convergence of these shifts that have massive implications.
Let’s take a look at the importance of including societal change in our connecting the dots efforts. In the example below, we link several of the social changes with one specific future scenario. This Citi Report describes the continued lowering of fertility rates and the implications of an aging population. One of those implications is the fall of the working age population (ages 15 – 64). So, three of the social changes are linked (fertility rates, aging population, and fall of working age population). At the same time, the future scenario labeled automation of everything (advanced robotics, automation of knowledge work. etc.) is driving a growing concern over social changes related to technological unemployment. In a future thinking context, connecting these dots can drive two very different perspectives. The first view is the one that gets all the attention; the anticipated level of automation will drive significant technological unemployment. The Citi report provides some very sobering numbers by country and even city. But a very different view has the automation scenario solving the issues associated with a decline in working age population. Said another way, is the automation scenario moving towards solving an emerging social issue – or creating a new one?
One other minor change to the visual is the removal of the economic paradigm curve. The removal does not diminish its importance – as we clearly will grapple with our current economic paradigm in the future – but it allows for an improved future thinking experience in the short term. The above mentioned Citi report adds valuable insights to our future thinking exercises. I will dedicate future posts to some of those insights.