I was not able to attend many SXSW events this year, but one that I am glad I caught was Jane McGonigal’s keynote at SXSWedu entitled How to Think (and Learn) like a Futurist. If you receive our company newsletter, you may remember my recommendation of McGonigal’s book Reality is Broken from last month. McGonigal is a game designer and true futurist, who is the Director of Games Research and Development at the Institute for the Future (IFTF). The work of both McGonigal and the IFTF guarantee that you will look at the world and future differently.
IFTF uses a structured method of crowdsourcing to do future forecasting with the goal of “making the future” versus merely forecasting it. If future thinking interests you at all, I would encourage you to check out the full video of the keynote. If nothing else, her explanation and demonstration of bitcoin and blockchain (starting here) is well worth ten minutes of your time.
Imagining the future prepares you to be more creative and inventive today. We’re not making predictions. We’re finding out what’s possible. – Jane McGonigal
In her keynote, McGonigal lays out the four practical skills of futurists. The first two are seeing the signals and then combining them together into forecasts. This part is easy enough, if you do enough reading and thinking about what trends you see developing. I think she makes envisioning the future sound easier than it really is, but it is doable.
Sure, many of us recognize signals and see some of what is coming, but true futurists see well beyond what we mere mortals do. I know this because I have had the luck of being friends and working closely with one of them for many years. My friend Tami Schiller has been ahead of the curve as long as I have known her. Being able to have long conversations and expand on her thoughts is truly time well spent. As a technologist and natural learner, I am able to see the big changes coming, but as a true futurist, Tami envisions things that the rest of us cannot. As McGonigal says, “Creating personal foresight is the most important aspect of seeing the future.” Getting beyond the constraints of the present is the hard part. You need to see a future where everything can be different.
Even though all of us may not be able to get to the highest levels of futurist foresight, there are practical ways people can envision the future and how best to plan for it. This is encouraging because law firms, as well as IT and learning and development (L&D), are all in times of great change right now, and it is happening rapidly! It is a very important time for these groups, organizations, and us as individuals to have the right mindset to adapt. Those of us working in legal, IT, and L&D, need to be thinking about and preparing for the future before it is upon us and leaves us sitting in the dust wondering what happened to our comfortable cocoon of safe existence.
The formula that the IFTF uses guides people to look 10 years down the road. They chose 10 years, because it is far enough out that things can be very different, but close enough that we can imagine ourselves in that place in time. IFTF then helps guide the group to expand their thoughts on what that future might be. With things changing so rapidly, if I were planning my firm or department’s next retreat or strategic planning session, I would make an exercise like this a top priority. Engage a skilled facilitator and get the collective wisdom and imagination of your group(s) generating ideas. Doing so could make the difference in your ability to get from here to there successfully.
#SmartLaw, #NewLaw, and #FutureLaw will be populated by those firms, lawyers, and legal professionals who push to get beyond the usual planning and engage their collective minds to do much more creative thinking – imagining a future where absolutely everything is different. There are bound to be some futurists around you, so give them some impetus and a forum in which to share their thoughts. If their ideas sound a little crazy to most of the group, you have probably found your futurists. Listen to what they have to say!