We need to talk seriously about Futures Literacy . And we need to do it now , before it is too late . The decisions being taken in our boardrooms are getting bigger and bigger . And if they are not , then we should be very worried indeed . This month we come to CoP 26 , exposing once again the need to take urgent steps to address climate change . The Board cannot simply leave all of this to the politicians , who will always be guided by what will give them electability. The decisions on climate , upon investment in change and most of all on speed of deployment , will be critical in meeting targets and , eventually , in escaping the worst effects of hundreds of years of exploitation and neglect . Yet for many of us , as we steam towards the Metaverse at ever increasing speed , it seems as if we have a parallel set of concerns. We know that we have to think about investing in the technologies that surround information content and data  in the information industry . We also know that next year our customers will have different and enhanced expectations of us . We are sophisticated now as businesses , handling online service functions , raising fresh capital and working cohesively with stakeholders . Then why , O why,  is the Pygmy in the room  the way that we discuss the Future ? 

I am now past fifty years of working , as a manager , a Director , a CEO and as an advisor to many boards . My experience of experience is that you do not really learn very much from it in periods of rapid change . When I started it did not matter much if a senior manager could not distinguish Linotype from Monotype . Today it does not matter much if a manager cannot discuss Digital Twins or tell you how a GAN network operates . What concerns me is the nature of the dialogue , the discipline of the approach , the “ empirical rigour “ in the discussion , since these are the necessary supports for planning , and , above all , for planning timing , which are needed if we are to sustain any hope of making sense of what we need to do beyond Q2. 

All too often , even at board level , discussion devolves to the anecdotal brilliance of someone’s daughter and the app she found on Google , or the son who downloaded a course and passed Math without needing a tutor , or a visionary who someone has seen speaking on YouTube , or a book which someone had heard of but never actually read … This anecdotalisation of the Future makes me want to scream . I take it that we sit on Boards because we are charged by the stakeholders , beyond our governance duties , with the maintenance and growth of Value through Time . The Future is thus our mandate , not something to obfuscate around . We need to talk frankly about how we anticipate change , and just as we should be watchful now for bias in data , we need to start with a careful self-audit of our own bias about the future .

The most valuable work that I know in this area comes from UNESCO , and from Riel Miller, their head of Futures Literacy . The case he makes is impressive and has the huge merit of moving us away from an extrapolation-based thought process , where we all try to second guess future trends from what we have experienced in our own lives . In the first instance , our own experiences are collected randomly . In the second , this method gives us no way of testing probability or timing . Far better then to try to develop strategies about the Future by creating , or reframing , our thinking through developing hypotheses, altering all of the variables and testing our assumptions . This sounds to me like a managerial version of scientific method , and a discipline devoutly to be wished for when we come to consider  the lazy thinking around much of the Futurism that we read and hear . In the information industry , after all , we say that we are driven by data science . Some attempt to think scientifically may well be overdue . 

So how do we go about the business of reframing our corporate thinking about the future ? Riel Miller’s suggestion is the Futures Literacy Labs concept , though I would not recommend this in some of our industry corporate frameworks as a board level activity . However , the opportunity to put some senior directors , key managers and some younger fast track recruits into a regular meeting context where a discussion discipline is maintained around forming and testing concepts,  could both inform board decision making and spark small scale experimentation to test developed ideation . And this would be especially valuable and useful if the primary concentration was on our users and how they will work . This then forces us to think hard about how we continue to add value for them . It could stop this low level assumptive discussion of generalities – “ Of course , AI is the future of everything “ – and ground our arguments in the vital qualities that they seem to lack – Context and Timing. Above all , it widens the responsibility for the future – this does not rest with the CEO , the CSO or the CTO . It rests with all of us .


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