“Futures Methodology That Ignites Creative Thinking”

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We’re really excited to have, Alicia Bhagat, and she is from forum for the future, so she has done amazing work with her company. They are with the food and the energy and sustainable future. So we have all these questions. Welcome Alicia, how are you?

I’m great. How are you?

I’m doing really well. Very excited to have you here. There’s so much to talk about. So when it comes to futures, how can the futures methodology be something that ignites creativity and inspiration? 

So I think that one of the challenges of futures techniques is to sort of balance rigorous methodology with creative and inspirational messaging. So some of the most widely consumed future scenarios I think exist in the form of fiction and mainstream fiction. So if you see media like Blade Runner or the Handmaid’s Tale these images and visions of the future really stick into people’s minds. And then it kind of inspires them to talk about them and take action. The reason why these stories are so compelling is that they have these sort of seeds of truth that are sewn into them. So things such as authoritarian machines, resource scarcity, improved technology, these are things that exist today and what the author has done is sort of extrapolate outward onto the future with that and good projects in my mind sort of combined that kind of creativity and residents with an audience as well as a strong foundation of research and data. And it’s important to point out the role of futures methodology because looking at something like consumer trends allows us to make predictions, but there will be rooted in current thinking and what consumers are doing right now using more creative techniques, helps us look at a longer time horizon and see what is possible. So without a well defined methodology, you’re just kind of speculating and without creative messaging, you’re writing reports that nobody’s going to read.

So because Alicia, we speak to very smart business people who are not necessarily, I want to stay up to date or even understand futures. How can this be tangible because the people that we work with, we want to make future something that’s very tangible so that they can use it every day. It’s great to have the data on all of this information is great, but if they can’t actually use it and make it practical for them, that makes it hard. So we’re speaking another language. So how can we make it more tangible for the average business owner? I’m sorry, I don’t want to use the word average for the business owner. 

Yeah, I would say that futures is probably in that particular situation a way to expedite their thinking and their decision making. So that’s one use of it. So when they use kind of futures methods, like for example say they were using scenarios and stress testing their business model against those scenarios, that would be an opportunity for them to kind of strengthen their business and see where it’s going. Using something like visions your where do they want their business to be and what do they see that as you know, if you’re in a very traditional business such as say you have our brick and mortar store, you already know the trends that are out there about the death of retail and you know what’s happening to the industry.  So you need to think what are the options? And I think that using futures helped you think about those options long term rather than just being sort of reactive and it also helps create sort of creative vision of where you want to go and help you get there.

Okay. I want to challenge your vision. I want you to explain it better. That’s the challenge. I want you to explain that better. I have seen Alicia so many business people create these vision boards that after they created, they put them away literally like behind their desk will be in the closet and never look at them again. So when we’re talking about having vision future and we do is that we teach them how to design the future and to make that something that is not put away, that is something that they’re constantly looking at, that they’re constantly testing, that they’re constantly challenging. Even the vision, even the design that they’re making, that even that they’re challenging. Is that a recommendation that you make when you’re teaching teachers?

I totally agree. When I say vision, I don’t mean something that static that you would make and put away, I mean a dynamic process in which you’ve created a vision and then you as an individual or your team or a department of your business is constantly engaging with trends and new material to update that vision and work towards it. I mean why would someone set a new year’s resolution and then at the end of the year and think, why didn’t I reach this resolution? You have to kind of take it out and , make sure you’re doing progress towards it, revisited to make sure that it’s still up to date and kind of constantly be. One of the things that we try to teach in and emphasize is to constantly be scanning the horizon for new developments and signals that the world around us is changing. And that may not be even the things specific to our business. You know, I mean just something like driverless cars, you may not be in the auto business, but that would definitely affect most businesses. So just things like that I think are ways in which it can be used.

I love that. Awesome. Love it. What is the role of sustainability in futures?

Forum for the future. We’re all about using features as a tool to kind of forward the sustainable development agenda and I believe that sustainability is inherently a part of futures. So if you think of the role of futures as a way of creating probable possible and preferable futures, sustainability is naturally a part of that preferred future. And I think that a lot of times it seems very obvious, but I think that what I want to point out is that a lot of people think of the future in terms of technological advancement and you know, there’s this big focus on tech and what the latest technology is going to be, how that’s going to affect my business. I think that unless we take care of our systems and ensure longterm sustainability of those systems, the tech advancements won’t be evenly distributed.  We can’t just sort of kick the can down the road and say, oh, let me have better technology, we’ll figure out this ocean plastics thing, like when we have better technology will, we’ll figure out the food scarcity issue. I think that we don’t plan for it and we don’t have the foresight to kind of plan for those eventualities. The better future will not happen. So we need to ensure that we have a sustainable environment, sustainable food system, political system that we take care of each other and we have a good social system as well. And that to me is an integral part of future thinking.

I love it. So for the audience sake, I would like you to explain sustainability and I know most people think we know what it means, but we want to kind of revisit what is sustainability in a business? What does the state ability of the future?

Sure. So I think in a traditional definition of sustainability for business, it would be kind of people, planet profit. So is your business taking care of people and providing them with value, is it, and that includes employees, is it looking at the planet and the impact you’re having on the planet, are you profitable? Are you able to stay in business and kind of thrive as well? So we don’t think those are exclusive, that you can do all of those things together. And I think lately there’s been sort of a push within the sustainable business community towards a net positive approach as well. So looking at not just are we having a negative impact, how do we minimize that impact, but what positive impact could we have on the world around us? So what are positive things that businesses can kind of proactively do, not just to minimize their impact but to have a really positive impact on people’s lives.

Yes. That’s great. So how do new tools such as games and immersive theater, how can that be relatable? It, how is that something that is going to impact the future or even taking that to the next level, how can people actually use that in their businesses?

Right. Yeah. So I think this is a really interesting area of engagement on futures sustainability and if you think about kind of difficult topics for people such as climate change for example, I think that it’s really hard for people to wrap their heads around it. I think things that can take complex issues and make them digestible and interactive for people are really helpful and I think that there are a lot of new tools out there that are increasingly being used for those purposes. So groups like Games for Change games that have a social impact and learning component have been around for a while and war gaming has a long history with futures. So I had, before working at forum, I worked as a government consultant for the US government and had the opportunity to witness and help with some war games and that was just really fascinating to see how several scenarios would be tested by our intelligence agencies and military. I mean, it really is used by these high level agencies to test their operation, see how they would make decisions under pressure and interact with one another. And I think with immersive experiences, people increasingly want to be active participants in making the future. They don’t necessarily want businesses and governments to tell them they want to be part of it. They want to be involved. And so there’s a great opportunity for companies and other organizations engage people in conversations about the future and these techniques are kind of a interesting way to do so. You can really reach people in a way that handing out reports couldn’t.

I love that. Oh my goodness. So, let me ask you, where do they have these immersive theaters? How does small business tap into that? Is that something that somewhere that they can go, for this kind of information?

Sure. So there’s all sorts of places. Nest of future fest is one that’s coming up. It’s in London, the World Future Society has a conference that often has provocative panels and there’s just so much out there in terms of companies innovating around doing pop up dinners that are dinners from the future trying to engage people, on what that might be. We recently had an event that was the dinner plate of the future, kind of like what would be served for dinner in 2040. So I think using these to kind of engage with people and help them think about that too, like that is a great way for a company to engage with consumers as well as just the general public.

And I agree with that. This is one of the things that we talk about, not just in the show but with our clients. And we have a magazine also and we’re constantly bringing up these new ideas and new ways for people to think of their future. Even if they have a small business.

I mean even if they have a small business and not everyone is Cocacola having this big events for the public, but even if they’re a small business, is there a way they could do that for their internal team or their own employees to put them through those scenarios, to have them pretend to be personas within those scenarios, to have them do sort of a role playing experience that might help them think about what the future consumer would want out of their business and how they might operate. I think those can all be really interesting techniques that help people get into that mindset and then when they go to that point where they’re creating the vision board and trying to work towards it, they really have internalized and believe in that future and feel like they’ve helped to create it rather than just kind of receive it from management.

And that typically what happens and that’s what’s so frustrating that people don’t realize that they can actually design their future. So they’re kind of, they’re living their whole business life by default, so things are happening to them rather than them being a part of it and being a part of that design being a part of that change. That’s really tough when you believe that because what happens is that if you don’t understand that it is beyond just creating the vision board, but that you can actually make your future design your future. That makes a huge difference. Would you agree?

I totally agree. I mean it’s about participatory development and having people feel that they’re engaged participants in the process. I don’t think anyone is going to buy it if they’re just sort of handed down a policy or they’re just feeling like they’re reacting to what’s happening each quarter or each year. You need to think about where you see yourself and I’m sure every small business owner, they wouldn’t have the business if they didn’t have a vision of where they wanted that business to be. So I think future is, it really just enhances that and, and helps sort of crystallize that vision and take a lot of data from what’s happening in the world around us and kind of pushes and tests that vision a bit.

And that’s what I love. That’s what I love about futures that there’s so many businesses that are just operations and they understand that process, but they’re not looking at things that they can change shifts that they can make shifts that they can actually design so that they can have a sustainable future. So they’re not looking at this. And I love your idea of the vision going beyond just their vision board because there are so many businesses, there’s so many individuals create these vision boards set never actually come to fruition. So Alicia, I’m going to give you my list of takeaways and if you want to add to it, that would be great. But the first thing that we talked about was strength testing, strength testing your business with those visions and looking at things that are actually going to make it sustainable. We also spoke about the visions and engaging in that process, looking at trends at new things, updates, scanning the horizon, constantly scanning for different things and not just scanning our industry but even across industries. Right? And then we also talked about sustainability and how that sustainability is very important for businesses. I like the way you put it, you said people, what is it? People, plant and profit. And looking at your whole business, very holistically, looking at the entire business and how that’s going to be sustainable. And then I loved immersive theater because that really is the way of the future. You know, this is probably way before your time, but I remember years ago they used to have the world’s fair and the world’s fair was immersive theater where you actually got to test things for the future.  And I wish they still had that and they don’t. But that’s really amazing because it gave you that foretastes of the things to come even better than that. It gave people the ability to make it even better if that they couldn’t do that. Then how about if we added this, so we gave them that possibility of being able to create that possible, that sustainable future. So these are my takeaways and I just think all of this information is great. So a business, it doesn’t really matter the size of a business if they can actually take this to that to the next level by implementing these very small things. But if there consistent and continue to create on those visions of don’t make a vision board that they’re gonna put away, but that they’re going to actually implement change tweak as they go along. That’s the best way to have that vision. Would you agree?

Yeah, totally. And definitely engage in activities that would enhance their thinking about the future. I mean, I think it’s so easy. I mean, I find myself in this trap. We’re so caught up in the day to day all of us are and things that can really inspire us and take us out of that I think are so valuable and it’s different, whether it’s theater or art or a totally different business model that you might encounter or you know, cutting edge research things that you can do outside of your narrow scope of work to inspire you to then, you can take those inspirations then back to your business with you. I think those are extremely valuable that can inspire you to think long term. That’s great. And its hard because nobody sells that because it’s not something that you can teach really, but it’s sort of like being inspired by the world around you is extremely valuable.

And then you agree with that and taking to that to the next level. Always looking across industries they’re looking at, hey, maybe that’s something that I can tweak into my industry. There’re futures thinking, you know, looking across industry, what else is out there? What’s bigger, better that I can actually apply to my business. So I think that’s excellent. I love it. So I look forward to having you back. I think this is great. Anything new that’s coming up in the horizon that you can actually share with us real quick.

Yeah. We’re working on a report with the foundation. So we’re going to be crafting some future scenarios around the future of nationalism, so kind of growing polarization and stuff in the US, India and Brazil, and we’re going to creating some fictional scenarios around that and it’s going to be publicly available. So we’re really excited about that work.

Awesome. And where is that going to be?

It’ll be online on our website and publicly available.

Okay. I love it. So I want to thank you, Alisha for being with us and for sharing your insights and your expertise, I am so excited that you’re here and that you were able to share with our audience because these are things that we talk about all the time. These are things that we teach, but I love having different perspectives, different aspects of futures, and how people can actually implement it into their everyday lives and the everyday business and they love that. Thank you so much.

Thank you. Dr. Nilda. Okay.

So to my audience, I’ll say thank you so much for being here today. We look forward next week where we’re going to bring another futurist, another innovator, another creative person to you to help you create and design your future. Until then, I’ll see you guys next week. Bye.

 

Our Guest

Alisha Bhagat is passionate about working with organizations to think systematically about a sustainable future. She is a futurist and strategist at Forum for the Future, a sustainability non-profit that works with companies on long term planning and systems change. Prior to joining Forum, Alisha was a foreign policy consultant for the US government. She holds an MS from Georgetown University and a BS from Carnegie Mellon University. When not thinking about the future, Alisha is an avid gamer and science fiction enthusiast.

 

Interview With Alisha Bhagat

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