“The Future Can Not Be Predicted”

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Hello, this is Dr. Nilda Perez and here again with another Foresight Strategy Show. And so today we’re going to be talking to Julia Rose West. She is a futurist by design in the silicone valley, California. She believes that the future cannot be predicted, but it can be designed. And our topic today is very controversial, for most of us futurist because it’s you cannot predict the future. So we’re going to talk a little bit more about that and I’ll welcome with me Julia. How are Ya?

I’m well, thank you for having me. I appreciate that.

I’m so excited to have you. I love your take on this whole foresight strategies and futuring. So I’m going to just jump right in. I know you talk about threat casting.

Essentially the future cannot be predicted. It can be designed. I’ll get to all that. But essentially what I think about when I say that is that we’re getting better and better at creating these predictive models. And these algorithms via predictive modeling, but it’s really taking data of the past and projecting into the future. And sure there are variables to account for possible outliers and these algorithms, but predictive modeling is using the past to predict the likeliness of the future. And that has gotten us into trouble. Just look at our economy, look at companies, look at our country, right? There were so many predictive algorithms that said this is going to happen and instead this happened.

There was so many predictions that there was no way that this was going to end up where we did. And I have to tell you, it was a shock. I was up till 3:00 AM because I was in shock. Nobody could believe it. But I was sure that he was not going to win those. I really liked that. I liked the fact, I like the idea that it has to be designed and all of this happened by designing you have a book and the book is What the Foresight and your motto and your crusade is. You cannot predict the future. And honestly as futurists, usually what we talk about, we talk a lot about forecasting and predicting that future. But I love the way that you put it because it’s still, it is forecasting, but I love the way you put it. Can you please tell us what your thoughts are?

Yeah, absolutely. So I think there’s kind of two approaches, a lot of companies and a lot of individuals trying to predict the future in order to prepare for it or to get in front of it. And I think when you start looking at it a little differently, I think we need to be proactive instead of reactive. So I think we still look at the future. We still study the future the same way, but instead of being reactive to it, I think we need to decide, no, this is the future we want to design and go after it and design it. And then just as importantly we need to say this is the future and want to avoid and how can we avoid it? And in the avoiding, we start to see ways that we can shift the future or shift our, our vision or a view of it and go after a different design, if that makes sense.

Absolutely. It makes perfect sense. Okay. So what you, and again for the audience, what you want to say here is that there is that although there are predictions, but even our predictions we don’t pull it out of a hat. These are based on the past. We’re looking at the present, looking at where we are now. We look at the past and we start designing that future.

Yeah. So there’s what I do and what my business partner Alan does, is we look at a variety of possible futures. So we say, okay, the future, it could be this, this or this. And in doing so we start to say, okay, well this is the future we want to go after and this is the future we want to avoid. Or maybe it’s a combination of a few features that we want to proactively design ourselves. And I think a lot of people and companies are kind of paralyzed by that and they think they don’t have the authority to design the future. But really in this ever changing world with the technology that we have access to it, the future is really for anyone’s taking and we should all have access to design the future as we want.

Okay. So can you give me a scenario where you were able to help them design that future?

Yeah, so I think when it comes to designing the future, going up to the future, you want it, whether you’re a company or an individual or government, it really comes down to your personal values, right? Your values as a company and your personal values as a person. And you have to look at those values and say, okay, what would a collapse scenario look like? Or a growth scenario or a transformation scenario or a constraint scenario. Those are kind of the four classic foresight scenarios we like to evaluate and explore. And in doing so, you start to look at other possible futures. So let’s say I’m a value of a company is, give me a value that accompany might have.

The value is making people feel better.

Okay. Yeah. So like getting people healthier and making them feel better, that might require a bit of experimentation with your clients, experimentation with your customers in a little bit of r and D in order to figure out what the next thing is you want to do well or how you’re going to serve that customer. Well if for instance you have a constraint scenario, it looks something like the government has come in and they’ve said, actually you can no longer experiment with humans in this space. You can now only use animals or something like that. But dogs and cats don’t give you the feedback you need. So you’re very limited in what you, what you can do. And in America we tend to only see the growth scenario. There’s been studies on this and companies really don’t want to explore anything beyond growth. But what that does is it blindsides them to the other futures. When something like the government starts to intervene and they have a constraint that they put on your business or there is a collapse, whether it be financial or political collapse or another scenario is complete transformation, right? When we talk about transformation, we talk about things like the advent of the iphone. There’s an entire industry right now devoted to development of apps that wasn’t here 10 and a half years ago. So ten and a half years. What is going to be that disruptive thing that completely transforms the business? Get companies into people thinking beyond just that growth scenario and exploring other possible futures.

Right. And that’s the beauty of it, it’s a fact. That’s why I guess I’m so fascinated by because this is how I teach the future is when I, when I’m working with my clients, I always talk about that steep, like the external because there were certain things in your company that you. And even when you have controlled, you have a limited amount of control because of that external. If anything changes, just like you say it, laws in the environment, entire companies can go under with a chain. What of those industries was real estate when the economy dove a lot of realtors and now with the change with realtors with Ai, there’s a lot of realtors that are really hurting because people go online and they look for they house and they don’t need that realtor. So these are things that we can prepare for or like you said, we can design, we can be the designer of that change really brings the power back to us. That’s why that’s so important. I love that.

Yeah. Especially in your. In your realtor example, like if you’re a realtor and you’re starting to see this change, right? Maybe it’s time to disrupt the real estate industry and maybe you’re the one to do it or maybe it’s time to take your career and shift it to something else because you kind of see this coming. I’m instead of being blind to those signals, some weak and, some strong that are saying this is what’s happening in this industry,

Right. So, Dr. Gary was here a few weeks back and one of the things he always talks about that what if, and we should look at everything from that what if, so even when you looking at something, you don’t look at it as face value, you want to look at it always from that critical standpoint in that it’s more critiquing because people could critical thinking it has such a negative connotation because we look at criticism as something negative, but it’s actually a positive. I mean unless, it’s against the person, but we should be looking at everything with that critique, hey, this is great, but what if this was better? This is a great system, or can this be systematized better? And if it can be, can I add some other components from other industries like AI so that’s what so fascinating and I absolutely love that. I think that’s great. So tell me about your book, What the Foresight.

Yeah. So my coauthor and business partner, Ally and I, we went to Grad school together and while we were in Grad school we discovered a couple of things and we were in Grad school to get mba’s and strategic foresight. So essentially futurism or future studies and a couple of things we discovered was that one, everyone needs access to their future and the tools available to think like a futurist should not be limited just to corporations or government. And the second thing we learned was that the tools and the, language that future issues in strategic foresight is very academic and it’s difficult in it’s approach sometimes. So we wanted to simplify the process and give everyone access. And at first we thought talking about creating some kind of a business book or book for nonprofits or things like that, but we thought, what will be the easiest way to give everybody access. And so we created a personal futures workbook and so we took the complicated classic tools of foresight. So either tools that are used at the Manila Institute in Hawaii, these are tools that are used in government and for strategic planning purposes and we took them and we distilled them down into their very simplest form and we created things like mad libs. So you’re able to fill out a one possible class future using a mad lib framework. And it makes futures research a little more approachable because the future is very personal, but it’s also unknown and scary. And this workbook walks you through step by step and addresses all of that. What was really fascinating is when we first released the workbook, we thought we had a certain target audience in mind. We thought a lot of people like our peers in silicon valley would use it, but what we found is that it was really popular with people either getting ready to retire or graduating high school that are these big monumental shifts in their lives and the future was very unknown and they wanted a tool to help them explore  how to deal with the future. But the great thing about the book is if you do the workbook and you can then take those same tools and apply them to your business.

Because then that’s the beauty about futures that although I teach business, right, I worked with businesses, not only teach them I, actually work with them and they have this system that I’ve put together for them classes that they do. What I teach is listen, it doesn’t have to be complicated. And when you start thinking futures, you actually see the world differently because I see all of these opportunities that I never saw before ever. I wasn’t educated in that way. So, there’s the beauty about learning foresight and the beauty about futures is that once you learn it, you just see the world differently. So now you start applying it to your personal life. These are good tools to use in dating, you know, because you just think differently. You apply it to your family, you invite, you apply it to your financial, personal finance, and then you find yourself just rinsing and repeating and curtailing it to whatever because you just see things differently.

Absolutely. Yeah. Ally and I my coauthor and business partner, we always say foresight and futures thinking is a mindset and anybody can learn to think this way, but yeah, it’s a curse and a gift, you know, every single time I just want to go out and get a sandwich, I do an implications map of all the possible implications for a second and third order to get a sandwich. It’s kind of frustrating to the ones you love.

Well here’s another question. So what are the biggest challenges as a professional futurist that you have?

Oh so many. I think the biggest one is what we’re talking about today is that companies still think of futurist as prediction machines and as predictive modeling becomes more of a common thing, there will be challenges for futurist to insert themselves into the process of predicting the future so to speak. But predictive modeling and any model that uses data and is taking data from the past and projecting into the future. So whenever we use the past to predict the likeliness of the future, it gets us into trouble. And there were so many things fundamentally wrong about this and has gotten our economy, our companies, and our country in trouble with these kinds of predictive models. So we have to keep humans in the loop. And as technology improves, futurists will be challenged with inserting themselves into the process. But I actually see it as an opportunity because there are often like two primary times. When companies look to hire futurist. It’s either when they have experienced this crazy exponential growth and want to keep growing at that same rate, but they need to figure out their next play and are looking for someone to guide them in the next big thing or it’s after they experience a collapse scenario and need to reinvent themselves or fixed big issue, but I think there’s a lot more room to have to insert foresight methodologies, every six months your company should be looking at the future. You shouldn’t wait until you want to figure out that next big thing or till your company is in a pickle or collapses like there should be an ongoing process and so I think that’s what the challenge and an opportunity.

Exactly. I love that. That’s true. How open do you find the small businesses are hiring the futurist or even going through the whole futurist process?

I would say the smallest company I’ve ever worked with like 500 to a thousand people. That’s still quite large. I would say. What happens in those instances is they want to bring us in for like a one off workshop to tackle the future of x, right? Insert x here, the future of marketing, the future of whatever it may be, the future of schools. And I feel like where they would be better served is if they approached it more as a workshop to how to learn to think like a futurist and then we create a tool that they could then take back and use on a monthly basis or every six months. I think they’d be better served in that way versus come in and let’s do the future of  x just because, they’re probably too small to hire a futurist full time, but they could really. There’s probably a few people in the company that would embrace this mindset and this way of thinking and start to be ambassadors for it and help the company grow.

Because that’s where I have found like biggest challenge also, Julia. It’s the mindset. So whether it’s a small company or large company, the thing is that large companies also want to tackle one thing and it ends up being almost the same problem because they want to tackle, x or y or Z, they want to tackle that one problem. They’re not looking at the mindset. So the problem with futuring is that if you don’t change your mindset, you are dealing with one issue at a time.  If you think like a futurist you have a much broader perspective. And then you can target small things at a time. Where I find the biggest challenge is working with the mindset. Now I come from, my background is behavioral health. So psychology and behavioral health is very much about mindset. So I spend a lot of time there because I realized I have to take those steps back to be able to bring them forward. It’s like coaching you, you have to change the limiting beliefs you have to seriously, like remodeled their brain and then when they take off I got the businesses that I’ve worked with have taken off like on believable, but they’ve done that because it’s been a whole mindset change. And then they come back. So even if you do the small pieces at a time they come back because you’re able to tackle it from that viewpoint.

Yeah. When Ally and I were in Grad school, we did actually like kind of a predictive research project at the very end of our time there. But we did a future of futurists research project. So we really want to figure out what the future for futurists was because here we were graduating and what we started to realize is it wasn’t even a thing yet. So we were going to have to insert it in different ways and to the companies we worked for, the businesses we were working with. And sometimes it’s best not even to use the word foresight or futures or futurist, but what we found, this was fascinating when we did this project, so this is in 2016, we found that companies were about seven years away from hiring futurist full time and embedding them into the org at the time. And that was 2016. So there were about seven years away from actually hiring full time futurist and I think that’s what it’s gonna take to change these mindsets internally is having somebody embedded in the org that is dedicated to thinking this way. And because a lot of times it’s just about asking the questions, right? It’s about asking, okay, this is your primary bread and butter, but what happens if this goes away? What happens is this is no longer there, then what’s the focus of the company?

So this is where I spend most of my time, most of my time is spent in changing mindsets, in broadening their, their worldview, having them see this different perspective. Because I graduated in 2013 and that’s what I found. I was like, oh my God, I’ll never be hired because nobody knew what it was. A futurist. Oh, we tell the future. But the blessing was that I understood that it was mindset and that I have to go there first. So that has been the beauty. And we have a magazine and in the magazine, that’s what we talk about. We have all these different perspectives, we talk about innovation, we talk about mindset, we talk about creativity. So we actually take the process and we break it down into small pieces and the magazine is just dedicated to that one topic. So how many ways can you talk about this? All of our contributors are just amazing. So this is the reason why we do what we do. So because it’s that mindset and we have to change that one person at a time. And then it’s like a snowball effect, right? Then suddenly it just becomes this snowball and then everybody is, Oh yes, think like a futurist. So we’re getting to the end and I want to give you my take away so my take away is you have to keep humans in the loop  when we’re talking about foresight. That the future really cannot be predicted, that it has to be designed and is up to us to design it, that we have to be more malleable, that we can’t be so stringent in believing that the future has to be a certain way. We have to look at it in a broader sense and stopped compartmentalizing it. So do you have any closing words? Julia? What do you want them to walk away with?

Back to the crusade that you’re on to change mindsets. Well, why that is so important to me and why that resonates with me is because in order to design the best possible future, it has to be inclusive and it has to have a lot of different perspectives and we’re only going to do that if we all start thinking this way and start contributing, contributing to the actual design of it instead of letting a few people dictate what our future is going to be.

Absolutely. And the fact that we can actually design it, give the power back to them and say, listen, if you change your mindset and if you look at this differently, the power’s in your hands. So I think that’s awesome.  I love it. Okay, so I want to thank you, Julia, for being here with us and to the audience. I want to say thank you once again for being with us and we look forward to the next week with another futurist and remember to go to our site, get our magazine. It is free and it’s chock full of information every month. Go to forsightstrategiesgroup.com and get your magazine today. Thank you so much for being here. Bye guys. Bye

 

Our Guest

Julia Rose West is a futurist and design leader in Silicon Valley. She believes the future cannot be predicted but it can be designed. Julia also does foresight work with Arizona State University and the Army Cyber Institute at West Point to envision and research cyber security threats. She is co-author of What the Foresight, a personal futures workbook. Julia enjoys teaching foresight to others who are brave enough to challenge their assumptions about the future and consider other possibilities.

 

Interview With Julia West- “The Future Can Not Be Predicted”

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