ProFutures Blog

The APF Profutures blog features posts by the Emerging Fellows and other APF futurists. We will be sharing intriguing futures ideas and information about professional futurists and the practice of strategic foresight.

You can more about the Emerging Fellowship program and the inaugural class on the Emerging Fellows page. Please direct your questions to Terry Collins

Your comments are welcome, so long as they are courteous, brief, and on topic. 
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  • 30 Mar 2015 2:46 PM | Julian Valkieser (Administrator)

    In my previous articles, I have already mentioned some examples where large amounts of data are used to create future predictions. Mostly, these are very specific and limited to a certain range. After all, worldly influences are very complex. If there is too much variety of influences, the predictions using big data are less accurate.

    Next I want to mention other examples, in which big data is used for creation of short- and medium-term forecasts. Of course, at first this has little to do with Futurists and Foresight and long-term forecasts. But in my opinion, it represents a baseline for future practice for Futurists and Foresights. I will explain at the end of the article. Now I want to mention two examples of big data forecasting.

    The Berlin-based start-up SO1 claims to be able to predict your behavior very accurately based on customer data in supermarkets. With certain offers and discounts they can move you to change your favorite brand. This works on the principle that we already know from Amazon: “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought”. Of course, the concern of SO1 is a frightening scenario. After all, each customer may be offered different prices for a specific product. I think no one wants this. Presumed that SO1 maintain its algorithm, this is a good indication of how well you can predict human behavior already.

    Another example from German Technology Review: Thomas Chadefaux from Trinity College in Dublin, analyzed social media channels and the Google News Archive from 1900 to 2011 by specific signal words, to find out if weak signals in the media advance to crises and violent confrontations. With a probability of 85% he could predict crises, like those in Armenia, Iran or Iraq up to one year in advance. The problem here is currently: He is looking back. How his algorithm will be developed in the future, must be observed. Nevertheless, one should be alert of his name.

    In summary, I would like to explain why I see these examples of predictions using big data so important for the area of Futurists and foresight. Of course, classical foresight methods are used for a company to be prepared for future influences and circumstances. For example, this is also the theme of the so-called HRO (High Reliability Organizations).

    Many companies base their strategic decisions in the short and medium term now on Big Data. For long-term and accompanied much more complex decisions Big Data itself is not complex enough. Here the classical Futurist jumps in. On the basis of Big Data evaluated scenarios and trigger events (see previous article) it can record creative eventualities that have not been enumerated by Big Data Analytics. The future of Futurists is essentially asking to set its basis for discussion with big data and finally, base eventualities on classical methods to which a company besides the main focus should also prepare. An HRO works similarly. There are eventualities outlined and for each one with a given weighting a process is defined, e.g. how to react. HRO examples are hospitals, fire stations or on an aircraft carrier.

    About the author:

    Julian Valkieser finalized his study with the thesis on "evaluation criteria for innovation projects in the early stages". Parallel to this, his last engagement was in the Corporate Foresight Department of Evonik Industries AG. Now, he is a product manager "classifieds" at a german local based website.

  • 16 Mar 2015 11:37 AM | Sandra Geitz (Administrator)

     

    Psychological distances are social, temporal, spatial and experiential



    Along a similar theme to the last post, I’m exploring enhancing and enabling futures thinking. This post is concerned with Bridging Psychological Distance, from Rebecca Hamilton’s HBR article this week, and how this may impact facilitating foresight.


    What is psychological distance?

    People directly experience only the here and now. It is egocentric. In order to think about the future, another person’s perspective, remote locations and/or understand hypothetical options, people need to transcend their self, or their individual present experiences. This is termed by psychologists, Nira Liberman and Yaacoc Trope as overcoming psychological distance. People are able to do this, to varying degrees of ability, by creating distant abstractions, or mental constructs.

    Psychological distance can occur as one or in several dimensions. Social distance is the gap between yourself and other people. Temporal distance is the gap between the present experience and the future. Spatial distance occurs between your present location and some far away distance. Experiential distance is the gap between one’s direct experience and an hypothetical or imaginery situation.


    Why may psychological distance be important to foresight?

    Liberman and Trope’s research shows that the farther removed an object is from direct experience, the more abstract one represents the distant object. Also, their research shows that each of the four psychological distances are cognitively related to each other, that they similarly influence and are influenced by the level of abstraction, and that they similarly affect they way we preference, predict, perceive and take action.

    If the psychological distance is large, we tend to think in more abstract ways; we focus on the big picture, the why or purpose of our choices, and the desirability of our options. Large distances and abstract language are associated with power and visionary thinking.


    When the psychological distance is small, we think in more concrete terms,; we are focussed on the details, the how and what of our choices, and the feasibility of each option. Small distances are synonymous with familiar, concrete tasks.From this research, Hamilton advises that the optimal strategy is adjusting the psychological distance to suit the needs of the particular task at hand.

    Social distance can be reduced by taking into account the perspectives of others, employing the ability to step into another’s shoes. Similarly, social distance can also be reduced by reducing temporal distance, through immediate task deadlines, or by meeting others onsite, reducing spatial gaps.

    Temporal distance can be reduced by adopting milestones or internal deadlines, to reduce overwhelm of the distant project completion, or visualising the future state.Temporal distance can be reduced through less social and/or spatial distance, such as meeting with stakeholders of the large project task.

    Spatial gaps are reduced by face-to face meetings and travelling onsite. And experiential distances can be minimised via role plays, prototyping experiences to enable more concrete thinking or action to occur. Similarly, experiential distance can be reduced via social distance, by peer group word of mouth recommendations to encourage us to take similar actions.

    However, if big-picture thinking, creativity or authority is the desired goal, increasing social distance by using abstract language helps. Deploying greater spatial distance by moving meetings offsite or to open, lofty and spacious surroundings can assist expansive thinking. Increasing temporal distance for long-term planning horizons can encourage more ambitious goal-setting. And, increasing experiential distance with hypothetical questions and imagery may encourage a broader range of scenarios to be considered.


    How can we use greater psychological distance to expand our futures options?



    How might we minimise distances to enable concrete actions towards our preferred futures?

  • 09 Mar 2015 1:32 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Written by: Alireza Hejazi, APF Emerging Fellow

    Attending a summit on the investment in R&D, I found the majority of R&D outputs discussed in the summit were professionally polished secondary research. A panel of experts was tasked to evaluate a strategic framework documenting a baseline, as well as alternative futures for a number of stakeholders active in the construction industry. An interesting debate was ignited in the panel when I suggested three points to be considered in their appraisal: originality, quality and timeliness. Coming back home from the summit, I asked myself how much the stakeholders should really budget for the unknown—the future. To answer that question I wrote this post and I assume those three points may make general criteria in budgeting foresight projects.

    Primary or Secondary?

    How much should the stakeholders pay for insights offered by futurists? In my view, a criterion can be made based on the primary or secondary nature of research. Secondary research means using other researchers’ data rather than generating one’s own statistics. Using data produced by well-known institutes such as ILO, WTO, UNESCO, Gallup, and etc. a futurist can conduct secondary research. Futurists do more secondary research than primary explorations and most of scanning jobs are based on secondary sources of information.

    While secondary research can be precious in the right place, like many other researchers, futurists are expected to create their own data. Normally, primary research offers a better taste of trustworthiness to stakeholders. Governments and NGOs collect and publish statistics, researchers and authors write books and articles based on their observations, speakers write speeches according to their ideas and information, but what do futurists produce? Generally speaking, futurists find, interpret and represent the results of all that data for their clients, books and articles and also their speeches.

    The missing point in judging research outputs produced by futurists is that primary data does not interpret itself. A dexterous interpreter is needed to make sense of that data. The collection of the data from various sources can be done by every researcher, but futurists enliven the collected data by suggesting alternative futures. Collecting and interpreting are both necessary, but what is the best data in foresight profession?

    According to Gordon (2009), “The best data is primary data—data researched and presented by the original researcher—and the best use is primary use” (p. 14). Results from scientific research which are based on primary data are usually published in top research journals and are sometimes delayed for publishing due to the sensitivity of issues for investors who sponsored the research project and perhaps never published.

    The value of primary data can be also revealed in the light of inherent limitations of using secondary data. Those limitations are identified by Burnett (2008) in this manner: “First, the information is frequently dated. Second, seldom are secondary data collected for precisely the same reasons that the information is sought to solve the current marketing problem” (p. 61). The stakeholders want fidelity and they prefer the primary source. The futurists can lead that sense of preference skillfully towards original authentic foresight outputs produced by their own reliable and valid research.

    Quantitative or Qualitative?

    Potent futurists are expected to organize and conduct both quantitative and qualitative researches. A noteworthy foresight output is expected to open up a window through which readers may peer into the world of foresight to learn more from the findings. Strong foresight works engage the audience by displaying and discussing correlations, values, and other details both quantitatively and qualitatively.

    The choice of using a qualitative or quantitative design (or both), for a given research problem is mainly related to the nature of problem. Basically, quantitative methods are appropriate when: “(1) measurement can offer a useful description of whatever you are studying, (2) when you may wish to make certain descriptive generalizations about the measures, and (3) when you wish to calculate probabilities that certain generalizations are beyond simple, chance occurrences” (Williams & Monge, 2001, p. 5).

    While most quantitative researches create generalizations that transcend the immediate situation or particular setting, qualitative researches often do not try to generalize beyond the particular situation, but may leave it to the reader to assess applicability (Fraenkel, 2009, p. 15). The history of futures research shows that the majority of studies have been conducted through qualitative approaches. The main reason is that the future is unknown and less quantitative data are normally available compared to other fields of study.

    The research perspective, approach, and method should be determined as a consequence of deciding upon the objectives of the investigation. Thus, one particular perspective, approach, or method is neither better nor worse than another, just simply more or less appropriate within the specific circumstances and objectives of a foresight project. What matters for a fair payment are time, fund, knowledge, skill and energy that are devoted by a futurist or a team of futurists to a foresight project through both quantitative and qualitative approaches.

    On time or Late?

    The importance of each foresight output at any given time depends on aspects of the situation, such as the type of industry and the amount of volatility in the external environment. The consequent is the timeliness of a foresight report that is set up for submission to related stakeholders. The futurists are not the only ones who need time to accomplish research; the stakeholders also need enough time to devise their companies with foresight insights or new strategies proposed by the futurists.

    The amount of budget that investors offer to know the unknown is tightly related to available time for decision making or change management. Firms that consistently establish a management reserve for foresight projects can tell us how much time is needed and how valuable a foresight output will be over time. Certainly a specific percentage of the performance budget should emerge as the right amount, but it is directly related to timeliness, potential risks, and the degree of predictability of the industry. As observed by Verzuh (2005, p. 106), “high-risk industries such as software development may add as much as 30 percent to the budget. More predictable projects will use an amount closer to 5 percent of the performance budget.”

    The factor of time determines how much should be paid for a foresight output. Over multiple foresight projects, a normal range will appear for both futurist and client. Imagine an alternative scenario like this: A construction company is interested in a particular topic and the CEO decides to hire a futurist to research the topic for them, but time is a determining factor in the success of company. The futurist spends six months researching the issue, and six months doing and writing up the research. How much do you think the futurist could charge for this report? If the CEO needs the final report six months earlier, then how quickly should the job get done? How about the quality of research and how about the payment? Many clients pay considerable outlays for private research reports. They pay not just because of the worthiness of information, but because of its timeliness. Quick and qualified futurists are brilliant gems in every company.

    In my view, the budgetary value of a foresight output depends on its originality, quality and timeliness, but its intellectual value and the contribution that it will make to building better corporate futures may not be determined by such means of assessment easily.

    References

    Burnett, J. (2008). Core concepts of marketing. Zurich: Jacobs Foundation.

    Fraenkel, J. R. (2009). How to design and evaluate research in education. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

    Gordon, A. (2009). Future savvy: Identifying trends to make better decisions, manage uncertainty, and profit from change. New York: American Management Association.

    Verzuh, E. (2005). The fast forward MBA in project management. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.

    Williams, F., & Monge, P. (2001). Reasoning with statistics: How to read quantitative research (5th ed.). Fort Worth: Harcourt College.

    About the author

    Alireza Hejazi is a PhD candidate in Organizational Leadership at Regent University and a member of APF Emerging Fellows. His works are available at: http://regent.academia.edu/AlirezaHejazi

  • 02 Mar 2015 1:03 PM | Daniel Bonin (Administrator)

    With this blog post I would like to think about: What if futurists were ubiquitously employed in companies? This simple mind game might sound trivial, but I think it can provide interesting food for thought. The question this scenario raises is: What are possible chances and threats as well as implications for the futurist profession? At first glance, it might sound like a preferable future for our profession, but what is the catch for self-employed futurists and consultancies specializing in this field? How can this group of futurists still create value and “compete” with in-house futurists that can draw upon the sophisticated infrastructure of companies?

    What would this mean concerning our methods and the content we provide, if our former clients would have installed in-house futurists? In this scenario the share of clients with existing knowledge in future studies would increase and so would the expectations to provide more novel insights. As a result futurists might need to specialize their business in order to be able to create value for clients with in-house futurists.

    As a consequence, we would less often provide rudimentary training programs on foresight, but instead be tasked to refine existing foresight processes within companies and develop implementation strategies. The analysis of organizational structures and processes as well as change management would become an integral element of our day-to-day work. Today it is often the case that we build up and consult about processes that are completely new ground to our clients. But in the future we would need to learn how to make a diagnosis and fix a running system. Like a doctor or psychologist we would make a diagnosis on the basis of the patient’s conditions and their specific requirements. But are we, as futurists, capable of carrying out change management. And what would our instruments be? We haven’t successfully mastered the challenge to provide our generated insights to different stakeholders and to cast off the image as soothsayers, yet. How can we then change whole processes credibly?

    Related to the need to provide services tailored to the specific characteristics of our clients, another issue arises. If more and more futurists find their way to companies, both futurists and in-house futurists might need to think about what interferences other players make about the future. If you read the latest state of the art report on the Future of Communication, chances are that your competitor’s futurist read this piece as well. Today we apply our foresight tools but neglect that our clients‘ competitors or other futurists think about the future as well, and adapt their future behavior accordingly. How valuable is the detection of e.g. weak signals to create some kind of value or even a competitive advantage, if weak signals are on the verge of becoming common knowledge? Thus, we need to consider our client’s market position, strengths and weaknesses to create value through foresight activities. Especially, when we identify future markets or assist new product development. We might need to integrate strategic management tools like BCG-Matrix, SWOT-analysis, Porter’s five forces, GE-McKinsey Matrix or the Business Model Canvas in the foresight process.

    Next, firsthand insights gained from discussions with shakers and movers could create more value than scanning freely available resources and surveys. In-house futurists are likely to be able to access a huge IT-infrastructure with all the Big Data tools that comb through the internet. So what can futurists with a lack of IT-infrastructure do? It may be wise to create an extensive network of decision makers that can be referenced similarly to how journalists cite their sources. In contrast to historians that write about important historical figures in hindsight, we need to identify possible important figures of the future through foresight to tell today about the future they work towards.

    But there is also good news. Generally speaking, I do believe that futurists create positive externalities through their services for the society as a whole as we promote long-term thinking and reveal future problems, and help identify and then realize preferred futures. This is especially true if more and more futurists are hired in companies that do not have a particularly good record of sustainable actions.

    So I believe it is important for self-employed futurists and consultancies to develop some kind of unique selling proposition to remain a sought-after service provider if the foresight capabilities of companies increase. With an increasing specialization of futurists, we might need to get accustomed to a new form of collaboration, namely co-opetition between futurists. Furthermore, I fear that ruinous price competition and the free provision of services to get a foot in the door during tender and pitches might be a future problem given fierce competition between external futurists and the market power of companies. However, if not us as futurists than who else can think about such threats and is then able to prevent such negative consequences?

    Some questions remain:

    • What could unique selling propositions be given such competitive market conditions?
    • What are the implications for the questions Jason raised in his latest blog post “What Makes a Futurist ‘Good’?”
    • Are today’s futurists ready to join companies? What are the skills needed to succeed as an in-house futurist?
  • 23 Feb 2015 5:07 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    What Makes a Futurist “Good”?

    Jason Swanson, APF Emerging Fellow


    Photo by Sarah Reid / CC by 2.0

    A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of hosting my friend Jacob for a visit. Jacob is a quantum physicist and research group leader at the Quantum Network, making him one of the few people whose job might take more explaining than mine when asked what I do.

    Over the course of his visit, he asked me a question that has stuck with me. The question was a simple one; what makes a futurist “good”?  The question, while on the surface seemed straight forward, however the more I sought an answer, the more lost I became.

    We might judge a good futurist by credentials and training. Have they learned methods for looking at the future from an academic institution? Did they take a seminar or some manner of formal training? This training might have some manner of correlation with a “good” futurist, but the credentials themselves are third party verification of certain competencies in methods that a futurist might employ. Even more problematic is that many enter the field from other industries, with years of outside knowledge and expertise and little or no formal training or “futures” credentials, yet put out well-regarded work.

    With the idea of credentials and training no longer an option for figuring out who might be good, I started to think about output. Is it possible to objectively judge a forecast? Could one be a poor futurist but an excellent writer and create vivid images of the future? Sure. Could one be great at mastering the methods in a futurist’s tool box but not articulate the images of the future? Certainly. There is also the issue of bias; we may favor a particular writing style, or image, or method, thus gravitating towards a piece of work over others based more so on style than on content.

    Ultimately my line of thinking has led me to this; a good futurist is one that creates good forecasts, in whichever form they are presented. A good forecast is one in which action is taken. Thus, a good forecast could potentially be created by anyone, with any form of credentials. It could be articulated in any way. As long as a stakeholder takes action, it may be considered good. Admittedly this is a very simplistic view. As the field continues to work towards professionalizing, there may be a time when there will have to be some criteria for what makes a futurist “good”. There is no easy answer to this. That is the rub with trying to rate a futurist. At best we create a standard for what we view to be good work. At worst we risk narrowing the field and creating a status quo, creating groups that are “in” and “out”, good and bad. If we base being “good” on forecasts that produce action, how do we define action? Is it creating actionable strategies? What about simply asking better questions about the future?

    What makes a futurist “good” to you? Is it even possible to objectively call someone a good futurist?


  • 16 Feb 2015 1:25 PM | Julian Valkieser (Administrator)

    In my last articles, I have already mentioned the power of Big Data. My blog colleague Jason adopted it and expressed his own thoughts. In his last article, he has shown wonderfully how technology has already overturned business models and efficiency in other sectors and renewed them. In comparison to this, it could happen in the area of futurist and industry’s foresight as well.

    Now, there are foresight methods that work well or best with uncertainty. Indeed, Delphi-Interviews are planned preciously, e.g. interviewees are pre-selected. But this does not mean that the statements can be processed for hard facts of future reality. And, they should not. That's the exciting thing about scenarios. They give a way to stimulate the imagination and to derive recommendations for action.

    But again, you try to keep the "cone of plausibility" as narrow as possible. (See Jason's blog). You are looking for certain experts. You force certain issues. This is done in order to build the scenario reasonably.

    Now you can imagine how neutral subjective responses and subjective questions are. Anyone who read “Thinking Fast and Slow“ from Daniel Kahneman knows what I mean. And right here data comes into play. Information could passively express motives and interests of groups. I have already indicated this in my last article

    In this article, I already referred to the fact that you can only get the most out of Big Data, if one applies the prediction to a trigger event. One extracts motives and interests out of big data for one or more so-called, trigger events. These are events that can be relatively easily predicted in the near future based on data, because the circumstances are (should be) less complex. Based on these trigger events you can create a scenario. In principle, this is nothing new. Just the basic information is extracted out of big data instead of interviews and subjective insights.

    Let's take an example. A major mobile phone company has 50 million customers. Each customer has a phone and moves every day with this turned-on phone - in this case between different radio towers (See Triangulation). Let’s suppose further that the company receives 20-100 motion information’s by any customer. Provided the company may cache this information for a longer period of time, the result is a huge amount of data information, how people move, how long they stay in which locations, etc. Of course, each individual could now be afraid of privacy. But the individual is not of interest. It's about the mass.

    Imagine what you can do with this information now available. Road offices could optimize the logistics. Infrastructure projects could be optimized. Where should the new stadium be built? How is the highway to be calculated? How many trains must be set on this track?

    In a rising urban environment, where sheer masses of people are moving, all these data are exciting as the basis for trigger events and scenarios.

    And finally, I have another wonderful example for these ideas. Eric Fischer has evaluated geo-tagging data from photo cameras. He compared where locals and tourists take pictures in certain cities in the world and displayed this information on maps.

    About the author:

    Julian Valkieser finalized his study with the thesis on "evaluation criteria for innovation projects in the early stages". Parallel to this, his last engagement was in the Corporate Foresight Department of Evonik Industries AG. Next, he starts as product manager "classifieds" at a german local based website.

  • 10 Feb 2015 7:43 AM | Bridgette Engeler Newbury (Administrator)

    The empires of the future are the empires of the mind. Winston Churchill

    Design and its outputs may reflect our individual and collective imaginations, but design is first and foremost a philosophy, based on a system of values, which seeks to solve problems. What are we creating? Why and for whom? These are questions, in no particular order, to which answers are manifested tangibly and most often in the form of a new product or service or organisational or business model.

    Designers are practical agents of visual imagination, both anticipating futures and creating the sensory blueprints for the objects and experiences to come. The images, objects and technologies that surround us are rich with desirable images and symbolism; they’re powerful and persuasive, well-crafted and covetable, and often very well made. Designers can turn abstract futures-oriented concepts and ideals into visible or tangible form. Designers and design thinkers are agents in articulating futures, and therefore have individual and collective agency for humanity more broadly to sense, see and negotiate (or refuse) the transition.    

    Not all design is good (by any definition). So I’m contemplating what something like long-range design - ‘design with foresight’ – could be. AKA prospective design, it’s what I suggest is design that emerges when futures thinking and design thinking are used together, in a structured manner, to develop an idea that may not exist until sometime in a long-range future, or which will not be to the detriment of preferred futures.

    • Prospective design relies not on technology but on human interaction, deep thought and reflection
    • Prospective design embraces design’s potential to shape conversations, to (re-)frame problems, and to drive participation by understanding the needs and resources of all the differing functions in a consuming world
    • Prospective design is inherently good and not just because it’s always intentional and sociological
    • Prospective design does not produce novelty for the sake of novelty
    • Prospective design makes a product, service or organisation truly useful. Things are purchased, used, adopted and recommended because they serve a purpose and deliver value: value that improves people’s lives and makes them happier. This is the real measurable value people desire. Prospective design optimises the feelings and experiences of customers, while being responsible to community, planet and what is yet to come
    • Prospective design satisfies form and aesthetics, without compromising usage or need. Designed artefacts do not simply fulfil desire or need; they can actualise and reflect wants. The look and feel of something, its materiality and substance, ethereality and intangibility, ephemera and sensation are all part of the feelings it arouses – which are in turn a strategic and integral part of the user’s realisation of value
    • Prospective design helps us to make sense of things. ‘Value’ (as perceived by the user) creates engagement. Good design creates curiosity and engages its audience in meaningful, valuable ways. It also conveys the intentions and trustworthiness of the organisation behind the design and helps people make informed choices
    • Prospective design can be a catalyst or guide, a means for people to create their unique and evolving stories, and their own individual meaning
    • Prospective design is durable and enduring. It increases the value of something over time. It remains relevant as its users, community or culture develops and matures. It may not exert influence or manipulate buyers, but it often takes risks to provoke worthwhile change.

    Prospective design is concerned with context and environment. It’s unobtrusive and meaningful, enhancing people’s experience; it’s not about dominating strategic decisions. Prospective design draws together futures thinking with the principles and practices of design to frame a strategic conversation without an elitist position. Design may be part of a complex, living ecosystem, but prospective design can strive to be a positive agent of transformation that contributes to better-being.


  • 02 Feb 2015 8:34 AM | Sandra Geitz (Administrator)

    "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."

      - Albert Einstein

    Ideas_Silent.jpg

    How to facilitate teams for generating and enacting?


    There seems to be a growing acceptance that diverse experiences and perspectives correlate with better outcomes: greater financial performance results, improved risk management, greater innovation and employee satisfaction and engagement, see the recent McKinsey article, Why diversity matters.


    And yet, neither diversity of experience, gender, ethnicity, gender, nor age guarantees that the best ideas will be shared, genuinely heard nor be accepted and implemented on their merits. In many recent experiences, I have seen culturally diverse teams conforming to expectations of the loudest, most senior team-member just like the best homogenous teams. Is this your experience, too?


    What is really happening to the diverse potential of rich ideas?


    For a long time, I’ve been interested in processes and methods that generate ideas and solve complex problems. I’m particularly interested in understanding ways to facilitate and encourage teams to examine issues or problems with an open mind, and help them reach beyond their own cognitive biases.


    So, a recent Stowe Boyd blog grabbed my attention, Phil Gilbert on sidestepping cognitive biases in group design activities: When you give voice to more people, the best ideas win, not the loudest ones. Interesting. Boyd explained two key ways that information processing is disrupted by a team’s culture and psychology. Firstly, effective ideation can be impaired by sharedness bias:


    Groups communicate predominantly about information, which all or most group members share before entering the discussion, and neglect unshared information, which only one or few members have initially. …  group members individually judge shared information as more important, relevant, accurate, and influential than unshared information. This bias seems to have two reasons: First, shared information can be confirmed by more than one group member. Second, individuals evaluate their own information as more valid than information from other members. Thus, unshared information, even if mentioned in the discussion, is not seriously considered by other group members and therefore has less impact on the final decision than shared information.


    Hence, with established sources of team knowledge and shared experience, groups tend to discuss, share and privileged information that is held in common. Novelty is rarely introduced within team meetings themselves. New ideas tend to be socialised with team members prior to any decision-making in meetings.

    The second is preference bias:

    Even when all information necessary to identify the correct solution is exchanged during discussion, individual group members often stick to their initially preferred wrong solution. People bias their information processing to favor an initially preferred alternative. Other studies show the same phenomenon at the group level: Group decisions can often be predicted by the initial preferences of its members. If a majority favors a certain alternative before the discussion, the group seldom decides to chose another alternative. Thus, frequently, group discussions are superfluous, and groups would be better off using a decision shortcut like an immediate vote or averaging procedure.

    We preference our own preconceived views and information over others. In spite of new valid information, we tend to conform to initial opinions we have of an issue. We tend to be closed to other possibilities, rarely are we convinced of others’ arguments, and we privilege our own ‘objectivity’. This sounds familiar…

    Boyd interviewed Phil Gilbert, IBM general manager of design, on how he applies design thinking, diversity and inclusion to team product ideation. Gilbert believes that the major issue to generating future possibilities, is exposing everybody’s ideas to the whole team: both encouraging all to contribute and hearing each idea.

    At IBM, team workshops are designed to include a wide diversity of experience and backgrounds. Gilbert’s method is sticky notes and silence, as depicted in the diagram above. Everyone present is encouraged to write down all their ideas on separate sticky notes and post them on a wall, without judgement, comment or self-censure. Team leader(s) sort, group and arrange like ideas on the wall, while everyone observes and reflects in silence. Then, individuals may leave the room to discuss ideas, in person, by phone or by a team social media tool. The group returns after an agreed time brainstorming and socialising their ideas (minutes, hours, or days). Gilbert explains that the process usually generates a few dozen new ideas.


    Phil Gilbert’s approach also aligns with Alex Pentland’s research, Social Physics, that I discussed in earlier post. Peak idea flow occurs in teams that iteratively work as individual’s generating novelty and team collaborators discussing, building and socialising these new ideas into practice, summarised in this diagram:

    PeakIdeaFlow.jpg


    “Any useful idea about the futures should appear to be ridiculous.”  - Jim Dator


    Profound words. Futures requires a healthy amount of personal resilience in ourselves. What of the teams that are thinking about their future? Have we designed our methods so that participants, as individuals and teams, are able to bypass cultural and psychological biases to see and accept issues and information anew.


    How can we promote genuine exploration, engagement and reflection with new ideas?


    How can we design experiences that suspend judgement, cynicism and criticism?


    How can we facilitate better futures?
  • 26 Jan 2015 1:17 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Written by: Alireza Hejazi, APF Emerging Fellow

    Attending an international exhibition on a marketing mission recently, I was asked to score service and product providers there and nominate my preferred candidate of that expo. After reviewing many pavilions, I made up my top ten list and scored them according to my check list. I voted for a European company that met most of my desired factors of presenting their services in a client-friendly manner. On the final day, my nominee won the cup not just because of my vote, but due to many other votes that other evaluators had given in favor of them. What looked nice in my eyes was also fine in the eyes of others. I asked myself whether such scorings and rankings could be also made for professional futurists. The idea made me write this blog post.

    I think that ranking the futurists can be a challenging task due to a number of reasons. First of all, there is no universally agreed system of scoring for futurists. Secondly, futurists normally come from different fields of expertise and they cannot be ranked similarly. And thirdly, ranking the futurists may be done validly by institutions that might be authorized for such rankings. I would like to share some of my assumptions and questions about the feasibility of such a scoring system in this post. I should remind that the goal of ranking is not to drive low scores away, but to claim them as candidates of high rank through professional development.

    The first question that comes into mind is this: “What is the benefit of ranking?” or “Why should the futurists be ranked?” In my view, futurists can benefit easily from their own personal branding without ranking; but if they are going to be entitled to the merits of professional recognition, they should be identified by the degree of excellence they provide with their services. In other words, ranking is a means of qualification in terms of knowledge, skill and the quality of service that professional futurists provide for their clients. In my view, professional recognition and related merits are logically belonged to those who provide high quality foresight outputs. Fortunately, the APF’s Most Significant Futures Works program has been serving this idea since 2013.

    Another question that will arise concerning a ranking system is this: “Can the futurists be ranked according to their academic degrees, the number of their published or referenced works, the number of their students, the efficiency of methods and techniques they have developed or the number of their daily Tweets?” or “Should they be judged according to the values they bring to their own nations and the entire humanity?” Conventional methods of ranking may sound useful for scoring the futurists who live in societies where thinking and acting about the future is respectful, but how about futurists who live in regions where futurism is nonsense in the eyes of local decision makers who are positioned based on aristocracy, not meritocracy?

    Any conceivable scoring system for futurists should recognize the fact that futurists are various in their talents and capabilities. While many of them are competent in applying qualitative methods of research, there are some who are brilliant in using quantitative methods of inquiry. Many futurists are good communicators and some of them are skillful in communicating what is ahead in innovative ways. Most of them are open-minded and lifelong learners, but what makes them valuable for themselves and the societies they serve? What are the social impacts of futurists and how can a ranking system measure them in national and international scales?

    The first step that should be taken in this line is to provide a clear and detailed description of the knowledge, skills and attributes expected of a competent futurist or foresight practitioner. A competency framework like what is developed by the International Manipulative Physical Therapy Federation (Rushton, 2013) can be also made for professional futurists based on these components:

    (1) Dimensions: The dimensions are the major functions for foresight performance at post graduate level. The functioning of strategic foresight and futures studies graduates should be evaluated after their graduation in practice.

    (2) Competencies: The competencies are the components of each dimension stated as a performance outcome. The competencies linked to a dimension indicate the standardized requirements to enable a professional futurist to demonstrate each major function for performance at post graduate level.

    Competencies can be divided into competencies related to knowledge, skills and attributes.

    (a) Knowledge: Encompasses the theoretical and practical understanding, use of evidence, principles, and procedures.

    (b) Skills: Encompasses the cognitive, psychomotor and social skills needed to carry out pre-determined actions.

    (c) Attributes: Encompasses the personal qualities, characteristics and behavior in relation to the environment.  

    There are other concerns in the workplace that should be addressed. Research shows that ranking systems are often viewed negatively by people. However, many major corporations such as General Electric (GE), Intel, and Yahoo! use relative rankings and believe in their advantages. For example, Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, instituted a forced ranking system at GE in which 20% of employees would be in the top category, 70% would be in the middle, and 10% would be at the bottom rank. Employees who were repeatedly ranked at the lowest rank would be terminated (Ryan, 2007). Corporate futurists or foresight practitioners might be ranked internally within the corporations they work, but how should they be ranked externally in a larger scale within the global community of futurists?

    Relative rankings may create a culture of performance at corporation level by making it clear that low performance is not tolerated, but how about rankings that might be made by scoring futurists at a professional level? Should a low scorer be expelled out of international futurist communities? Or should he/she be prohibited from practicing the foresight profession without receiving required certifications? More importantly, what are the potential downsides to such rankings? Should a ranking encourage the futurists to upgrade their academic education in foresight and develop their professional skills, or conversely discourage them and deprive them from professional recognition?

    There are many other questions and assumptions like what are mentioned above that make a long list. They highlight a special attention that should be paid to all the details of any effort that would be likely made towards ranking the futurists. Until the completion of a standardized ranking system, conducting self-other rating agreement surveys can be the easiest way to capture a better understanding of futurists’ standing in companies and organizations they serve.  

    References

    Rushton, A. (2013). Educational Standards in Orthopaedic Manipulative Therapy, Part A: Educational Standards. International Manipulative Physical Therapy Federation.

    Ryan, L. (2007, January 17). Coping with performance-review anxiety. Business Week Online, 6.

    About the author

    Alireza Hejazi is a PhD candidate in Organizational Leadership at Regent University and a member of APF Emerging Fellows. His works are available at: http://regent.academia.edu/AlirezaHejazi

  • 19 Jan 2015 12:17 PM | Daniel Bonin (Administrator)

    Business wants to increase the repurchase rate, achieve positive word of mouth recommendations and promote cross buying behavior. But how can futurists get there? There are various hurdles to take if one assumes that futurists are part of the service industry.


    Client satisfaction is based on the comparison between expected and actual/ perceived performance. However the client might not have an idea of what they can expect and/or might hold an unfavorable mental model about foresight. The service provider has the opportunity to leave good impressions and build trust at points of contact with clients (“moments of truth”). During these moments, emotional intelligence is sometimes even more important than purely factual knowledge. Gaps in communication are the sources of many unnecessary misunderstandings. But in particular the distinct characteristics of services can be challenging for futurists:

    5. Characteristics of services

    1. Production and consumption might take place at the same time (e.g. Workshops).

    2. Once the service is provided the client cannot have the product exchanged for another product (like you can do with physical products), but may ask you to revise your work. This characteristic constitutes a source of conflict as futurists often challenge the client’s opinions and views. Thus building trust is essential.

    3. Foresight services cannot be stored as they are normally individualized to fit the client’s needs and objectives.

    Two characteristics are particularly important:

    4. It is hard to measure or assess the quality of foresight services. Intangibility constitutes a source for misunderstandings and also makes the comparison between futurists very hard.

    5. The client plays an integral part in the production process of foresight related services. The outcome depends on both parties. But the client might not realize this. Here, again, it is essential to establish mutual trust.

    So one can say that the client or anyone who is thinking about hiring a futurist faces a high degree of uncertainty caused by the characteristics of services. Clearly, futurists need to build trust and increase the service quality to increase customer satisfaction. But in order to increase the service quality one needs to identify areas where improvements are necessary. In marketing some of the following options are used to build trust and assess the service quality.

    Build Trust

    • Make sure that you respond to client’s needs in a flexible and fast way, but be honest and clear about what is attainable and what not.
    • Create reference points: Clarify what is expected and what can be expected (e.g. provide a sample of one’s work).
    • Hand out physical objects as a gift (e.g. artifact from the future) like some service providers (e.g. t-shirts from restaurants) do to increase psychological proximity.
    • Create trust by social proof: name clients, provide testimonials and use smart wording (e.g. “Over X business executives already joined our newsletter”).
    • Show expertise: Provide detailed descriptions about the knowledge and abilities of you / your team.

    Assess Service Quality

    While, simple questionnaires could also be used to assess the service quality, more sophisticated tools may provide additional insights. The following tools and methods might be used to assess the service quality and to gain a better understanding of the service flows. By doing so one has not only the ability to improve the service quality and reduce misunderstandings but also standardize client communication and processes.

    Communication gaps: Researchers identified communication gaps that often occur and decrease the service quality. Figure 2 shows where special attention needs to be paid (Patusuraman, Zeithaml and Barry, 1985).

    Blueprinting: Blueprinting is used to structure and sketch service flows. A blueprint consists of different types of “lines” and types of “activities” as shown in figure 3. This technique can be used to identify “moments of truth” and to standardize service processes.

    SERVQUAL: Using a Likert scale, client’s expectations and perceptions are measured and compared along five dimensions: (1) Tangibles (physical facilities, equipment and employees), (2) Reliability, (3) Responsiveness, (4) Assurance (e.g. credibility and competence), (5) Empathy/ Customer Understanding. I tried to create a questionare based on the book by Zeithaml, Parasuraman and Berry (1990), which can be found here.

    Critical Incident Method: Client’s are asked to memorize and describe “critical moments” (could be either positive and negative) in order to gain insights into the causes, outcome, feelings, actions involved and resulting changes in behavior. Afterwards all occurring problems are clustered, the frequency of certain problems is assessed and the relevance/ degree of annoyance is analyzed (“Frequenz-Relevanz-Analyse für Probleme”).



    References

    Bitner, M. J., Ostrom, A. L., & Morgan, F. N. (2008). Service blueprinting: a practical technique for service innovation. California management review, 50(3), 66.

    Borth, B. O. (2004). Beschwerdezufriedenheit und Kundenloyalität im Dienstleistungsbereich: Kausalanalysen unter Berücksichtigung moderierender Effekte. Springer.

    Edvardsson, B., & Roos, I. (2001). Critical incident techniques: Towards a framework for analysing the criticality of critical incidents. International Journal of Service Industry Management, 12(3), 251-268.

    Parasuraman, A., Zeithaml, V. A., & Berry, L. L. (1985). A conceptual model of service quality and its implications for future research. the Journal of Marketing, 41-50.

    van Doorn, J. (2004). Zufriedenheitsdynamik: eine Panelanalyse bei industriellen Dienstleistungen. Duv.

    Zeithaml, V. A., Parasuraman, A., & Berry, L. L. (1990). Delivering quality service: Balancing customer perceptions and expectations. Simon and Schuster.

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