Which of your future selves are you going to help out?

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Do you ready the pot for tomorrow’s coffee before you go to bed at night?
Do you go to a yoga class so that you’ll stay fit, strong, and flexible over time?
Do you put money aside to cover your next tax bill?

Foresight is a complex business. At the organisational level, a lot of thought and work goes into finding tools and techniques which help people prepare for times which haven’t arrived yet.

Yet, like all the most important topics, foresight is also terribly simple. It’s about finding answers to the questions “What’s coming next?” and “What should I do about it?”

Sometimes that’s as simple as prudently taking actions which will benefit your future self – like prepping that coffee pot before you go to bed.

When you do this, it’s like your present self is helping out your future self.

When you arrive in the future, you’ll be able to look back and feel glad that your past self made an effort on your behalf.

No-one knows for sure what the future holds, so we’re always taking bets, more or less informed, on what will await us. (Chances are high you’ll need coffee in the morning, and the kettle will still be there to let you make it).

When we address more complex future issues, individually or as an organisation, we have to take more complex bets about the future circumstances which await.

We have to decide which of our potential future selves most needs our help, or which will stand to reap the greatest rewards from our actions today.

This one might get sick. This one might lose her job. This one might win the lottery. This one could write a Nobel Prize-winning novel, if only she could find the time to do so. This one might develop a sudden passion for topiary, and want to retrain as a professional gardener.

Any one of those future selves could benefit from the decisions we take in the present – but we can’t help all of our future selves. What’s more, whatever decisions we do take will have consequences in whichever future does eventually emerge.

We have to make decisions about which of our future selves will most benefit from our help, which ones will be able to cope for themselves, and which ones we just don’t think are likely to ever arrive. (The latter category might include future selves who have been more fortunate or successful than we dare to imagine; sometimes the future we neglect is the one that seemed “too bright to hope for”).

When you start to think about what comes next and where you want to head, it’s worth imagining the variety of future selves which might await, and the future worlds they might live in. (There are ways of doing that work methodically, even at a small scale).

When you picture those future selves:

What do they need from you?
What can they do without?
Which of them will benefit most from your intervention?
How will they judge the choices that you are making today?

#NotEnoughSciFi: To Write Like A Woman

#NotEnoughSciFi is an occasional series looking at works of science fiction and fantasy which I think might be useful for organisations, institutions, companies and communities which are trying to get ready for the shape of things to come. See previous entries here.

Girls who loved the strangeness of pulp SF have grown up and seen that strangeness as a tool for inventing futures where women are free (or become free).

– Joanna Russ

I was excited to discover that Gwyneth Jones has just written a book about the American feminist scholar and science-fiction writer Joanna Russ.

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#NotEnoughSciFi: Writing Futures with Jasper Fforde at the Brisbane Writers Festival

The British novelist Jasper Fforde joined attendees of the Brisbane Writers Festival in Queensland, Australia to explore the creation of plausible, intriguing imaginary worlds in a half-day workshop.

Fforde is known for eclectic genre-bending novels including the Thursday Next series, which follow the exploits of a woman who is able to cross the boundary between literature and her reality.

I was interested to see if Fforde’s work could be useful for strategists and foresight professionals trying to craft evocative visions of the futures we might inhabit. Although his stories tend to be set in wild and comic universes, his workshop had more than a few nuggets of wisdom for people trying to imagine futures they could strategically act on.

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#NotEnoughSciFi : Strategy, Scenarios, and “Annihilation”

#NotEnoughSciFi is an occasional series looking at works of science fiction and fantasy which I think might be useful for organisations, institutions, companies, and communities which are trying to get ready for the shape of things to come.

This week’s entry focusses on Jeff Vandermeer’s “Southern Reach Trilogy”, the first book of which was adapted into the Netflix movie Annihilation last yearSee previous entries from #NotEnoughSciFi here.

The most common source of management mistakes is not the failure to find the right answers. It is the failure to ask the right questions. Nothing is more dangerous in business than the right answer to the wrong question.

– Peter Drucker

After a mysterious event, an unknown force takes over a backwater of the southeastern US coast. Warded from the outside world by a barrier that defies physicists’ understanding, the so-called “Area X” begins to distort the environment in ways which are difficult to study, record, or comprehend.

Still from the Netflix movie

Over a period of years, a government agency tasked with understanding and controlling the zone sends in countless expeditions, to little avail. The latest group, composed entirely of women, also succumbs to the zone’s weird dangers. The sole returning survivor, a taciturn biologist, is compromised by her encounter with Area X – but what has happened to her? And what does it mean for the affected zone – or for life as we know it on Earth?

This is the world of Jeff Vandermeer’s “Southern Reach Trilogy” –  Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance – the first instalment of which was filmed by Netflix, with Natalie Portman in the lead role, last year.

Netflix’s Annihilation is a visually sumptuous adventure which challenges sci-fi’s traditional gender imbalances by following an all-women team of explorers into the mysterious zone. But there are even richer pickings to be found in Vandermeer’s trilogy.

The “Southern Reach” books offer a complex exploration of institutional and personal encounters with unknown or uncontrollable phenomena. Their refusal to offer easy answers, their dissection of office politics and power relations, and their critique of the structures by which we seek to make sense of and control the world, all make them valuable fodder for a special edition of #NotEnoughScifi.
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#NotEnoughSciFi: Time of the Clockwork Dutchmen

It’s been a while since the last #NotEnoughSciFi, an occasional series looking at works of science fiction and fantasy which I think might be useful for organisations, institutions, companies, and communities which are trying to get ready for the shape of things to come. See previous entries here.

I had a glorious time with a book last week. Something that hadn’t happened since I was a kid.

I was busy at work and didn’t have much time for leisure reading. So when I started Ian Tregillis‘ novel The Mechanical, I only expected to manage a half-hour or so a night before falling asleep.

Instead, I stayed up through the night to finish the book. The next evening, I started the second volume of the trilogy which The Mechanical begins. On the third night, bleary but compelled, I finished Tregillis’ series. I spent my nights lost in his world. It was heaven on earth.

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The series – called The Alchemy Wars trilogy – is a work of fantasy, not science fiction. It is set in an alternate version of the year 1926 which owes as much to the 17th century as the 20th, where the Dutch and French are the warring European powers whose conflict has shaped global history.

So why does it have anything to teach us in 2019? Read more

#NotEnoughSciFi: Feels, Facts, and Reason

#NotEnoughSciFi is an occasional series looking at works of science fiction and fantasy which I think might be useful for organisations, institutions, companies and communities which are trying to get ready for the shape of things to come. See previous entries here.

These days, it can feel as if reason, facts, and truth themselves are under assault. As if the institutions and professions – the academy, journalism, research, librarianship – which have allowed many of us to understand and discuss the world on common ground are beleaguered.

In pop culture, can we find new ways of imagining these figures for the coming world? Do science fiction, fantasy, and the study of our society overlap and can this overlap help us?

I’ve just finished a couple of books which turned out to converge in weird and useful ways: William Davies’ Nervous States: How Feeling Took Over the World and Una McCormack’s production history and critical response to a 1980s BBC TV serial, The Curse of Fenric. Read more

7 Questions with @RichRetyi of @AADL & @annarborstories

Today we’re joined by Rich Retyi, who leads Marketing & Communications for Ann Arbor District Library (AADL). I met him during the Wondrous Strange event I ran for AADL last year, alongside other great staff like Sherlonya Turner and AADL’s director Josie Parker.

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Rich is an exceptional storyteller and advocate for libraries, and alongside his comms work he has created the Ann Arbor Stories podcast and a spinoff publication, The Book of Ann Arbor.

I began by asking Rich how he came to join the team at AADL.

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Marvellous Finale

It’s the final edition of Curious, Mysterious, Marvellous, Electrical today – the newsletter I’ve used to capture stories and secret histories from Australasia and beyond over the last two years.

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We started out by walking the coasts near Lisbon back in January 2016 and we finish the journey more or less where we began, exploring the history of one of Portugal’s most illustrious artistic families.

In the intervening years, highlights included:

And that’s not even including the drug counsellors, the Nazi hunting comedians, the dancer turned paramedic, the time travelling arts worker, or the Argentinian sisters running a horror-themed cake shop out on the tropic of Capricorn

…or the pastry.

Check out the complete Marvellous, Electrical on Google Maps.

Marvellous, Electrical: Distant Lands Are Not So Far Away

Pop stars at the fall of Communism. A man who builds imaginary tools to solve problems that never were. A mining engineer who made a ten-tonne truck disappear through a metre-wide tunnel.

Approaching the end of the year and the final instalments of Marvellous, Electrical, we’re joined by two humble figures with secret artistic careers.

Andy MacDonald, factory supervisor at Queensland’s Cobb + Co Museum, recounts a life spanning mining, sculpture, stage design, and jet fighter maintenance in Part 1 of The Fitter And The Handyman.

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Then Alf Klimek, doing odd jobs and broadband installation in Melbourne, reveals an unexpected career as a Berlin-based Cold War pop star.

You can also see two years’ back catalogue of Marvellous, Electrical over at the newsletter’s Google Maps page. Distant lands are not so far away…