DesignOps Summit 2021 – Look, Think, Act: The Futures-Smart Design Organization (April Reagan)

Researcher and Author, Palm Trees + Robots, LLC

  • Two years later there’s a lot that has changed but life is very hectic
  • We can often just focus on what’s right in front of us, it’s easy to just focus on the next deadline or what’s happening next week
  • It’s important that we take time to think about the future not just personally but in our work and how the products and services were building impact the world
  • The world closed for the most part a year and a half ago can’t see the light at the end of the end of the tunnel quite yet but there are improvements we are seeing things change and grow in a positive direction
  • When we don’t think about the future, these are the kinds of things that happen, we’re sort of living in a case study – The pandemic

Let’s just remind ourselves a bit about this case study – The known and unknown of a pandemic

  • October 2019 the global health security index reported that they analyzed 195 countries and not one of them was prepared for the pandemic
  • Think about all around the world all the small businesses that have really suffered
  • According to the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council
    • 30% of businesses that were open in January closed by the end of the year
    • According to census data we had 31.7 million small businesses in the United States at the beginning of 2020
    • 10 million small businesses were closed because of the impacts of the pandemic

Large businesses had to deal with the reality of having a remote workforce that scaled for one thing

  • The people had to deal with a lot in their personal lives as well

Science and technology work

When we put our minds and hearts together to imagine futures on how we can improve lives for others technology does make a difference but it’s often seen as a villain

  • Virtual reality besides being a platform for entertainment or even corporate trainings is also making a difference for the mental health patients fighting PTSD or Alzheimer’s
  • Prosthetics are more complex and powerful than they ever and of course we have a myriad of health devices to help us manage our health and monitor conditions much easier so it’s easier to adhere to those programs
  • We’ve also got power and communications to the most remote locations

We can use science and technology for good but it works best when we don’t work in a silo

I know it can be very easy to get caught up in the day to day, but I encourage you to try and incorporate more Futures Thinking into the way you work, the way your team’s work and the focus of your organization

  • When we don’t do that, we miss possible consequences
  • We must imagine with a diverse team of what could be
  • What are other unintended consequences you’ve seen
  • What are some things that maybe you helped build that you realize later created a new scenario or behavior that you didn’t expect?

By using Futures Thinking we can make the better use of our technology, better use of science, better use of the products and services that we’re doing

  • You’re doing scheduling
  • You’re listening for risks and issues in conversations
  • Your planning capacity of people and space
  • You’re figuring out overtime what are we doing
  • How much can we get done
  • You’re thinking about the future constantly

You have these skills that are easily transferable to futures or futuristic thinking

I interviewed a lot of professional Futurists and I found these six attributes for individual futurists have a lot in common with Design organizations

  • Curious about possibilities
  • Change friendly mindset
  • Nurturing of creative imaginations
  • Active problem solvers
  • Take pride in being part of solution
  • Have had formative experiences
    • For empathy and imagining the lived experience of something in the future

Foresight: Look, Think Act

  • Foresight to me is a set of skills to help you use critical thinking to consider the future and put more analysis around it than just thinking of what might be

There’s lots of opportunities to think about how you can incorporate Futures Thinking into what you are doing

It doesn’t have to stop with just your team for example – How you speak to your clients, or the rest of your organization how can you inspire how can you encourage them to really stop and think about what’s next instead of just what’s right in front of us

I looked at several different futures frameworks

  • Some are more top down; some are bottom up and others diverge and converge like we do in the design process

But they’re generally distilled down into these steps

I want to challenge design teams to think about if we’re really doing all these steps well

  • Looking
    • Something you can do passively or actively
    • Make observations of when you see shifts, stops or substitutions – when things are looking a little different
  • Capturing observations
    • The more ideas you can gather you build on one another’s ideas and expand them
    • Even just capturing observations as a team is a great way to get Futures Thinking
  • Synthesizing into signals
  • General insights
    • Sometimes more about applying frameworks and trying to understand the relationships we’re seeing
    • Identifying the drivers
    • Try to put those into an organized idea about what’s going on around us

  • Imagining scenarios
    • Trends Report – If you’re having trouble trying to figure out what those observations or insights are you can look at these to see if it resonates with you
    • May add more ideas in your head about what’s going on around you
    • We can look outside for ideas about where things might go (movies/tv shows)

The next few steps – we’re not sure if we’re doing that well as designers

  • Estimating scenario potential
    • Taking the scenarios, you built in Step 5 and really pushing and pulling figuring out the best outcomes and the worst outcomes is it good is it evil and try and fill in that whole spectrum
    • As humans we tend to gravitate towards one moral world, but we need to explore all of the worlds in order to avoid some of those negative unintended consequences
  • Identifying preferable futures
    • Taking the full spectrum of scenarios that we’ve dreamed up and trying to figure out where they sit in the projection of the future

    • Futures cone that we use to illustrate all the things that we’ve dreamed up can be slot down in the different cones
    • Strategic time horizons
      • Trying to figure out where are we going? What is possible?
      • Short range, mid-range, and long range
      • The further out the less we know because there is more uncertainty
      • Wider cones = Further out in the future
    • Do some analysis by working back what’s possible now and seeing how we can actually get there
    • There are going to be some things that are not going to happen or something like a wild card – like the pandemic
    • We can see the things that are probable, and the probable cone is just iterations of what we’re seeing now
    • What’s possible or possible can depend on several factors
      • Technology, politics, or social readiness
    • If we don’t do anything then it could end up anywhere on the cone
    • If we really think about where these things are and identify the nice column of preferable futures and try steering in that direction both in how we act what we do what we design with our teams how we influence our leaders both organizationally and politically we can start to steer our futures together
    • It’s a team sport so the more of us that are participating the more likely we are to end up in a preferable situation than an undesirable one
  • Plans of action
    • It’s not enough to just think about where things are going and identify what’s possible, we need to make a plan and how we’re going to influence the future, how we can actually make that happen
  • Within the organization it’s better if you have a culture that’s ready for Futures Thinking and capable of community building of these futures that we want to see

Culture of Bridge Making

  • Collaborative not competitive
    • Design teams had to fight for a long time to get a seat at the table, it led to a more competitive environment rather than a collaborative environment
    • We have to see our organizations as we all are trying to achieve the same thing we all want to be rowing in the same direction
    • Behavior that a future smart organization needs
  • Equity and belonging
  • Internal and external
    • Academia
    • Citizens – beyond early adopters

Culture of Futures Literacy

  • Power of the pivot
  • Embrace the change
  • Growth mindset
    • We have to work together to make these futures and we need honest transparent conversations when we’re talking about the future because of the huge range of impacts things can have
  • Responsibility of all
  • We can’t just limit it to certain roles and disciplines
  • Consider consequences
    • Think of the horizons
      • What are the spectrum of possibilities
    • The more you can embrace change and not just have an expectation about one path through the better off you’re going to be

I want to point out again how important this is that we really think about the products and services were making and how we talk to the rest of the organization

  • Design leaders are uniquely suited to talk about human centricity to the many different stakeholders we have
  • We must take advantage of these conversations we have to push for the right thing

There is hope to be found in the future and sometimes looking back we can see that things can get a lot better

We need to get to the meat of values and impact

  • Read up and think about anything that you are making
  • How does it impact our elders? Our youth?
  • Does it really serve a diverse community? Race? Age? Abilities? Experience?  – We need to hear all the voices

We’ve got to get more people in the conversation and not just small homogeneous groups of people deciding really huge and impactful things for our country and world