Future studies has emerged from the art of studying and attempting to make accurate predictions as to what the future may hold for society as we know it today. While much art and creative energy has positioned future studies as a discipline now in use by many organizations around the world, to include, the Department of Defense, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Fortune 500 and many other companies and organizations, it is not purely art or technique. This approach to understanding the future has rapidly become a discipline with a growing system of approach and many now-proven techniques. Some may argue the point, but in essence, future studies have become an applied science. Edward Cornish (2004), in his book, Futuring, The Exploration of the Future states,
Foresight is a skill that we can learn, and it may provide more important benefits than almost any other skill we can acquire. Foresight enables us to anticipate many of the risks and opportunities that could confront us in the future, giving us time to decide what to do before we crash into them. Foresight can also help us to develop worthwhile and achievable long-term goals, along with reasonable strategies for attaining them. (p. xi)
Understanding futuring in this context brings with it an entirely new set of tools to emergency managers and crisis planners. After all, time can be a great enemy to emergency managers on the front end of a crisis. Any tool or set of tools that buys time and sheds light and discernment on risk or opportunity should be found in the kit of all emergency managers. Futuring as a science could and hopefully will change the outlook for the United States and perhaps the world.
There are many lessons to learn from the great explorers. They worked diligently about their business in the past to help bring us to and create the present that surrounds each living soul in this present time. Without their work, we may not have been born or the present and the future may look very different than it does today. Cornish (2004) stated,
Reading accounts of the great expeditions, we noticed that the explorers prepared very carefully for their journeys. Their success depended on having the right equipment, the right supplies, the right teammates, and the right training at the moment of need.
So the first lesson of the great explorers is: prepare for what you will face in the future. (pp. 1-2) Cornish (2004) went on to explain seven lessons that we can learn from the great explorers. One of the key takeaways he dwelt on and that is important to every emergency manager was not to waste time seeking perfect information or for things to align and immediately makes sense. This concept is sometimes referred to as “analysis paralysis” in the intelligence community and the realities of this concept have resulted in exponentially increasing the magnitude of crises, causing additional problems and even in the loss of life. Cornish’s list, even without the full detail is worth consideration as a matter of bullet points. Cornish (2004) indicated that the following seven lessons have been specifically identified through study of the great explorers:
- 1. Prepare for what you will face in the future.
- 2. Anticipate future needs.
- 3. Use poor information when necessary.
- 4. Expect the unexpected.
- 5. Think long-term as well as short-term.
- >6. Dream productively.
- 7. Learn from your predecessors. (p.7)
As history unfolds into the present, and the present into the future, those engaged in future studies have noted that “change” is something that will happen in every case. It has happened in the past. It is happening now and will continue to happen in the future. In some cases, change has become force multiply by events or stimulus such as inventions and technology, culture and even the environment. When this change takes on a momentum in tempo that outruns or stays out of the control of society it can create a process that future studies refer to as revolutions. Revolutions are part of a process within what are referred to as hypertrends in hyperchange. Cornish (2004) refers to three technological revolutions within the process of hyperchange. (p.16) These are the agricultural, industrial and cybernetic revolutions. (Cornish 2004, p.16)
Cornish (2004) also refers to six supertrends. He states that technological progress and economic progress for the first two in primary noted super trends. These two super trends in combination have resulted in today’s techno-economic growth. (Cornish, 2004, p.22) He further stated that this growth process and combine super trend has contributed to for additional super trends which he identifies as: improving human health; increasing mobility; environmental decline; and increasing deculturation. (Cornish, 2004, p.23) Each one of these super trends is made up of numerous lesser trends. Understanding both the lesser trends and the super trends assists future study professionals and emergency managers in gaining a glimpse into what the future might look like for their particular interests or organizations.
A trend that reverses for whatever reason can become what is referred to as a “cycle.” It is important for emergency managers and crisis planners while studying trends to identify potential cycles and where trends might be within a particular cycle. Understanding this dynamic can help emergency managers to more accurately predict possible future scenarios, but more importantly help them plan and prepare for the possibilities ahead.
When considering future studies, it is important to note the significance of systems, chance and chaos theories. Our lives and the realities that we live in are made up of systems. Those systems create networks and relationships between entities and individuals. Cornish (2004) stated,
One reason the systems approach is so useful is that it focuses our attention on relationships rather than on things. It is relationships among things, more than the things themselves, that shape events. You are thinking normally focuses on things, because things are visible but relationships are not. (p.49)
This is certainly a true statement, as professionals in security, intelligence and emergency management go about their daily routines and accomplishing their tasks planning and preparing it is easy to focus on the obvious. The obvious would represent those things that they can see and touch or that are readily visible. In contrast, Cornish points out that the relationships between entities is perhaps more important than the entities themselves. These systems create for some a new focus and a new way forward. For some in emergency management as well as other related disciplines, this approach will indeed become a science and perhaps revolutionary within the frameworks that currently exist.
Chance and chaos theories provide a backdrop from which the networks and relationships will be altered. However, Cornish (2004) makes an interesting observation that “chance may be a scientist’s friend at times, but it is often the deadly enemy of people charged with safety.” (p.57)
There is much to study and discuss regarding Chance and particularly chaos as it relates to future studies. However, Cornish (2004) makes an interesting observation is his book that is worth consideration by every emergency manager and every security and safety professional. He stated,
As humans, we add conscious choice to the influence of chance and chaos of our lives. Just as we can choose to shape clay to many very different things, we have enormous freedom to shape and reshape our lives. Our futures are not rigidly fixed but plastic: We can be Michelangelos creating something wondrous out of our futures if we can master the art of learning how to do it. (p.63)
This is incredibly significant in the life and discipline of every emergency manager present and future. The text provides a list and valuable discussion on several methods that are useful for planners and those engaged in futuring. The list is not exhaustive but does provide a fairly comprehensive approach for emergency managers may be serious about working future studies into their programs and methodology. That list includes: scanning, trend analysis, trend monitoring, trend projection, scenarios, polling, brainstorming, modeling, gaming, historical analysis, and visioning. (Cornish, 2004, pp. 77-78) Emergency managers can benefit from understanding each of these futuring methods. Historical analysis and scenarios are particularly important though. Understanding the past provides a point of reflection and available data to be analyzed. Developing relevant scenarios and providing injects developed from the use of other futuring methods can help planners to develop more accurate and plausible understandings of the future. This is directly related for all professionals engaged in crisis action planning.
As crisis action planners and emergency managers develop relevant scenarios, a technique called “backcasting” can provide possible and plausible pathways to realizing goals and objectives as well as successful outcomes. This is accomplished by identifying the end goal of a relevant scenario. The planners then accept the final result is a given. By starting at this end goal they then work backwards in an attempt to understand possible paths that might be taken to arrive at the successful conclusion. In the text, Cornish (2004) used an example that is in one sense rhetorical and in another profound. He stated,
How do you climb a mountain? Many people might say that you start at the bottom and work your way up-a bottom-up approach. The visionary executives, say management professor Stephen C. Harper, will respond, “From the top down.”
They know that by mentally envisioning what it would be like to stand on the summit, they can see the best path for climbing the mountain. If they were to climb the mountain from where they currently stand, it would limit them to the path immediately in front of them. (p.102)
This approach could have been used by crisis action planners prior to the events of both 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. It could be said that this approach should have been used in these scenarios and perhaps in the majority of all emergency management situations where there was information available prior to the crisis. There are many circumstances and historical catastrophes that could be studied and applied to the principles as discussed. Future Catastrophes that Cornish identified include nuclear war, a global financial collapse, a devastating global plague, worldwide religious war, institutional meltdown, and environmental collapse. (Cornish, 2004, pp. 116-117) All of these catastrophic scenarios should be considered in the context of the emergency manager’s area of operation and organizational networks. He also identified a list of potential “benestrophe” scenarios. Benestrophe is a term that was coined by a group of students or young people “some years ago,” according to Edward Cornish. (Cornish, 2004, pp. 115-116) These phenomenon could be said to be the opposite of a catastrophe. However, while each scenario could have significant influence on current and future trends that influence while beginning with a positive scenario may result in either a positive or negative, or even a combined outcome. The scenarios described as benestrophes by Cornish included such possibilities as: war fades from history; energy that is almost free; happiness pill is perfected; death becomes an ecstatic experience; permanent human settlements in space; drugs to boost human intelligence; a really effective “youth treatment” is found; a “world brain” is constructed. (Cornish, 2004, pp. 118-119)
While it would be easy to dismiss these positive scenarios and overlook them as possible factors contributory to future analytics, Cornish advises that there are professional studies underway, even now that have been funded with the expectation of facilitating some of these possibilities. (Cornish, 2004, p.120)
Conclusion and Recommendations
Visualizing the future, as well as anything can be difficult. Putting ideas and information on paper is a good way to start. Seeing the information can lead to other ideas and open the doors to creative work. (Cornish, 2004, p.128) Mapping out ideas and using graphic representations to allow for visualization can also be helpful. (Cornish, 2004, p.129) There are computer programs designed to facilitate this process. As discussed, the relationships between entities and that describe how entities interact are perhaps more important than the entities themselves. Visualizing information allows for all aspects of future studies to take on meaning and to be expanded. It is recommended that all emergency management programs, both operational and educational provide for this level of thinking. This should be accomplished through classes that teach the various tactics and techniques associated with future studies. It should also be associated through emergency management, criminal justice and intelligence programs alike. In all cases, the past should be considered as the future is studied.
Cornish, E. (2004). Futuring: the exploration of the future. Bethesda, Maryland: U.S.
© 2012 David Henderman, CPP, OSINetwork (Reprint is permissible with credit and notice to source via firstname.lastname@example.org)