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Futurist Scaffolding

This Thursday, I'll be delivering the morning keynote at the Art Center College of Design Sustainable Mobility Summit. My talk will cover the big picture context for the kinds of debates and discussions swirling around the event. There will be the usual assortment of drivers -- along with a cheeseburger or two -- but I thought I'd offer a preview of where the talk ends up.

After going through an exploration of fundamental catalysts, I list three different lenses through which to view what tomorrow holds:

    Participatory Future
    Bottom-up drivers enable greater collaboration and participation, but also greater instability. This is a future of Open Source Design and Global Guerillas. This is a world where power comes from the Commons.

    Interconnected Future
    Technology-driven changes enable more sharing of information and ideas, but abandon the remnants of old intellectual property and privacy rules. This is a future of the Participatory Panopticon and Augmented Reality. This is a world where power comes from Relationships.

    Leapfrog Future
    Catastrophe and Opportunity combine to drive the creation of new economic, political, and social models. This is a future of Massive Disruptions and Unanticipated Consequences. This is a world where power comes from Creativity.

To unpack this a bit: These are clearly not necessarily mutually-exclusive scenarios, but different ways of thinking about how anticipation, response, and resilience manifest in an era of crisis. By power, I don't mean it in the "...flows from the barrel of a gun" sense, but in the "social engine of change" sense -- that is, how we enable our anticipation, response, and resilience. Although I don't discuss a set timeline, I think of these scenarios as operating in the fifteen-to-twenty year horizon.

I intentionally gave them all reasonably appealing names. I wanted to avoid any sense that I was pushing towards one or away from another, and especially wanted to avoid any intimation that this was a "good-medium-bad" set of linear scenarios.

There's very little narrative to these futures -- so little that I actually hesitate to call them "scenarios" -- but they do provide structure. They're scaffolds, frameworks upon which to build stories of tomorrow. I have a fairly limited time to give my presentation, so I won't be able to do much building myself.

My hope is that these three scaffolds will give the Summit participants a useful way of thinking about the various challenges and surprises they encounter at the event.

As always, I look forward to seeing what kind of responses these ideas generate.


Can you maybe present them as overlapping and show what may occur as a result of movement into one of the extreme poles?

Also, I would not count out a resurgence of command and control madness.

Is there a danger of the title of the first being easily confused with the content of the second? The "Participatory Future" is not the one with the "Participatory panopticon".

Which lens does depression 2.0 favor?

Though I see them as layers of a cake. We will get them all.

What are the disconfirmation forces? They might be interesting.

About time I said "Thank you" for putting a lot of interesting thoughts into the net like this.
Sometimes I even have to stop and think things over a bit after having read what you've written. That's proof of what you're doing effects people, so keep up the good work!

Michael, nice idea. I don't think I'll have time to do that for this version, but that'll be a useful addition to v2.

John, good catch. I'll fix the language to make that less ambiguous.

Illogic, thank you.

I am very interested in the notion of the "futures scaffolding." This year's Joint Operating Environment initiated our own work on the idea of "contexts of future conflict and war" which for us, serve the same function as your "scaffolding" in that they represent a set of overlapping trends and drivers. In addition, your particular set of three scaffolds fit very well within our "Identity Conflict over Global Networks" which we will be further developing. Sort of combines John Robb's open source warfare with dislocated, nonstate global identities.

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