Wouldn’t it be great to know what the future holds for us? Particularly in the difficult times we are currently living, it’s easy to wish we’d know what the world looks like in six months or a year. This of course isn’t possible, but futures thinking provides a framework for us to foresee what possible futures might look like. In the words of Malcolm X – the future belongs to those who prepare for it today. So let’s prepare!
To learn how to use foresight strategically and to network with specialists in the field, I attended a scenario co-creation workshop at Futurice. The event was organized on the eve of National Futures Day in order to introduce the newly developed Futurice Lean Futures Creation toolkit.
Similarities between design thinking and futures thinking
Futures thinking and design thinking have some synergies and overlap, not only in theory but also in practice. Personally I have more experience attending and organizing service design workshops and only a bit of experience in futures thinking through coursework at Laurea. Although I am quite new to futures thinking, the tools and canvases used during the workshop felt familiar due to my experience in service design.
My Laurea coursework introduced me to all the futures thinking concepts discussed in the workshop. With this background, the workshop contributed to my learning and provided me with additional tools for my personal toolkit.
The future of work – putting the Lean Futures Creation toolkit to the test
We started off with a brief introduction to the new toolkit and quickly formed groups of 6-7 and started working. The workshop focused on the future of work and all participants had been tasked with finding five trends or weak signals on what work might look like in 2030. Based on these we filled in a PESTLEY table, which we used as the basis for our alternative futures. The PESTLEY table was the first canvas we used.
The PESTLEY table guided our work in the next step; creating alternative futures. For this we used the second canvas. We selected seven topics, came up with alternative outcomes and finally developed three alternative futures based on this work. The team divided into pairs and used the third canvas to guide the development of the different narratives.
The very last canvas we used guided the development of scenarios. My group had been so swept away by the previous steps that we didn’t have enough time to backcast and develop complete scenarios. We did still get to try it and as the facilitator kept reminding us – today was less about the substance and more about the process!
We got to practice using four canvases, developed a deeper understanding about co-creating scenarios and networked with likeminded professionals. The night was a great success in my books!
What if an organization would know what are the pain points of its future customers, which are emerging competitors and partners, what type of ecosystems organization should be part of, what type of legal, social or political issues are arising, what is going to be next industrial trend, how to disrupt the industry? “What if” is one of the most important questions in futures thinking. It enables stretching our thinking and imagine possible futures.
Minna Koskelo, futures designer had a presentation about “What is futures thinking” on Waffle Wednesday at Wonderland in February 2020. According to Koskelo “you can’t control the future but you can have a sense of control if you do understand more the drivers that are affecting the future. “ We don’t know the future but futures thinking gives us a mindset and offers a systematic approach that combines, methods, and tools to explore alternative futures which can support organizations to make right decisions. Koskelo’s presentation made me think about how well organizations are actually aware of the powerful mindset of futures thinking and its methods? Organizations are doing customer insight, business insight but how systematically and continuously companies are conducting future-oriented insight a.k.a. futures thinking? Feels like many organizations are focusing more on what is already visible instead of investing on what is about to come. Research shows that future-prepared firms outperform the average by a 200% higher growth and were 33% more profitable than average!
From where to start Futures Thinking?
When talking about the future there are certain terms that we need to understand. These terms are: megatrends, trends, signals.
Megatrend is a dominant long-term phenomenon with a global impact. Megatrends can change slowly. Examples of megatrends are climate change, senior citizens, digitalization, and circular economy. Koskelo mentioned that many times it is said that companies shouldn’t focus on megatrends when finding business innovation because megatrends aren’t bringing any competitive advantage. Then again we could also ask how many companies are today actually tackling on helping senior citizens?
Trends are changes in people’s behavior, attitudes, and values locally and globally. They have an impact on the culture, society or business sector. Trends indicate which direction development is going. Trend has a lasting impact, but the impact is smaller than megatrends’ impact.
Signal is a phenomenon, the first expression of change or a new trend. Signal might be a weak signal that is very surprising and weird that forces companies to challenge current assumptions. So if a company would spot a weak signal and tries to develop it to a trend, it might offer a competitive advantage.
Tools for exploring the future
The more aware organizations are of the opportunities that the future holds, the more future-proof decisions can be made. There are various tools for supporting in future decision making. Four of them are described below.
What if an organization would get a holistic view of opportunities and obstacles in its future environment? It feels like organizations focus their future view heavily on technology and ignore other important trends. But in order to get a more holistic view, an organization could utilize a framework called STEEPLED that is an acronym for: Social, Technology, Economic, Environment, Political, Legal, Ethical, Demographics. STEEPLED offers a checklist for exploring external factors that might have an impact on the organization’s success – the organization could find signals that might turn into trends!
What if organization could really reach their vision?Backcasting would be the tool to be used in this case. In backcasting the organization defines first its desirable future and from there works backward to identify the critical steps necessary to achieve the desired future, the vision.
What if organization would be able to anticipate its future customers? By using future personas the organization would provide insights of future customers, anticipate what motivates them and what are their future needs.
What if organization would recognize the direct and indirect consequences of a decision, trends and events that might have an impact on the organization’s ecosystem?Futures wheel is a visual tool that supports to create a structured map of the future. When working with the futures wheels a particular trend will be put in the center after which the primary, secondary and tertiary impacts of the trend will be explored in a structured way.
Six business benefits of Futures Thinking
Based on Minna Koskelo’s presentation and my earlier studies in futures thinking I would sum up futures thinking benefits as below.
Futures Thinking 1. offers a safe space to consider and discuss unthinkable options,
2. encourages to think beyond the company’s current value proposition and reveal new business opportunities,
3. offers new innovative ways for decision-making processes and enhance decision making under uncertainty,
4. enables test ideas before translating them into business or innovation strategies,
5. helps to align the whole organization working towards a common vision in their daily work practices,
6. offers a roadmap for navigating complexity and reaching the vision.
Future does not just happen, it depends on today’s choices and is created through interaction and collaboration. What if we start to influence our future today?
References: From signals to future stories Futures Thinking Ojasalo, Koskelo and Nousiainen. 2015. Foresight and Service Design Boosting Dynamic Capabilities in Service innovation. In: Agarwal, R., Selen, W., Roos, G. & Green, R. (ed.) The Handbook of Service Innovation. London: Springer. 193-212.
By Salla Kuuluvainen
I recently attended two events which made me think about futures thinking and it’s relation to service design and innovation. Innovation, by definition, is an act that reaches towards the future, and and engages the innovator in creating a future that may be something they wish for.. or not. How can we as innovators and service designers engage in creating those desirable futures?
50 years from 1968
I attended an event in Tiedekulma where the year 1968 was discussed. I went there, not because my studies of service design, but because I’m interested in changing the world, and when younger, also identified as an activist. One of the speakers, Johanna Vuorelma, a historian, claimed that politics in today’s world no longer are utopistic. In 1968 there was a real sense of trying to build a better, different world from previous’ generations’ with a World War and its horrors.
I could agree on that. The revolutionaries and activists of today no longer reach for a desirable future, instead they try to preserve something of old: a somewhat habitable planet or a shred of human rights, or a homeland that looks like in 1950`s if they are active in the conservative movements. So activism today may look like the same thing as
in the crazy year of 1968, but actually the drivers and motivators behind the actions may be very different.
Futurist as Designer
Another event I attended during Helsinki Design Week was Futures Talks, organized by Futures Specialists Helsinki. In the event we heard many different ideas and scenarios for future, some more positive than others. The idea that impacted me the most had to do with design thinking. The organizers discussed the idea of designing our futures, meaning that studies of the futures thinking is not just a passive act of trying predict what will happen – instead a we should see how each of our actions and choices creates the future in this very moment.
In conclusion of these two events I thought that maybe utopistic thinking does not happen in the realm of activism and politics anymore, but that sometimes more optimism and positive energy for change can be found around events that discuss design and innovation. Our final task at the event by FSH was to create a future wall with post-it notes about our personal utopias, dystopias or protopias – protopia meaning a world that is better by a small, achievable change. Maybe Service Design is actually just about that – creating a protopia for our everyday lives.
A modern organisation chart? From Work Up! x HDW: AI and Ethics
New artificial intelligence solutions are popping up everywhere, including the public sector. The amount of available data and constantly increasing computing power make it possible for algorithms to take on more and more complex tasks.
Will artificial intelligence take our jobs and make us useless? Can we trust the robots? The public discussion around these emerging technologies often seems to paint a negative, even dystopian picture of the future. When it comes to disruptive technological change, this is nothing new though. Lack of information or transparency usually leads to fear instead of trust towards the technology. But can we tackle this issue of trust with design?
Last week I attended a Helsinki Design Week seminar called “Future Talks”. It was organized by Future Specialists Helsinki and featured four keynote speeches loosely related to designing for trust in future services. Inspired by the event, I decided to write this blog post and dig a little deeper on the theme of trust in AI and robotics.
Why is trust important?
Ilkka Halava at Future Talks
If users don’t trust a service, they will not use it unless it’s absolutely necessary. This is obvious, but all the more important to acknowledge in the age of extreme competition and easy availability of information and alternatives. As futures researcher Ilkka Halava put it in his keynote at “Future Talks”, digitalization is a massive power shift from systems to humans. Bad and untrustworthy services will quickly become obsolete because they can easily be bypassed.
When creating services based on new technologies that users might not fully comprehend, such as AI or robotics, it’s especially important to gain trust for the service to succeed and provide value.
The question then seems to be – how can we design trust?
7 things to consider
Olli Ohls at Future Talks
To answer that question, we need to understand the core elements that foster trust towards such technologies.
At “Future Talks”, Olli Ohls (Robotics Lead at Futurice) talked about key points on research results regarding what creates trust in the field of social robotics.
Based on Ohls’s speech and Enkel’s article, I compiled a summary of seven things to consider when designing for trust in AI and robotics:
Transparency – when the purpose and intention of the AI or robot is clear, and the underlying logic is understood by the user, it is much more likely to be trusted. A major positive impact was noticed in robotics when a robot was able to verbally explain its purpose to a user, as pointed out by Ohls. The development process behind the technology should also be transparent.
Compatibility – the technology obviously needs to match with the problem it’s trying to solve. It’s also important to consider how users feel how it matches with their values and guides them towards their goals.
Usability – the more intuitive and easier the innovation is to use, the better the chance of creating trust. Additionally, users should be able get a basic understanding of how the technology in question works, what its limitations are, and how one should work with it. As a crude comparison: it’s hard to start driving a truck if you don’t understand the basics of what automobiles do.
Trialability – when users can test the solution before actual implementation, perceived risk is reduced. A trial can be conducted, for example, via a prototype.
Performance – seeing an AI or a robot make a small mistake here or there won’t likely hinder our trust toward it, but constantly underperforming will. Expectation management is important here – users need to know what the technology is supposed to achieve and how it should do it.
Security – the technology should be perceived to be safe to use from both a physical and a data security viewpoint.
Control vs. autonomy – it’s important to understand the context and the purpose of the technology and find the suitable level of automation. Ask the question: should we lean towards the technology making the decisions, or the technology assisting a human in making decisions?
Takeaways and thoughts
AI and robotics are still very new to most people and the concepts might seem intimidating. To use the technologies to create real value, we need to design services around them that are trustworthy for their users and for the society at large. Keeping the points above in mind during your service design project could be a good start in working towards that trust.
The author Miikka Paakkinen is an MBA student in Service Innovation and Design with a background in business management and information technology.
What do you think of the list? Could your experiences regarding trust in services be translated to AI or robotics? Please share your thoughts below!
Since it was founded 50 years ago, Sitra has been a futures house and they have just updated their megatrends report from a Nordic viewpoint. As Finland’s celebrating its 100 year anniversary Sitra wanted to highlight the megatrends affecting work, democracy and inclusion, and growth and progress that are relevant to the Nordic model as all of these themes are specifically at the core of the Nordic model’s future. Elina Kiiski-Kataja from Sitra presented these for the Futures Specialist Helsinki group on 4th of December. Here’s my recap of the event – thank you Minna Koskelo & Futures Specialist Helsinki for making this possible and Elina for having us and offering an insightful morning.
What’s the new normal for work?
The first inspected megatrend was about the future of work – what’s the new normal? What’s the role of technology and humans versus robots? Most people are still working in steady paid jobs at this moment but what about in 2040? Sitra states in their updated megatrend report that there are 2 possible scenarios:
Work changes but there is plenty for all
Only a few people have work and even fewer benefit from the results
The change forces behind this scenario are described in the above slide on the left hand side – automation, robotisation, artificial intelligence and digital platforms are changing all areas of work.
So what can we do? We need new models for life long learning to keep people from dropping off from the work force. Our old model getting educated while you’re in your twenties will not work anymore. And on income distribution – do we aim for more or less equality in our society? The basic income model is just being tested in Finland. The Institute of the Future in California is researching a universal livelihood model and sees this from the viewpoint of capital and assets, not just work income. Should there be passports to school, healthcare etc. ? If we do not find models to help in this change the price to pay is increasing unrest and upheaveals in our society.
How is democracy doing?
We are no longer members of political parties, just 3% of us belong to a party. There has been a significant change is the culture of communication and discussion – the development of tech and globalization can have a major disruptive influence on the democratic system says Sitra. Everything is connected – well-being, education, trust, economy.
Increase in participation to general discussion can provide a counter power to globalization. Power is in the hands of few people but we can all have an effect on the quality of democracy. In the light of research the people who are participating (voting and getting their voice heard) are more well off than the ones not participating. But even in the US half of the people didn’t vote in the presidential elections – is democracy getting broken? Sanna Aaltonen from the Youth Research Foundation says that social infrastructure has not been built as the focus has been on technology. She also asks where will the trust in future encounters be built. Everything is connected – well-being, education, trust, economy.
The two scenarios for democracy (see slide below) are:
Transparency, innovativeness and inclusion will flourish in democracies
Power concentrates in the hands of the few and exclusion and disruption will increase
A strong local democracy and global decision-making are needed for scenario 1 to happen – to build a common, not divided, future. We need people who want to save the world and combine scientists and decision-makers to find solutions to the wicked problems. As well as lovable technology that understands humans and our behavior and leaves space for humans. We need to go where people are, not just build new channels. And note the importance of communication and data as in spring 2018 the new data law will widen the gap between US and EU. In SDN conference in Madrid in 2017 it was discussed that service design is one of the enablers for building a bridge between senior citizens, refugees and tech.
What are we aiming for – economic growth or well-being?
Economic growth based on overconsumption of natural resources is not sustainable. The economy is at crossroads and the two scenarios offered on this are:
Will we seek growth by using all the means available and risk ruining our planet and wither away OR
Aim for well-being and manage to decouple economic growth and overuse of natural resources resulting in growing well-being even faster than economy
What makes you feel better, what increases your well-being? And can you and I change our values and get from talk to walk as the world changes?
“Renewal starts with us, people. Even though the megatrends shaping the world extend all the way to Finland, the future is still largely in our own hands – if that is what we decide,” says Mikko Kosonen, head of Sitra. Trends offer a road to development and renewal as Minna Koskelo commented.
The future of the Nordic model is dependent on our reaction to the above presented 3 megatrends.
Design now – a day of discussion on the future of design Harald Herlin learning centre, Otaniemi, Espoo 2.11.2017
The day packed with talks and discussions was all about defining what design is going to be in the future.
We heard an inspirational speech from Anna Valtonen (Vice President for Art and Creative Practices, Aalto Uni, FI). Valtonen raised questions about design shaping the future as well as renewing the society. In the future we need to have various viewpoints, not just follow our own individual paths as designers. We are also going to need new ways of viewing phenomena. Valtonen’s message is that designers are advocates for the unmeasurable: designers have the means to make the invisible visible and tangible. The world is changing and we (designers) need to keep up with the change.
Anna Valtonen: Why Design Now?
Kalevi “Eetu” Ekman (Design Factory Director & PDP Professor, FI) reminded us in his videotalk that design is always there: it is done either consciously or unconsciously. Ekman underlined that a trained designer can change things dramatically. As an example he named industrial companies that have a lot of engineers working for them. A skilled designer can make a huge impact on thinking in such companies.