• jennycwhyte

Designing the Future: Have you checked your Assumptions yet?

The Future; we use it daily to plan our lives, explore our next move, develop a plan, envision our dreams and determine what comes next in relation to other things we care about.

But how might we use the future to expand our thinking, grow our creativity and imagine how we might prepare our business or organizations to become ‘future-proof’? This the core purpose of Futures Thinking and its use in strategy development by Foresight or Design Strategists is of great value to any organization.

Futures Thinking is still a relatively emergent discipline used to trigger and train the mind to think differently. Future Thinking is not about predicting the Future, but rather about understanding how our thinking about the Future might illuminate and provide awareness into our present state and our willingness to act out what's next. After all, the present state is the point at which the future emerges, our actions now, impact what we design, develop and plan for.

Using the Future as a design tool for creating and generating collective intelligence can be explored in many different ways. Anticipatory assumption workshop’s are a recent addition to my tool box which offers some amazing insights into how our own biases and assumptions shape the future.

Assumptions are a natural humanistic tendency which shapes the lives we lead, how we think is possible and what we aim to do next. When we project our assumption about a future 5 – 10 years out, the outlook we have, the plans we make and the strategic vision we create is undeniably based on the assumptions we have in the present.

In examining our anticipatory assumptions, their nuances and the roots they have in our ideologies and beliefs, we come to understand how they might impact what we see as possible for the future. By identifying and then playing with collected anticipatory assumptions we have together, we can begin to see how diverse versions of the future may emerge and challenge our notions as to what is possible.

If we were to run a workshop like this together, it would occur in three basic steps. Each step consists of some framing elements which guide a more active brainstorming and sharing session, followed by some questions for reflection in order to guide a deeper sense of understanding about what was experienced.

Step 1: Collectively Envision the Future

Here we make the tacit the explicit by drawing out the versions of the Future we can imagine possible, both probable and desirable.


What does the probable Future of X look like?

What does a desirable Future of X look like?


What are the differences between your probable and desirable Futures?

What aspects of the Future are we most likely to consider? How do frameworks or heuristics help us to consider the Future more holistically?

What do we see and how does it differ from others we are working with? Do all our Futures ‘fit’?

Step 2: Imagine beyond what is known.

This part of the process is really about pushing the limit and thinking expansively about the future with new propositions in mind. Every day we are confronted with new developments which will change what will be possible in 100 years. If 100 years ago we told those driving horse and buggies that in 2019 we would have handheld devices that could be programmed with our destination and would dictate our route and predict our exact arrival time, the limiting beliefs of those pioneers would become quite clear.

In framing a completely and radically new condition which the future might hold, the assumptions we hold about what is possible becomes clear.


We provide framing examples to help participants assume how a new condition about the future might impact our thinking about what is possible. For this, activity, the sky is the limit, consider aspects of the future which may seem impossible.

An example which was used to framing our thinking: In a distant future, it becomes clear that objects have a sense of consciousness which impacts our relationship with our contextual environment.

Develop new insights about this future. What does the Future of X look like in this new condition?


How does this element change our perspective of what might be possible in the future?

What insights does considering this provoke?

How are our perspectives shaped by the conditions we have?

Step 3: Confronting our Assumptions

The final step helps us distill and reveal how our assumptions live in what we imagine for the future.


Using the first two activities as our frame of reference, what do we now see as our underlying assumptions in the versions of the Future we created?

Identify as many assumptions as possible.


How have we come to understand the implications of these assumptions?

What new questions do we have about designing the future we want now that our assumptions are clear?

The purpose of this 3 step process is to generate insight. Insight into self, insight into the collective, and insight into how our anticipatory assumptions impact the future we are willing to create. In better understanding our own assumptions, and the assumptions of others we can begin to see how the future is related to what we are willing to do, know, see in the present.

I describe this sort of insight development as a process of deconstructed learning. In moving through a set of activities which ends in asking us to consider what we were thinking, the roots of our mind begin to emerge. In illuminating and comparing these roots, the barrier of our mind begin to expand, and our ability to understand what is possible, grows!

Mind-expanding activities are of vital use to our society. The current state of challenges we face is immense. The set of problems facing people, systems, organizations and businesses are wide-ranging and creativity to imagine beyond the status quo is what sets innovation leaders apart.

As my toolbox of Future Thinking methods develops and grows, this lesson of anticipatory assumption illumination will remain a core piece of my practice I hope to use to inspire, surprise and expand the mind of the people I am working with. It is in this space, the magic of creative emergence is found, new ideas involve and a type of empowerment to face the Future might be found.

Special thanks to Loes Damhof of Hanze University, Futures Literacy Lab and Riel Miller of UNESCO who trained me in this important methodology.

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