417: It’s easy to think about the future as something that happens in other places and then gets imported to us. How can we think about ourselves as being part of creating the future here in Springfield?
S.H.: In the futurist community, one of the guiding quotes we live by is: “The future lives on the edges of things.” What that means is that any time you find the edges—whether it’s two groups of people or two technologies that are butting up against each other—that’s where interesting stuff starts to happen. That can then filter out to the rest of the world and create the future. If you want to find the future now—where things will be in 30 years—find the edges of things. Springfield is a transportation hub. We’re centrally located in a circle that includes St. Louis, Kansas City, Tulsa, Little Rock and Memphis and because of that, we get a lot of traffic and economic activity coming from outside. Springfield has a history of being innovative in transportation. Everyone knows about the history of Route 66 and the innovations of diverging diamonds and things like that. If we want to evaluate Springfield in the future, I would say, “Where in Springfield is there an interesting interplay of business, technology and culture? Where are we on the edge of two cultures, technologies or types of business?” I know that sounds like an artistic way of looking at it, but that’s how we get to these interesting concepts of what the future could be.
417: Are you saying that while we all like to make data-based decisions, it’s hard to do that more than five years out because there are so many potential variables in play?
S.H.: We start with the hard data and go out as far as we can. At some point, it becomes so uncertain that data won’t tell you much anymore. The workspace becomes more qualitative. [Futurists] try to future-proof your strategic plan. For example, a lot of schools had strategic plans in place that might have been finished right as the COVID-19 pandemic started. How many of those plans had anything incorporated to allow for flexibility and changes with a wild-card pandemic? Our philosophy is that you need to build flexibility into those plans. We try to re-frame your idea of what your strategic plan should be to make it more easily achieve your goals—in spite of all the changes going on in the world.
417: This reminds me of the Great Game of Business management style. Developing contingencies and preparing for worst-case scenarios are components of that system, and it sounds like a futurist can help you envision what those contingencies and worst-case scenarios might be.
S.H.: Exactly. Scenarios are the heart of foresight. We try to take all this uncertainty and develop scenarios—usually three to five. You don’t want to do too many because it can be too much to think about, but it’s easy to carry three to four images about what your organization might be facing in your head. The goal of the scenario isn’t to predict exactly what’s going to happen but to broaden your thinking about what is plausible in the future. Hopefully, it challenges your assumptions about how business is operating in the present. If you challenge your assumptions, you can find your blind spots to make you more future-proof.