Svyatoslav Biryulin
Manure, foresight, and the future
A foresight game as a practical tool
"Heavier than air flying machines are not possible." Lord Kelvin, President of the Royal Society, 1895

"Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau." Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929

"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers". Thomas Watson, Chairman of IBM, 1943

"The Great Horse-Manure Crisis of 1894" was a title of an article published in 2004. The name refers to a supposed 1894 publication in The Times, which said, "In 50 years, every street in London will be buried under nine feet of manure". The reasoning was that more horses are needed to remove the manure, and these horses produce more manure. I believe no one needs to go to London to ensure that the city's streets are clean and that the air doesn't smell of horse excrement.

As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, humans are inferior future thinkers, and there is scientific evidence of it. The future thinking skills were not evolutionary conditioned – our ancestors could survive and breed without them, so our brains are not equipped with such machinery. We are stuck in one point we call "present." Our memories are sketchy and inaccurate, and our thoughts about the future are wage. But that doesn't mean we are doomed to wait for our future passively. We can influence it.

Steve Jobs once said that an eagle flies faster than a human runs. So, in terms of moving speed, an eagle outcompetes a human being by nature. But a human on a bike can move faster than an eagle. Therefore, people can overcome their biological weaknesses by using their mental power. It also works this way when it comes to the future.


People unfamiliar with foresight methods and techniques believe this is a way to "predict the future". It is nonsense, but not because the future is unpredictable. The future is unpredictable because it doesn't exist. Some believe that the future is a kind of an episode of a series that has been made but hasn't been uploaded to Netflix or Apple TV+, but there is no scientific evidence of that. It is being created every second in real-time. On the one hand, it may reinforce our bitter feeling of uncertainty – if the future existed, there could theoretically be a way to learn about it somehow, and it would make our lives easier. On the other hand, it brings us an opportunity to influence it, if not create it.

The foresight approach is not a way to predict, guess, or divine something. It is the practice that helps overcome our natural habit of seeing human history as something linear (look at the manure story above), and to construct a plausible future scenario that we would like to create or, at least, to play an active role in its creation. It is a method of thinking rather than a decision-making tool.
Foresight game as a creative tool

A foresight game not only lets teams think about tomorrow but it also unleashes people's creative potential. Imagining the possible future (but still remembering that it can look different from what we think) fosters creativity and thinking out of the box. That's why I, like many of my colleagues around the world, orchestrate foresight workshops in the form of games. A foresight game is not a meeting of experts discussing trends and trying to make predictions. The foresight game can be organized for any team, whether it is a group of conference attendees or a company's top managers. Team members only need to be relaxed and let their imagination go freely. Special training or skills are not required – everyone can participate in a foresight game.

The result of a foresight game is a plausible scenario of the future in which the participants would like to live and work. We consider all the trends and signals of change we know about, but this process is more about creativity and imagination than analysis and synthesis. The world is driven by imagination and inspiration, so the best way to think about the future is to play inspiring games and envisage the possible tomorrow's world. But a foresight game is not a daydream – we use its result as the basis for strategies. So, whereas I call it "a game", the results are applicable and material.

I'll tell you more about foresight games in the next articles. So do not forget to subscribe at the links below!

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