Svyatoslav Biryulin
Looking at the past as a way to see the future
Foresight practice
How did the world look like, let's say, 30 years ago? On the one hand, it was very different from now. We didn't have cell phones and the Internet, we used film to take pictures and didn't upload them to social media because they didn't exist. We listened to music that now may sound archaic, we read more books and discussed environmental issues and civil rights much lesser than we do nowadays. But even in those days, there were things that are still with us now.

Foresight and strategy are disciplines helping managers and other decision-makers to think about the future. But I rarely start strategic workshops and foresight games with discussions about the future - it is essential to start with the past. Exploring things that have changed and things that haven't may be exceptionally valuable for possible futures discussions.

If a building becomes architecture, then it is art
Retail as an example

Retail is a rapidly developing industry. Twenty years ago, we didn't buy clothes online and couldn't order a device from another country. Thousands of shopping malls are closed annually in the USA alone, while social media are where one can buy and sell things.

But online stores and marketplaces haven't eaten the world yet. Some old habits die hard, and people still love visiting brick-and-mortar stores, making Amazon buy and establish store chains in which one can enter – literally, on their foot. We still use the money to pay for purchases and like to touch and try many things before buying them. So yes, conventional retail chains have to fight for visitors and look for new ways to retain them. But this battle hasn't been won by e-commerce so far.
If a building becomes architecture, then it is art
The future is a mirror of the past and present

So, looking into the past and analyzing things that have changed and those that haven't, we can identify and analyze the patterns that recur, the cycles that might be at work. We can research the changes that happened in the past and ask ourselves if there is a chance they'll repeat in the future. To paraphrase Mark Twain, history doesn't precisely repeat, but it does tend to rhyme. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon advised not to think too much on what will change, and pay attention to things that won't.

The present of an industry is an outcome of years of evolution and development. Besides, every domain is influenced by many social, economic, political, and environmental changes and moves. Thinking about its past helps us see the laws that undermine some of its bedrock and leave others untouched. And that, in turn, will be valuable when we will switch to futures scenarios.

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