HOW CAN WE GET PEOPLE TO DISCUSS THE UNTHINKABLE?

We live in a world where change shapes everything around us. At the same time, we are globally witnessing the impact of a pandemic on our planet, society and organisations.

A year ago most of us would have never imagined a Future where a pandemic was forming our lives, businesses and regulations. However, this scenario soon became a tangible reality for all of us. This idea of an unthinkable scenario taking place in our present made us rethink our own perception of the Future.

 

A few weeks ago, Jiske and I stood in front of a blank whiteboard with the idea of mapping out our new perception of the Future. We knew that the meaning of the word “Future” had become blurry and that the unimaginable was closer to us than we thought. With this idea in mind, we decided to frame a challenge around two questions: ‘How do we spark conversations about the Future?’ And, ‘How can we get people to discuss the unthinkable?’

After interesting discussions and research, we were standing in front of our wall of the Future, and it looked amazing! It was clear that we wanted to leave the past and the pandemic behind, and think forward and long-term. Based on the first input we built different models, validated them and built again. After all these iterations, we reached the first version of our first Spark WorksFuture Thinking Canvas.

In our daily work at Spark Works, we turn challenges into opportunities together with different industries, businesses, and teams. As we see continuous change and challenges in and around Spark Works, we have decided to turn the current global situation into an opportunity to embrace uncertainty by reflecting, thinking, re-imagining and acting upon the Futures. And we do not want to keep this for ourselves. We believe that the Future Thinking Canvas is a great way to spark your imagination, step out of your usual way of thinking, and allow you to see opportunities from a different angle. Therefore, we want to share the canvas with everyone!

Futures no Future

Embracing uncertainty and thinking proactively about the Future prepares us to respond better to change. Even though the Future cannot be reliably predicted, we can look forward and try to visualise possible paths that may emerge based on current changes or identified opportunities around us.

The Future is a constant flux that cannot be seen as singular. Instead, there is certainly an unknown number of possible Futures ahead of us. This is when Future as a singular becomes Futures as plural and when a prediction can be turned into questions that each start with “what if…”.

The Spark Works Future Thinking Canvas takes a playful approach to positively re-imagine Futures scenarios. These scenarios are not intended to be seen as puzzles or guidelines. Instead, they are a starting point for sparking conversations about the Futures, for challenging mindsets and beginning to see changes as opportunities.

 

Watch, Reflect, Think, Re-Imagine, and Act.

Strategy is all about making choices for the Future. But in reality, since there are no concrete facts about the Future, the evidence base will always be incomplete. Instead of coming up with a strategic plan, we seek for stories. These stories about the Future based on our own context and perceptions are what switch our habitual way of thinking and allow us to explore the "unthinkable". These scenarios bring new opportunities to our landscape and prepare us to start acting with a positive attitude towards them.

To seek for these stories, we propose a five-step framework that will help explore theFutures in a structured way. The Future Thinking framework has a similar mindset to Design Thinking, however, they act independently from each other. The journey of the exploration of the unthinkable starts by changing our mind-set into an explorative one, applying divergent thinking and removing constraints of time or possibility.

To explore the unthinkable Futures we start by watching around scanning our environment and reflecting on changes that are impacting us. We think about the uncertainties related to these changes and how to turn them into Future opportunities.We create stories by re-imagining Futures and combining extreme scenarios with opportunities. And we define actions that allow us to act and embrace these Future scenarios.

When we think about the Futures, it is not the prediction but the mindset that counts. With our Canvas, we hope to trigger a Future thinking mindset in you that will help you positively embrace uncertainty. We look forward to hearing from your unthinkable Futures journeys. Because this is a collaborative and iterative process, we are counting on you to continue improving and enriching it.

What if your un-thinkable Future happens tomorrow? Are you ready?

Download your Future Thinking Canvas here!

Laura Gonzalez Osorio
Design Associate
Laura holds a MSc. in Product Service System Design from Politecnico di Milano and before joining Spark Works, has worked as a Service Designer for a tech startup shaking up the coffee industry. Laura is driven by a strong belief in driving change and empowering people by putting them at the center of everything we do. At Spark Works she brings a lot of empathy to any kind of challenges, collaborating with the team towards human-centered strategies.