Celebrating the Master of Strategic Foresight

the room is buzzing

Last year I noted¬†that the Master of Strategic Foresight (MSF) — with which I’ve been involved since its inception at Swinburne in 2001 and into which I’ve taught for almost as long (through guest lectures firstly, then as a formal member of teaching staff from 2003) — was being shut down, and was to be taught out over the next year or so. My fellow foresight conspirator for much of that time, Peter Hayward (aka “Captain Foresight”), retired at the end of last year, but not before we were able to celebrate the fact that the MSF had existed at all. That was what we chose to call the “MSF Wake”.

The MSF Wake was held on the evening of Friday 25th November 2016 at the wonderful Kelvin Club in the Melbourne CBD (off Russell Street). We had around 150 people attend, a mixture of current and past students, as well as their partners, who were of course also invited to join us — since most partners of people doing the MSF tend to also “do” the course “by proxy”, as it were, it was wonderful to have them along, too.

We wanted to celebrate the MSF in style, so we made the event “Black Tie Optional” (i.e., “doll up to your heart’s content if you want to, but you don’t have to”). I even managed to convince The Captain to put on a dinner suit — photographic evidence of this admittedly outlandishly preposterous claim is attached below ūüėČ

Lynne-JV-KarenRichard A. Sorcerer Slaughter, the Foundation Professor of Foresight at Swinburne and founder of the MSF program was also in attendance, and wrote his own reflections on the evening¬†at his blog over at richardslaughter.com.au. As he notes there, it was a really very happy occasion, and continued long (and I mean long) after we had to vacate¬†the ballroom at 11¬†pm. I think we were finally kicked out of the downstairs Bar around 1:15¬†am, although by that stage¬†it was after far too many Martinis, so I am a bit hazy on the exact details (the adjacent image shows¬†one of those far-too-many Martinis…). More images from the night can be found at the Kudo Board set up by MSF graduate (2015) Bec Mijat: https://www.kudoboard.com/boards/4OarbE7n

As the last futurist from the original MSF four-some, it falls¬†largely to me to teach out the program, along with some guest lectures from various of our friends and guest lecturers from years past (as well as a guest spot or two from The Captain…). The new teaching year commenced last week with what is (almost certainly: I’m a Bayesian, after all¬†ūüėČ )¬†the final intake of the foundational unit Foresight Knowledge & Methods 1. With this came the sheer fun of playing with introductory ideas about the future again after¬†several years since I taught it last. I’ll have more to say in future posts about some of the key concepts we are covering in FKM1 (including Bayesian Inference, of course…).

Bthe fore-someut for now, here is a shot from the MSFwake of the Foresight Fore-some [sic] from left to right along with the caricatures which Bec and Dave had made of the four of us: Captain Foresight (Peter Hayward); Richard A. Sorcerer (Richard Slaughter); Madame To-Morrow (Rowena Morrow); and The Voroscope (me). A fun, fun night and a truly inexpressible joy to have been able to share it with so many of the MSF community, students, partners and other friends of the MSF. For more shots from the MSFwake, as well as remembrances from students of the MSF, head over to the MSF Kudoboard.


Image credits: Top – SassNvibe (Facebook: @sassNvibe); Centre –¬†Lynne Wintergerst¬†(Twitter: @Twintergerst); Bottom –¬†Bec Mijat (LinkedIn) using Richard’s camera.


How Futurists Work/Think


Last year a colleague at the International Big History Association (www.ibhanet.org) asked me how futurists work/think. This was for a book she was writing for high school students on Big History. The final chapters of these types of books tend to focus on the future, hence the request for some ideas from someone who does this for a living. I tapped out a quick, off-the-top-of-my-head answer and sent it off. In thinking about how long since I’ve posted here, I thought I’d better get back into gear, especially as there are some ideas to share coming soon… Here is the essence of what I wrote:

Most professional futurists assume that the future is not predetermined, inevitable or “fixed” in some absolute way, so that there are thought to be many alternative potential futures (plural) that might lie ahead. They study ideas about the future (often called “images”) in order to gain insights into the range of alternative futures that might be coming, including those due to natural as well as human effects, depending on the scope of the futures assessment. They also look for evidence of potential futures in the present (this is generally known as “scanning”) to see which of the many alternative futures that lie ahead might indeed be coming about.

Some futurists also focus on which futures are desirable or preferable and work to help bring these about while also trying to help avoid undesirable futures from happening. Futurists have all manner of orientations – from analysts to advisors to advocates to activists – and they choose their focus accordingly. In the same way that historians study the past in many ways and with a variety of orientations, foci of interest and time-scales, so futurists do a forward-looking future-focused analogue of history – attempting to understand the forces of continuity and change that will combine to create the future we will live through. The historian and futurist W. Warren Wagar even characterised futures inquiry as a form of applied history. In this view, the role of futurists is to help chart the course of human history as wisely as possible and advise on how to make the future we eventually live through a present and subsequent history that we will be glad to experience.

There has been an unwelcome announcement from my university in the past few months since the last posting – the Master of Strategic Foresight, into which I’ve been teaching since it began in 2001 – is to be shut down as part of a review of postgraduate programs. No new intake is planned for next year and I will be teaching it out over 2017, after which it is done. However, my Faculty are wanting to continue some form of foresight teaching, so there are discussions under way to see what this might look like and how it might work.

My fellow foresight colleague and conspirator Peter Hayward and I are planning a “wake” for the MSF for later in the year, most likely to be an “anti-debutant” ball. There is something so incredibly amusing about a retro-style, formal, doll-yourself-up in Black Tie farewell ball for a foresight course, that it is impossible to pass up this opportunity to really celebrate the course and to go out in style. ūüėČ



Image Credit: Wadem/Flickr

The “e-maelstrom” of holiday email

keep-calm-and-delete-emails-1I’ve returned from the Christmas (and, here in the Southern Hemisphere, summer) holidays and, after settling back in to my office, I began the daunting task of dealing with the torrent of emails that came in over the 3 or so weeks I was away (hence a need to let off some nervous energy in a blog post… ūüėČ

You know what I mean – a¬†veritable maelstrom of email arrives during a break from work when you’re not looking. Hmm,¬†a maelstrom¬†of email: an “e-maelstrom”, if you will. ūüôā

I’m not sure this qualifies for the Washington Post’s new words competition – take a word, change one letter and give it a new defintion – but it surely has resonance for many of us at this time of year (and especially here in the Southern Hemisphere where our holidays tend be longer owing to summer).¬†And I’m sure the concept applies equally well to any return to work following time away from email.

Anyway, a new year has begun – but not, I would argue,¬†on the 1st of January, which is an entirely arbitrary day in the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. Better candidates for clicking the numbers over¬†might be one of the solstices or equinoxes, but my personal favourite is perihelion – the point in its orbit at which the Earth is closest to the Sun. The orbit is not circular but slightly elliptical, so there is a closest point – perihelion – and a furthest point – aphelion,¬†since not all points are equidistant owing to the non-circularity. And therefore, although you might not have thought about it, the seasons¬†don’t have the same length. Indeed, we lose a few days of summer here in the Southern Hemisphere as a result, while also getting a higher flux of solar energy than that¬†experienced during summer in the North.

Owing to the variations of the Earth’s¬†position and movements¬†– the well-known ¬†Milankovitch Cycles – the seasons (which are governed by the cyclically-variable axial obliquity or¬†tilt of the Earth’s axis, as well as its axial precession) do not necessarily line up or have any connection with the independent variations in the shape and position of the orbit (including¬†changes in its¬†eccentricity or “ovalness”,¬†as well as¬†its own apsidal precession). However, in this epoch, perihelion occurs close to the December solstice (northern winter, southern summer) around Dec 22 and even closer to conventional New Year’s Day. Currently, perihelion is around January 3 or 4, depending on your time zone and whether we are in a Leap Year (which we are), so I think we should use the Earth’s physcially-meaningful¬†perhelion as the natural starting point to mark the start of an orbit, and thus also of a¬†year. It makes much more sense to do this, in the same way that 0¬†{ }^\circ C makes much more (physical) sense than 32¬†{ }^\circ F¬†to¬†mark¬†the freezing temperature of water (at 1 atm pressure).

So Merry Perihelion everyone and a Happy New (apsidally-defined) Year! And I hope¬†dealing with your own¬†e-maelstrom won’t be so bad now that you can “name the Dragon” ūüėČ

Now, back to it…