The Search for Foresight

By Edward Cornish

The World Future Society will commemorate its fiftieth anniversary in 2016. Here, the editor of THE FUTURIST describes the “wild card” events that awakened him to the importance of exploring the future and led to the founding of what is today the world’s largest organization devoted to the future’s exploration.


Back in 1960 I would never have dreamed that within a few years I would become something called a “futurist” and take a leading role in creating the World Future Society. As a future futurist, I failed completely to anticipate my own future!
My life in 1960 was rather idyllic. After spending six years working all hours of day and night as a United Press correspondent in five different cities of America and Europe, I had secured a nice quiet 9-to-5 job with the National Geographic Society in Washington. All I had to do was write feature articles on science, natural history, and geography. For me this was like paradise. I got married, and my wife and I bought a comfortable house in the suburbs where we lived with our two young sons. We socialized with neighbors and friends.
But far away from Washington, the Soviet Union and its allies were threatening to overturn noncommunist regimes around the world, and the United States and its allies felt increasingly imperiled. In South Vietnam, Communist rebels menaced the newly independent government; in East Germany, the Communists were tightening their grip on Berlin; and, in Cuba, Fidel Castro’s rebels had toppled a noncommunist government and were now allying Cuba with Moscow.
To make matters worse, the Soviet Union and the United States were in an arms race, focused largely on building nuclear rockets that could obliterate cities thousands of miles away. Both nations now had thermonuclear weapons, whose power dwarfed the horrors wrought by the atomic bombs that fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.
John F. Kennedy was elected president in November 1960, and, as soon as he assumed office, he began responding forcefully to Communist expansionism. Kennedy went to Berlin to reassert American support for West Berlin’s independence. He sent thousands of American military “advisors” to assist the South Vietnamese government in resisting Communist aggression, and he approved an invasion of Cuba to oust the Castro regime.
These moves demonstrated American determination not to tolerate further Communist advances, but they also antagonized the Soviet leadership. As tensions increased, both the Soviet Union and the United States accelerated preparations for war.
War between two nations armed with thermonuclear rockets was too ghastly even to think about. When an obscure physicist named Herman Kahn at the RAND Corporation did think seriously about the consequences of a thermonuclear war, he was roundly denounced as some kind of monster, like the half-maniac, half-bionic “Dr. Strangelove.” True enough, Kahn’s 1960 book On Thermonuclear War may well be the scariest book ever written, but only because the facts are so horrendous. The human mind has difficulty comprehending a war in which millions of people might die on the first day of the war — and most of the survivors would wish themselves dead.
My work rarely touched on politics, but it was impossible to be a journalist working only five blocks from the White House and a member of the National Press Club and not be aware of the increasing international tension. My office window looked out on the Soviet Embassy just across Sixteenth Street, and my colleagues and I knew that FBI agents were stationed in nearby buildings to monitor the comings and goings at the Embassy. When we crossed the street, we joked about the FBI eavesdropping on our conversations.
When the Soviet Union sent a new ambassador to Washington, I went to the Press Club to hear him speak. The ambassador was a seemingly genial fellow named Novikov, who spoke excellent English and gave a friendly speech. We journalists applauded enthusiastically, so the event became a love feast of Soviet–American amity. Unfortunately, our friendly reception seems to have misled the ambassador into thinking that the United States would not go to war even if the Soviet Union supplied Cuba with nuclear missiles. In any event, this Soviet miscalculation almost brought about thermonuclear war.
During the mounting crises of 1961 and 1962, I experienced a personal crisis. I had to assume that the Soviets had one or more nuclear missiles aimed at Washington, and, at any moment, such a missile might be launched, either intentionally or accidentally. So what should I do? Just ignore the mounting danger?
I had no power to prevent the march toward Armageddon, but I could at least get my family and myself someplace far away. It would not be easy, but it was possible. I got literature from the Australian Embassy and began seriously thinking about moving my family there. I agonized for months over this question, but it became clear that my wife would not go with me, so if I did I would have to leave her behind and probably my sons as well. I was not ready for that, so I remained in Washington, hoping that the crisis would pass but continuing to agonize. The year 1962 was the darkest period of my life psychologically and perhaps also for my wife, who was very much affected by my own anxiety.
The 13-day Cuban crisis in 1962 has been described by historian Arthur Schlesinger as the most dangerous moment in history. Some of President Kennedy’s advisors urged him to order an immediate “preemptive strike” by U.S. missiles to keep the Soviets from obliterating us first. Happily, we’ll never know what would have happened if their view had prevailed, because the crisis was resolved after an extraordinary meeting — outside normal diplomatic channels — between a journalist whom I knew slightly, John Scali, and a Soviet contact who had the ear of the Kremlin. The Soviet leaders finally became convinced that the Americans might really be crazy enough to launch a missile attack against them, so they called back the ships carrying nuclear weapons to Cuba.

WorldFuture 2015

July 24-26, 2015
Hilton San Francisco Union Square
333 O’Farrell Street
San Francisco, California 94102 USA

Our theme this year is Make the Future! Futurists don't just report on the future; they help create it by shaping how individuals, communities, firms and nations see the world and its potential. This year we link the dynamism of foresight to the energy of makers and other entrepreneurs creating the future today.
Building on the success of the 2014 conference and featuring all-new special events, WorldFuture 2015 will be a can't-miss experience for anyone who's serious about the future.
At this time, we are no longer accepting session or master class workshop proposals. We look forward to seeing you at the conference!
Conference Contacts
Sign-ups and registration:
Carrie Marcialis, cmarcialis@wfs.org
Speaking opportunities; session, pre-conference master class and workshop proposals; volunteering; and general inquiries:
Dorothea Schurr, WorldFuture 2015 Conference Coordinator, dschurr@wfs.org
Other inquiries:
Conference Tracks

The Business of Foresight
Futurists occupy key roles across the institutions and companies shaping our future. Join peers who inform policy decisions affecting the lives of millions, and investment decisions that help direct the flow of billions. Collaborate in sessions focused on emerging world conditions and and learn from best practices illuminated by global leaders who work daily with the recognition that alternative approaches could mean radically alternative futures. Build your network at WorldFuture 2015. 
Technology and Innovation
Every day, futurists expand the envelope of the possible. An invaluable part of high performing teams, we help identify true North for innovators from molecular biology to software and services. Understand how the technologies that win and lose in this crucial period may lock-in the direction of next stage of human, economic and societal evolution, as the high tech economy becomes the foundation of a new era of civilization. Expand your domain at WorldFuture 2015. 
Global Issues
Law, the environment, economics, society, health, and armed conflict. Futurists have forever guided the evolution of tribes, kingdoms and nations. Today, we face the dichotomy of unprecedented opportunity across humanity offset by challenges and conflicts that date to our origins. How futurists engage decision-making and unite disparate sectors will rebalance power and focus solutions for generations to come. Test your vision at WorldFuture 2015. 

Thank you for registering for the Professional Members' Forum at WFS 2015.  We are planning a hands-on exploration of new software tools to support futures studies and foresight.  We have permission to use six different software platforms:  Sensemaker, Shaping Tomorrow, Futurescaper, Sharpcloud, Factr, and Co:tunity.  They all support distributed foresight - socially networked foresight, crowdsourced foresight, and similar processes.  Each offers a different approach to foresight, often complementary.  Our purpose is to explore the strengths and weaknesses of each, and consider how we each might want to use them - and provide feedback to the providers.  Let's contribute to making better tools more widely available for our profession.

MORNING 9.30 - 12.30
Lessons learned – What challenges in foresight practice could be addressed by crowd-sourcing, asynchronous feedback or brainstorming, emergent impact and systems mapping, etc? 
Examples of software support to address challenges - Shaping Tomorrow, Parmenides EIDOS, Singapore's RAHSS, and RSS aggregators and social platforms like Feedly, StumbleUpon, Twitter/Paper.li, etc.  What is everyone else using to enhance foresight projects or make them more efficient? 
Wishlist - What would our joint wishlist for the ultimate foresight platform include? 
Live exercise with six foresight platforms available for use – Shaping Tomorrow, Factr, Sensemaker, Futurescaper, Co:tunity, and Sharpcloud.
Report back – evaluation of upsides / downsides of each platform.
Summary discussion – what feedback can the Professional Members Forum offer the software developers to improve their platforms and thus the tools available to us and our clients, improving the profession overall?
Set-up and schedule - Participants will need to bring their laptops or tablets; wifi-access required; flipchart and easel; and digital projector and screen.
LUNCH 12.30 - 1.30
AFTERNOON 1.30 - 3.30
Professional Members Forum General Discussion
Newly emergent question about the role of the professional membership in WFS vis-à-vis the profession, APF, WFSF – so may want to discuss what this subset of WFS wants to be distinct from APF and WFSF – Claire Nelson would be happy to facilitate this.
Current state of WFS – just the middle of the beginning of WFS redevelopment, part of which is redesigning the shape of the conferences.  Possible opportunities to discuss PMF contributions to anniversary conference in 2016.


World Future Society Professional Members Forum
6 Online Platforms – Sandbox Explorations
Shaping Tomorrow | Factr | Sensemaker | Futurescaper | Co:tunity | Sharpcloud

Please feel free to log onto and explore these platforms.

Goal: to have an informed discussion of online futures and foresight support platforms on 27 July.  Log in and see how much you can do how quickly:
·      Are the interfaces intuitive?
·      Does the software offer options that you could see using in your work?

Platforms that help you DISCOVER change and explore implications

Shaping Tomorrow
First, register:  it’s free.  After registration and login, you will be on the “Alerts” page.  Look at the navbar on the left, and click on “Guide”.  This offers a submenu listing various functions of Shaping Tomorrow, with explanatory slidedecks.

Next, click on “Scan” on the left-hand navbar.  Click on “Add”, and add either a topic focus, within quotes, eg, future of food, or a hashtag, eg #futurefood or #organicfood or #invitromeat.  These will then show up on your “Sources” list, and will produce results on the “Reports” page.

The link above is particular to this group, and allows you to create your login  and set a password. Once you are logged into Factr, search for “WFS 2015”, and you should find the group I have set up.  Join it – it’s public.

Then click on “+ Add”, which will show you a pull-down menu listing “New Stream,” “New Collection,” “New Hunch,” and “New Group.”  Choose “New Stream” – this lets you create a feed on a specific topic, eg, water stress, or 3D printing, or aviation innovations, and add sources like RSS feeds, Twitter or Facebook streams, etc.  Give your collection a title, eg, “Water Stress” or “Aviation Innovations,” and briefly describe what you are collecting, and why – you can upload a cover image if you like (a flowing stream for water, or a jet in flight for aviation).  Then click on the “+ Add Sources” yellow button.  You can choose to add an RSS feed either by cutting and pasting the URL directly, or by searching for the RSS feed for a source.  For example, type in “MIT Technology Review” – Factr will find the RSS feed for you, and give you a “+” button to add it.  See how many sources you can add – when you are done, scroll down to the bottom of the page, and click “Publish”.

Platforms that help you CROWDSOURCE change and explore implications

Sensemaker’s Crowdsensor and MassSense
The Future of Work: share a story that illustrates what you think is important about possible futures for work.
URL: http://sg.sensemaker-suite.com/Collector/collector.gsp?projectID=IRAHSS2015&language=3a&Prompter=Panel3a

The Future of Transportation: share a story that illustrates what you think is important about possible futures for transportation.
URL:  http://sg.sensemaker-suite.com/Collector/collector.gsp?projectID=IRAHSS2015&language=3b&Prompter=Panel3b

Greece post-Referendum: share your scenarios about the near-term future for Greece

Time required – 5-10 minutes
Basic format for ‘data entry’: survey
Analysis will be demonstrated on 27 July
[ homepage URL for background information on the platform:

[look for an invitation for access in your email in-box]
Mobile or laptop – browser-based
Time required – 10-15 minutes
Naïve user format for ‘data entry’: survey
Futures researcher: database structure
Analysis will be demonstrated on 27 July
[ homepage URL for background information on the platform:

Platforms that help your COMMUNITY manage uncertainty and make strategy

Please go to http://app.cotunity.com/wfs and register as a new account.
Time required – limited only by your interest.

[look for an invitation for access in your email in-box]
Time required – limited only by your interest.


Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
VUCA is an acronym used to describe or reflect on the volatilityuncertaintycomplexity and ambiguity of general conditions and situations. The common usage of the term VUCA began in the 1990s and derives from military vocabulary[1] and has been subsequently used in emerging ideas in strategic leadership that apply in a wide range of organizations, including everything from for-profit corporations[2] to education.[3]


The deeper meaning of each element of VUCA serves to enhance the strategic significance of VUCA foresight and insight as well as the behavior of groups and individuals in organizations.[4]
  • V = Volatility. The nature and dynamics of change, and the nature and speed of change forces and change catalysts.
  • U = Uncertainty. The lack of predictability, the prospects for surprise, and the sense of awareness and understanding of issues and events.
  • C = Complexity. The multiplex of forces, the confounding of issues and the chaos and confusion that surround an organization.
  • A = Ambiguity. The haziness of reality, the potential for misreads, and the mixed meanings of conditions; cause-and-effect confusion.
These elements present the context in which organizations view their current and future state. They present boundaries for planningand policy management. They come together in ways that either confound decisions or sharpen the capacity to look ahead, plan ahead and move ahead. VUCA sets the stage for managing and leading.
The particular meaning and relevance of VUCA often relates to how people view the conditions under which they make decisions, plan forward, manage risks, foster change and solve problems. In general, the premises of VUCA tend to shape an organization's capacity to:
  1. Anticipate the Issues that Shape Conditions
  2. Understand the Consequences of Issues and Actions
  3. Appreciate the Interdependence of Variables
  4. Prepare for Alternative Realities and Challenges
  5. Interpret and Address Relevant Opportunities
For most contemporary organizations – business, the military, education, government and others – VUCA is a practical code for awareness and readiness. Beyond the simple acronym is a body of knowledge that deals with learning models for VUCA preparedness, anticipation, evolution and intervention.[5]


The capacity of individuals and organizations to deal with VUCA can be measured with a number of engagement themes:
  1. Knowledge Management and Sense-Making
  2. Planning and Readiness Considerations
  3. Process Management and Resource Systems
  4. Functional Responsiveness and Impact Models
  5. Recovery Systems and Forward Practices
At some level, the capacity for VUCA management and leadership hinges on enterprise value systems, assumptions and natural goals. A "prepared and resolved" enterprise[2] is engaged with a strategic agenda that is aware of and empowered by VUCA forces.
The capacity for VUCA leadership in strategic and operating terms depends on a well-developed mindset for gauging the technical, social, political, market and economic realities of the environment in which people work. Working with deeper smarts about the elements of VUCA may be a driver for survival and sustainability in an otherwise complicated world.[6]
Psychometrics which measure fluid intelligence by tracking information processing when faced with unfamiliar, dynamic and vague data can predict cognitive performance in VUCA environments.

See also[edit]


  1. Jump up ^ Stiehm, Judith Hicks and Nicholas W. Townsend (2002). The U.S. Army War College: Military Education in a Democracy. Temple University Press. p. 6. ISBN 1-56639-960-2.
  2. Jump up to: a b Wolf, Daniel (2007). Prepared and Resolved: The Strategic Agenda for Growth, Performance and Change. dsb Publishing. p. 115. ISBN 0-9791300-0-X.
  3. Jump up ^ "Fingertip Knowledge" (PDF)Converge Magazine: 34. June 2007. Retrieved 2009-10-18.
  4. Jump up ^ Johansen, Bob (2007). Get There Early: Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. pp. 51–53. ISBN 978-1-57675-440-5.
  5. Jump up ^ Satish, Usha and Siegfried Streufert (June 2006). "Strategic Management Simulations to Prepare for VUCAD Terrorism"Journal of Homeland Security. Retrieved 2008-10-29.
  6. Jump up ^ Johansen, Bob (2007). Get There Early: Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. p. 68. ISBN 978-1-57675-440-5.