Arguments for foresight

Last thursday/friday, I was in Brittany for an seminar called "Imagine 2015", the annual gathering of companies from the Media and Network companies from there (France Telecom/Orange, Alcatel-Lucent, Thomson, Philips, etc.). The point of such event is to discuss the future of networks and what it means for these organizations in terms of foresight, change and (of course) possible new products/services. I was invited as an expert (a "witness" as they call it) to present various things related to my work (user experience research results, foresight issues that I find interesting and work practices related to the use of digital tools). Thanks for Jean-Noel and Christiane for the invitation. Instead of giving a summary of the event, I am more interested here in the process and how people answers the questions we addressed. The starting points were (sort-of): "according to you what interesting thing will we see from now to 2015?" and since they are focused on networks: "what does network allow? what are the implications of networks?"

Given that I participate in other seminars in the same vein (some pretty focused on a clear goal, like Lyon 2013, some other more speculative such as Cinum), I always find relevant to observe what are the arguments employed by the experts (and the crowd) to answers foresight questions ("what do you think will happen from now to 20XX?"). I've tried to make a raw-and-not-exhaustive list here of what I observe as being used:

  1. personal experience (expert) and of course naive personal experience (when people are not expert but rely on something they've lived)
  2. statistics about people, environmental issues.
  3. use of the long term/now perspective because as Paul Saffo points out in his Long Now talk, "We tend to over-estimate the speed of short-term adoption and under-estimate the diffusion of the technology"
  4. bring history to the table: especially the greeks, the egyptian and the roman
  5. the use of abstract metaphor coming from fields such as thermodynamics (entropy employed as a metaphor for chaos, disorder or dissipation of energy) or biology (the other day Thierry Gaudin talked about apoptotis: form of programmed cell death caused by a lack of information transfer).
  6. the use of sociological or psychological models, concepts and sometimes controversial universals.
  7. imagination, be it about novels from the past or sci-fi
  8. to be continued

Why do I blog this? preparing a course about foresight and innovation, I am listing the "sources" for foresight analysis. The notion of data to draw scenarios for the future is something I am always been intrigued about. Feel free to add things to the list, which is definitely not exhaustive.

What I find interesting is to confront the types of arguments described in the literature and those employed in seminar/conferences, not really to evaluate which are more powerful to persuade others, rather to understand which emerge spontaneously.