> Essays > Pedagogical > Teaching | Futures Fluency

Note: this is the as yet unfinished, unpublished ABS article:

Teaching People to Daydream Effectively:
an essay on the pedagogy of Futures Studies
for a special issue of the American Behavioral Scientist

Dr. Wendy L. Schultz
Studies of the Future, University of Houston - Clear Lake

"The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."
Eleanor Roosevelt

One drawback to professing in a new academic field is the inability to communicate your vocation quickly. Answering "What do you do?" with "I'm a futures researcher" often garners blank, albeit polite, smiles. Or a follow-up on the prospects for pork bellies. Yet we want to involve as many people as we can in our conversations about the future, so incomprehension is a vexing problem. Vexing and so critical that we require all our students to attempt a solution in our graduate futures proseminar. Assignment: you are in an elevator and someone asks you what you do; you have ten floors' transit in which to describe futures studies; what do you say?

I have two answers. The ten-floor extended version I offer below in my discussion of methods; but my favorite response I can offer between one floor and the next, in half-a-dozen words: I simply say, "I teach people to daydream effectively." It provokes laughter and usually elicits further questions. This allows me to explain that beautiful dreams are the foundation of leadership and the heart of energized communities, but can only build the future when reinforced by flexible plans and change strategies. And that flexible plans and change strategies in turn require observing, understanding, and adapting to the changes happening around us. So I could also say, "I teach people to question and reconstruct their values, ideals, and assumptions while dynamically balancing on the whirling maelstrom of change as an act of self-reflective meditation." But that image is somewhat more difficult to conjure up when standing in a crowded elevator.

Thanks are therefore due the American Behavioral Scientist for offering the field of futures studies this space in which to explore much longer answers to the question, "what do you do?". Our new field is still struggling through that exciting but often untidy adventure that is paradigm exploration and formation, in Kuhn's sense (Kuhn, 1970). With the advent of Slaughter's Knowledge Base of Futures Studies (Slaughter, 1996) and Bell's Foundations of Futures Studies (Bell, 1997), we may finally say that textbooks exist for futures -- Fowles' Handbook of Futures Research, published in the late seventies, was a useful precursor to these efforts, but not nearly as well-knit conceptually: the field has matured in the meantime (Fowles, 1978). Thus this collection of essays may perhaps serve as a test for "doneness" -- have we progressed beyond our previous half-baked state?

Contributors to this special issue have been requested to address the following issues: our theories of social change; our methods for investigating and affecting social change; our image of a plausible, preferred future; and approaches to including these theories, methods, and images in both teaching and consulting. My responses follow, but I have rearranged the order of my answers to provide smoother segues to the ideas in each. My conception of social change is directly linked to my image of a preferred future, so I address those issues first. I follow with a discussion of methods used to monitor and affect social change, of which the futures' worldview is itself the cornerstone. In elaborating how these issues play out in my professional activities, I have addressed consulting and research first, as I spent ten years engaged in consulting projects before my current immersion in teaching, and the former has irretrievably affected the latter.

Theories of Social Stability and Instability
Instability first: a myriad of stimuli drive social change. Every complex, dynamic -- i.e., living -- system contains multiple leverage points where shifts in information flows can instigate shifts in the system structure itself. Our societies function within overlapping fields of influence generated by the natural environment as well as by the backwash of impacts from the arts, the economy, politics, technology and all our other activities. We are awash in tides of change: some balance each other, and some reinforce.

But people who wish to study the changes creating our futures must, for sanity's sake, narrow their focus to only one or two of the leverage points in the social system. Thus Toynbee looked at leadership and the environment, and Marx at technology and economic relations, and Ibn Khaldun at nomadic-urban transitions (to name a few, and in no particular order ). Each of these theorists, and their like, offers insight into the nature of social change. But each is flawed for the same reason that an environmental scan of emerging issues focussed only on technology would be flawed: they miss the interconnections among the overlapping change drivers and the various social subsystems.

Futures researchers use mnemonics like "STEEP" -- social, technological, economic, environmental, and political -- to remind themselves to look for change drivers throughout reality (as we can currently perceive it). This reminder is just as valuable regarding social change. Take any dozen social change theories and map them out across the STEEP categories. This exercise produces on the one hand a crude but interesting foundation for a grand synthesis, and on the other, a cautionary note that too great an interest in any one theory of social change can lead to too great an observational focus on only one sector of emerging change. Change will find new fissures through which to erupt -- in addition to following older channels it has already created.

Having made the caution explicit, my personal research focusses on images of the future and technological innovation in creating the possibilities for social change.

image of the future [vision & leadership] and technology [adaptability & perversity]
prior cause: imagination and exploration, as variously expressed by those who build evocative intangibles and those who build provocative tangibles
dissatisfaction >>> satisfaction = waves of change through successive generations: cohort analysis
Polak and McLuhan
a new technology or a new vision of reality re-arranges a social system's structures, resulting in new emergent properties while some basic structural characteristics persist

stability a miracle composed of security, solidification, expansion of new metaphor, vision, or paradigm into spaces it can easily fill >>> comfortable growth
when it begins pushing boundaries, discomfort, tension, and incompatibilities arise
when boundaries too cramped from the start, immediate discomfort and tension

stability: static = stagnation & death; dynamic stability that nurtures growth of human potential, maintains essential humanity, adjusts the fiddly bits to new circumstances and recreates balance.
stability is the quivering balance point at the convergence of competing fields of influence
social inertia: traditions we cherish, monuments to past visions achieved -- dreams accrete, and embedded in them are values which also accrete, to be slowly eroded by changing circumstances and the revolutionary quality of new dreams.

Vision of a Plausible, Preferred Future

It is difficult to vision courageously and still meet the requirements to describe a preferred future that is also plausible. It is much easier to describe a plausible, fun future: more toys, more possibilities, more challenges, more adventure [read: risk]. Change explodes daily, resulting in both damage and delight:

  • all around the planet people are increasingly in motion, with concomitant increases in cultural and ethnic diversity locally -- as a result, conflict increases, but so does creativity, in the wake of unforeseen new combinations of ideas and worldviews;
  • global communication networks enable people to link across divides of land and language to form action groups based on mutual interest and a desire to create -- to create a better partnership with the living planet, to create new companies and products, to create new learning environments for children all around the world (to name a few);
  • new respect for ancient knowledge allows us to see ourselves and our fellow species with exhanced perception, leading to innovative insights in medicine, psychology, and in spiritual understanding;
  • unpacking the genetic code and the systems of biological development leads to both the amelioration of the symptoms of aging and the reconfiguration of various plant species into mini-plastics factories and heavy metal filters;
  • manipulation of molecules with scanning tunneling microscopes builds nanoengines fitted to buckypipes and controlled by quantum microprocessors -- nano-mining and infinite recycling arrive, along with micro-art, ubiquitous embedded computing, and circuit-to synapse connectivity;
  • commercially available zero-point energy taps offer inexhaustible energy resources;
  • and new materials allow lightweight spaceplane construction and we finally re-enter interplanetary space (no more of this messing about in low earth orbit) with colony outreach to Mars and, closer to home, micro-g Olympics and art festivals.

That's a sample of the plausible fun future: many of the changes cited are in the works now, and the farthest only a child's adulthood away. I find these possibilities exhilarating -- but these changes in themselves are inadequate to create the future I desire.

Humanity's ability to innovate, to solve puzzles, to engineer new tools, to create new art forms and games to play, and to build new monuments to cherished dreams will enormously expand what each of us can make of ourselves and our lives, but will not insure -- at least in my lifetime -- universal right of access to those expanded possibilities. Any vision of a preferred future must address equitable provision for basic human needs as well as equality of access to emerging opportunities. Just as my theoretical focus for social change highlights individual visionary leadership and stresses the exploration of alternatives and consequences, my image of a preferred future stresses individual freedom to maximize personal potential balanced with individual responsibility to sustain the possibilities for other people, other species, and other generations -- a seemingly implausible future, and hence my dilemma.

"Balancing the planet and centering the self" sums up my vision. Let's create a future which protects the child in each of us, matures the creator in each of us, enables the leader in each of us, empowers the community member in each of us, and teaches all of us to communicate more easily and effectively with each other and with the living systems which we inhabit. How? I do not think human nature is perfectible: I do believe that perversity, and vices, and crime, and conflict will be with us always. Yet I see the emergence of hope in such emerging issues as the growth in people trained in group process facilitation as well as the growth of people trained in shamanism -- the former an example of honing our awareness of the external self, and developing social tools needed to create flexible social networks with a dynamic fit to balanced planetary systems; the latter an example of honing our awareness of the internal self, and developing the tools necessary to enable grounding, centering, and dynamically balancing a whole soul. We astonish ourselves with the possibilities inherent in genetic engineering and nanotechnology, but the farther frontier is the frontier represented at the intersection of body and brain, brain and mind, mind and soul, soul and society.

Methods Used to Monitor and Affect Social Stability and Instability
Futures studies is itself the method used, in the largest sense.

A transdisciplinary, systems-science-based approach to 1) analyzing the patterns of change in the past; 2) identifying the emerging issues of change in the present; and 3) extrapolating an array of alternative possible futures, such that we can facilitate people in creating the future they desire.

social change and systems science
emerging issues, 360 degree scanning, STEEP/EPISTLE
assumption & paradigm busting

needed: scenarios >> systems science, ads & religions; applied vs. creative
visions >> Polak revisited, religious & cultural, mixing of visions in multipolar world, investigation of timing >>> vision completed, new vision gap -- what are the dynamics?
plans >> need stronger links between fs and planning -- Mintzberg offers clarion call, who's taken him up?

evaluations of effectiveness >>> what worked, what didn't
reviews of past forecasts, common errors

Training People to Daydream Effectively
I am going to disarrange the order in which I address Dr. Dator's questions. As I was engaged in applied futures research and consulting before I taught, my consulting experience necessarily informed -- and formed -- my approach to teaching. And my graduate education at the hands of a critical, neo-Marxist, semi-postmodern political science faculty informed my approach to consulting. My consulting style was also mediated by working with an anthropologist focussed on practical approaches to long-term policy issues -- Dr. Michael Hamnett -- and a planner with extensive experience in group process dynamics and mediation -- Dr. Kem Lowry. The amalgamation of these perspectives and experiences created a bottom-up, stakeholder involved, experiential, process-focussed approach to helping people, communities, organizations, businesses, and government agencies think creatively, critically, and productively about the future.

What does that mean in the light of day? For the last decade,

Teaching People to Daydream Effectively
"The foundation of every state is the education of its youth."

It's time to update Diogenes. How does, "The foundation of every species is the education of its youth" sound? Or even, "The foundation of every living planet is the education of its youth"? Much better: the latter restatement allows for the eventual recognition and inclusion by

Teaching is a celebration. It celebrates human accomplishments, human diversity, human playfulness, human experience, and the human ability to excel in the face of challenge. It is not merely delivery, it is exchange: the next question, the next paper, and the next debate each enable the teacher to question her own established mental models, to see the world anew, and to orchestrate a symphony of minds in a creative process greater than anything she could achieve alone. Teaching is its own reward.

Teaching at the turn of the third millennium presents challenges unlike those faced by teachers over the previous two millenia, of which the chief challenge is compression. Students -- particularly the non-traditional students who are the primary participants in Studies of the Future at the University of Houston - Clear Lake -- have much less time to allocate to studies, and have attention spans conditioned by fast-paced electronic media. Thus the teaching aesthetic of clarity -- clarity of organization, of presentation, and of priorities and outcomes -- moves from nicety to necessity.

In designing courses, I maximize clarity by the simple tactic of treating each course as a consulting contract for fifteen weeks of thematically related training workshops. This immediately establishes my students as respected clients who themselves have clear ideas regarding the optimum outcome of our interaction: they want to review and absorb a particular knowledge base, and leave with their basic communication skills enhanced, and with the acquisition of new, specialized skills. My focus must then be organizing the knowledge base, presenting it in a variety of modes to match the variety of student learning styles, and coaching students in the acquisition and refinement of associated skills. This focus on "coaching the acquisition of skills" emphasizes grades only as benchmarks, thus creating a system in which students may re-submit revised assignments as often as they wish for review, commentary, and possible grade revision. In theory, with sufficient student motivation and with adequate coaching on my part, everyone in the class then has the opportunity to succeed -- as benchmarked by a grade of "A."

Treating classes as consulting contracts with valued clients puts respect for students center stage. In addition, it emphasizes modular design: each class should stand on its own merits in balancing knowledge acquisition with skills practice, as well as offering students compressed delivery of the topic (lectures, slides, films, video); interactive experience of the topic (workshops and group exercises); dialogue and discussion as an opportunity to clarify and personalize individual understanding of the topic; and writing to codify and establish individual understanding of the topic. The modular "training session" approach bounds each substantive topic, allowing design of more accessible, more easily "digestible" support materials. Modular design is also more easily packaged into videotapes and Web pages -- and the future of education lies in flexible access across space and time.

Treating classes as consulting contracts also emphasizes the basic rules of group process facilitation. First of these is, "remember your "O*A*R*R*s," that is, remember to clarify outcomes and expectations for the overall course and for each specific class; clearly state, in the beginning, the agenda for the overall course and for each specific class; clarify the responsibilities, extent, and limits of each participant's role; and establish the groundrules early and via collaborative conversation (Grove Consultants, 1994). This involves students in creating a "class culture" which they understand and in which they feel safe exploring, questioning, and working. Groundrules are the foundation of that culture, especially an emphasis on respecting other people's ideas and comments, reserving judgement, sharing the discussion time, actively soliciting ideas from everyone involved, and, perhaps most importantly, maintaining a lively sense of humor.

Finally, in an era of shrinking fiscal resources and spiralling emphasis on "enrollment management," treating classes as consulting contracts and students as clients reminds me that I want to see my "clients" again: I want to create a valuable "product," so that previous students bring me new students by word of mouth, and I want previous students to come back for new courses as well. Thus I must teach not only to my own and my discipline's standards, I must teach to my students' standards as well.

Futures Studies: Daydreaming Effectively


To return briefly to my opening theme of celebration, I am reminded of a comment by one of the best corporate facilitators I know: "Every time I walk into a meeting or workshop, I look at the people in the room, remind myself of the depth of experience, the breadth of ideas, and the heights of energy and enthusiasm they represent, and am exhilarated by our joint potential to create." I feel especially fortunate to teach Futures Studies; as a transdisciplinary field of study that exists to consider planetary futures and human potential in the long term, it particularly attracts students from a wide variety of professional and life experiences, diverse cultural backgrounds and worldviews, and unique flexibility of mind. I get much more than I give, and my recognition of and gratitude for that, coupled with my sense of wonder at our joint potential to create, my sense of humor with regard to mistakes we will make in the process, and my passion for my profession, are the foundation of my philosophy of teaching.

Kuhn, revolutions, half-baked, do we WANT to be fully baked?


Bell, Wendell. Foundations of Futures Studies, Vols. I and II. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1997. 365 and xxx pp.

Fowles, Jib. Handbook of Futures Research. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1978.

The Grove Consultants International. An Orientation to Facilitation -- Fundamental Principles. San Francisco: The Grove Consultants International, 1994. 44 pp.

Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Second Edition, Enlarged). Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1970.

Slaughter, Richard. The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies, Vols. 1-3. Hawthorn, Victoria, Australia: DDM Media, 1996.


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15 February 2003. Email IF.
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