One of my favourite exercises when conducting futures workshops is “The Dot”. I was discussing this with good mate and op-ed writer for The Age Stephen McGrail at the pub a while ago and he liked it and thought he might use it in his workshops. I can’t remember if I sourced it from somewhere or someone else so if anyone can set me right on that, I am quite happy to attribute it!
One of the conceptual models of thinking about the future is that the present is right here, right now and the future extends out from this place elsewhere. A classic example if the futures cone. But different people perceive of how the future extends from the present in radically different ways.
To illustrate this in a workshop setting, I get people to make a dot with a pen on a piece of paper. I then tell them that this dot represents the present and to then make some other mark on the paper with their pen that represents the future (not getting them to think about it, just represent it).
Some of the things that people come up with are:
- An arrow emanating from the dot left to right (the optimists have the arrow trending up, the pessimists downward tendency). Probably about half the crowds that I have presented to would have this.
- A circle (the future is all around us – this is often an indigenous perspective). About 10% of the group.
- A question mark (the unknown) – about another 10 %
- Another dot (more of the same) – a few and the rest are bits and pieces of the following
- A bigger dot (more of the same but more of it!)
- Multiple arrows radiating from the dot (multiplicity of futures)
- A squiggle (a journey into the future that will not be smooth)
I find it a neat way of showing how people can think about the future quite differently, to open up people’s eyes to other modes of thinking and question the assumptions behind their way of thinking. Example, what would it mean to me if I thought the future was all around me rather than along a linear trajectory?
I’d be interested in any other ideas that people have when they make a without-thinking representation of the future from “the dot”.