Future Dualities: From a binary worldview to embracing hybrid futures
Thinking ahead is messy. In futurism, it’s a widely accepted fact that we cannot predict one true future. Instead, we can consider many possible futures. Some more probable than others. Some more preferable. But the further we think the greater the uncertainty and complexity. There is not one direction forward, but many different — sometimes contradictory — directions happening at once.
Paradoxically, we humans still love a simple, compelling story: Good and bad. Us and them. But more than ever, we need to shift away from simplified, binary thinking. The world is not black and white. It’s a greyscale gradient. Or even technicolor.
If we want to design futures that are truly sustainable for planet, people, and profit, we need to stop oversimplifying our choices and consider the immense complexity of our world. Explore the tensions along the continuum, embrace our diversity and acknowledge the implications of our actions. Present and beyond. But it’s not an easy feat.
To start, our Futures team spoke to thinkers and creators from across the world, and across competencies, to get a deeper and wider perspective on the possibilities and pitfalls ahead. Our conversations led us to five overarching Dualities through which we can view, explore, and discuss potential futures.
For us, these Dualities are enablers. They are schemes through which to understand the tensions arising in a complex and uncertain world. And they can serve as a framework and mindset with which we can help organizations explore and shape their strategies for potential futures.
This is not the answer. It’s the beginning of continuous exploration.
Community & Independence
Self-organized communities rise above traditional institutions. An erosion of trust in traditional institutions and increasing connectivity are leading to the rise of self-organized, value-based communities. They provide us with connection in an increasingly chaotic world. But they can quickly quiet the voices of those who don’t belong.
Isolation provides stability. With dependence comes vulnerability. As we’ve witnessed in the face of crumbling global supply chains: remove one link, and things fall apart. As a result, the desire for independence is growing, driving demand for everything from private livestock to homeschool curriculums. Independence can heighten personal security and resilience. But as we shut others out of our self-sustained circles, we risk enhancing polarized, protectionist discourse.
Fast & Slow
Radical change tests the limits of human adaptability. Technology is advancing at a rate faster than most of us can understand. This pace of change will continuously challenge what it means to be human. The race to re-think, re-learn, and re-skill will only speed up, testing the limits of human adaptability. Many will benefit, while many will be left far behind.
Searching for meaning forces us to slow down. In the face of exponential change and relentless uncertainty, meaning has become hard to find. Life in the fast lane has left little time to contemplate why we are here, and what makes us happy. So we are slowing down. Focusing on the necessities. Searching for new sources of meaning that offer something to hang on to.
Convenience & Consideration
Laziness is driving innovation. Convenience is king. It has become the norm across industries, driving innovation, competition, and human-centered experiences. Our desire for convenience is met by corporations with solutions that simplify, delight, and profit. But they often come at a greater cost: exploiting people, communities, and the environment.
From human-centered to humanity-centered. Sustainability is no longer the ethical choice, it is the existential one. Business leaders are shifting towards sustainable production, while people adopt considerate consumption. But the sustainable choice is often the privileged one — considered by those with the luxury to consider it, and chosen by those with the means to afford it.
Automation & Serendipity
Everything is smooth sailing. Automation has enabled smarter, simpler and more efficient action and decision making. We can spend less time on menial tasks, and more time on creating new value. But our experiences and interactions are beginning to feel monotonous, machine-like, and our very purpose as humans is being called into question.
We just want to feel something. In a minimum-friction, maximum-function world, our daily experiences are simple, seamless, optimized. Though we benefit from this functionality, it leaves us thirsty for emotion, imperfection, and surprise. Craft and serendipity require more time, more effort, and a certain amount of risk — none of which are easy to scale or sustain.
Centralization & Distribution
Power to the powerful. Power continues to concentrate in the hands of the few. This leads to increased consumer comfort and enables the creation of impact at a greater scale. Yet it simultaneously exacerbates a widening inequality gap. With power comes the ability to effect change, but it must be used with caution.
Power to the people. Thanks to the speed and visibility of social platforms, individuals have a growing stage on which to make their voices heard around the world. As the current of power spreads, expectations of consumers and employees are changing. Organizations can grant consumers the opportunity to wield this power — or they can be taken down by it.
Inherent in each duality is a series of risks and rewards, opportunities and threats, possibilities for both positive and negative impact. Consider your organization or industry in the context of these dualities.
Where would you place your organization along each spectrum?
What are the risks and rewards of each end?
Where would you like to see your organization placed in the years to come, and how would this impact your business? What do you need to do today to get there? What are the risks if you don’t take these actions?
Stay tuned! We are releasing a series of articles, each focused on a different duality: how we are seeing it play out today, how it could shape a particular industry in the future, and what it should make you ask about your organization moving forward.
Interested in giving the futures of your business some more thought? We’d love to have the conversation. Get in touch.
We’d like to extend a huge thanks to the passionate and enlightening contributors around the world who agreed to take the time to share their thinking with us.
Gaston Lisak, Artist and Co-Founder of Random Happiness
Laura Schwamb, Founder, Project61
Mardely E Vega Ruiz, Vice President for Latin America & US/Sodexo Benefits & Rewards
Sybil Ottenstein, Psychotherapist
Gloria Duran, Artist, Activist, Professor
Frank Rosengreen Lorenzen, CEO, Danish AM Hub
Thomas Hylland, Social Anthropologist
Dan Hill, Director of Strategic Design, Vinnova and Visiting Professor, UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose and Design Academy Eindhoven
Anders Carving Eikenes, CEO and Co-Founder of Oivi
Etienne Fang, Principal Researcher, Amazon
Nina Montgomery, Author of Perspectives on Purpose, IDEO Design Lead
Fernanda Torre, CEO Next Agents, Visiting Teacher Stockholm School of Economics
Jason Bruges, Artist and Architect
Alice Grandoit, Founder of Deem and Room for Magic
Alejandra Gonzalez, Innovation Consultant
Zvika Orron, Partner, Viola Ventures
Shlomo Dvorat, Co-Founder, Viola Ventures
Oded Maimon, Professor at Tel Aviv University, Specialist in Data Mining, AI, Robotics Creativity and Conceptual Design
Liv Dingsor, Managing Director, Digital Norway