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What is futurism, and how can it help create a sustainable life?


Futurism as an art style and a strategy for eco-conscious living.



Why you should read this


I have given workshops about futurism, and when I started speaking, the topic always got weird looks. How can you predict the future? What is this all about? It's a topic you don't often hear about – and honestly – the first time I heard it – I had that exact reaction. I was confused but excited to learn something new.

It's a coincidence that the Italian futurist movement inspires my painted art. I love the visual style, yet less the meaning behind the style. However, I do find foresight and futurism so compelling. During my master's in Design, Strategy, and Innovation, one of the courses was foresight. Since finishing, I have had a keen interest in exploring more and using it for my practice and others.


I think that whoever is reading this article wants to create positive change. We want a green future. Yet we are so far away from it. Thinking about the future is needed. We all should do this, and with some guidelines, we can.

In this post, I'll define the futurism art style and what foresight and futurism as a strategy are. Then I'll show you how foresight connects to eco-conscious living. We'll work on one tool to start our foresight journey.

This article is for

Anyone interested in eco-conscious living and wanting to know more options about what the future might bring and how to work towards your preferred future. As research shows, we often have a 'binary bias' (in the book Think Again by Adam Grant). We see things in either black or white, which are usually two extremes. For example, we might think the world will fall apart, or we will live a happy, green life. I want to show you there are many futures, and what will happen is not as black and white as we think.


What are futurism and foresight?

Futurism is an interdisciplinary word used in different settings. I want to focus on futurism as an art style and mainly on futurism, or foresight, as a strategy for life and business.


Severini – Dancer = Propeller = Sea (1915)

In 1909 the Poet Filippo Marinetti wrote a manifesto for a new movement, the futurists, a culture based on machines, speed, and modernity. Marinetti found that the conventional museums and academies had to be destroyed as they were part of a past culture. In 1910, the futurist argued that 'the construction of pictures is stupidly traditional', yet they found it hard to create their visual style. Severini was the first futurist artist to come in touch with Cubism. He started implementing the style in futurists' interests of cars, trains, and other objects that carried speed, modernity and movement. The style started representing an innovative world of machines and inventions. However, the movement did not last long due to the futurists' connection to Fascist politics, which was a hard stop for most art fans. The futurists believed in war and bigotry towards minority groups.

Futurism as an art style decreased quickly due to its Fascists' connection. However, the style keeps fascinating through its dynamism and modernism, even these days.

Are you interested more about the futurist art style? This source is a great deep dive into futurism.

Futurist artists saw the potential of the future, innovations, and modernity. However, they also saw the need to destroy traditional places for a better future. I don't believe destroying traditional places will bring us a better future. They hold so much value and knowledge about our past. So, let's look at how futurism as a strategy works.

THINK THE UNTHINKABLE


Futurism creates futures we can't imagine to be true.

Futurism as a strategy is familiar as (strategic) foresight. Foresight is 'the discovery of a common space for open thinking on the future and the incubation of strategic approaches.' (Cassingena Harper, 2003). What this means is that different futures are explored by using foresight-specific methods. It is not about predicting the future. It is about exploring different futures. Foresight wants to achieve are things like innovation, cooperation, help cope with the 'Grand Challenges' like climate change or poverty. The end goal is to prepare for and create a preferred future.

So, why is this important?


We live in a time where our lives are changing at a speed we've never experienced before. The use of technology and the nature of business model transformation are vital. Technological advancements, for example, are disrupting companies, industries and consumer products. To keep ahead of this, we need to rethink how we can create our most preferable future. Foresight helps with tools and strategies for organisations and individuals to understand their futures better and make us more resilient in this rapidly changing world. If you want to live in a green world, using foresight tools will help strengthen your action taken now and in the future.

Three facts about the future:

  1. The future does not exist. It only is a thought in our minds.

  2. There is more than one future, as any action, we take changes the future we will live in.

  3. More ideas about the future are grounded in the present.


But, what is the future?

I love the way Victory Kahn describes it:

"Futures are subjective judgements about ideas about the future that are based on today."

Futures are only ideas, things we think about, but they do not exist.


Before the future, first the now.


Foresight is a field where many professionals spend their lifetime working on creating different futures for individuals or businesses. Therefore, this blog will only be able to cover a fraction of how it works and how you can adapt it to your life. Foresight can become complex, but if you are interested in this topic, I encourage you to learn more after reading this article.


Now, there are many tools and techniques out there. We will make a systems map first because we can only solve an issue if we thoroughly understand it. Now and in the future.


According to Andy Hines and Peter Bishop (Thinking about the future, 2006) systems mapping is one of the best ways to start with strategic foresight. In a systems map, we identify everyone involved in the issue and the driving forces. Then we explore the relationships among them.



This is an example of a systems map from the RAND corporation, who used foresight techniques to examine the global food system.

Now, let us work together on a few simple activities for ourselves so that making a systems map becomes less daunting and super helpful. Doing this activity will help you see how it will help us better understand the ecosystem of something.

We want a green future. Let's have a look at three questions to make our systems map.

1. What is the issue?


What is it that we want to solve? Climate change? Or do we want to make our future focus much narrower and solve issues with recycling? I'd suggest not to go too broad so that you can have a clear focus on the following two questions.

One issue we could all agree on is the following:

Our linear product design system creates a massive amount of landfills globally.

If you have another issue you'd like to use, please write it down and follow along!


2. Who is involved in the issue?

Let's write out who we see is involved in this. This can be anything from people, departments, technology like machines, food, systems, or money. You can start writing down anything that comes to mind to do this. A few that can be involved are:


- The builders: Designers, Engineers

- Product managers

- Store owners

- Consumers

- Corporate organizations

- Machines creating products

- Investors

- Industrial buildings

- .. [write down any other you can think off]

You might know others and more which is totally amazing! Write them down so we can use them later.

3. What are the driving forces and trends?


How come we still have this linear product design while there is overwhelming proof that moving towards a circular design is so much more sustainable? What are some trends that we see now regarding the production of products?


Some driving forces:

- Money & taxes; it is usually much cheaper to create linear products from, for example, cheap plastic than from very durable materials

- Short-term profits over long-term benefits are part of our way of life

- Investments in existing systems that aren't adaptable for sustainability

- Consumers who buy cheaper, linear products over longer durable products


Some mega trends that play a role:

- The climate crisis

- Digital disruption

- Demographic shifts – next generations of workers with different mindsets

- .. You can find more mega trends here.


There are many more forces and trends, and again I'd encourage you to write them down!

Next week we will wrap up the systems map and use it together with another foresight tool to predict futures and see how we can start actions towards the future we want.

You can use the above steps for any further issue you want to examine. I encourage you to do so.

Concluding


I briefly spoke about Futurists as an art style, which is an authentic visual style, yet contains a dark message on its back. They did, however, see the benefit of looking into the future. Foresight does this too. Even though we cannot predict the future, we can prepare ourselves better for what might come and work towards a preferable future. We worked on one tool, the systems map, which helps us map out broadly the current system of the problem we want to solve. Making this is a significant first step into diving and understanding the possibilities of the future.


If you want to choose eco-conscious products in your life, have a look at my upcycled pieces here.



Bibliography


Thinking about the future – Guidelines for strategic foresight (2nd edition) by Andy Hines and Peter Bishop (2006)


Think again – Adam Grant (2021)