Four Ways Educators Can Think About the Future

Forward to 2014 new year conceptHow should educators think about the future? A better way to phrase the question might be, ‘how can educators best think about an unpredictable future for education in a connected and open learning environment’? A recent article Four Keys to Thinking about the Future featured in Harvard Business Review offers what I believe is relevant, practical and unique strategies that any individual faced with change or ambiguity would do well by. This post reviews the four methods outlined in the article and though written for a business audience the ideas are universal and readers will see how applicable each is to an education context. It was the symposium The Next Big Thing: A Historical Approach to Thinking About the Future, sponsored by the Legatum Institute, Harvard Business Review and the USC Sidney Harman Academy for Polymathic Study that provided inspiration for the Four Keys article.

Confronting ambiguity is one of the issues that came up time and again…the day-long symposium, called “The Next Big Thing: a Historical Approach to Thinking about the Future,” [that] included a small, formidable mix of business leaders, technologists, historians, economists, defense experts, pollsters, and philosophers. 

Though there were few educators in the mix, [and the purpose of the conference was to examine how different disciplines think about the future] the outcomes appear relevant to all. The Four Key strategy differs from traditional advice on how to approach change in an uncertain future — it’s far more proactive. The Four Keys suggest incorporating a point of view with great depth and breath—it involves listening carefully something that is most difficult to do when holding firm convictions about a given topic, and studying similar patterns or events from history, not because history repeats itself, but because history often rhymes (Gedmin). The third key also provides a fresh perspective by encouraging individual think, in contrast to groupthink. Key four, learning to deal with ambiguity, is one we’ve all heard before, yet is stellar advice, though often the most difficult.

Four Keys as per Four Keys to Thinking About the Future
1) Enhance your power of observation, in other words listen up.  In our culture of infinite distractions, listening is becoming a lost art.  The article includes several links to related articles about listening and patience, though this essay The Power of Patience is brilliant.

2) Appreciate the value of being (a little) asocial. The author warns of groupthink, a dangerous phenomenon and encourages one to think outside of the box, yet how do you actually do it, when life and livelihood generally depend on operating inside a box? (Gedmin)

3) Study history. I couldn’t agree more with this point. So many mistakes could be avoided had someone done some research into what was done prior, identifying what worked [and didn’t] and why

4) Learn to deal with ambiguity. As the saying goes, just do it.

A worthy read as we head into 2014. The advice provided by the author sums it up well “consciously attempt to act on these four pieces of advice and I think you can only get better at anticipating the big things (and small things) that will come next”. 

Further Reading: