Owning Our Own Futures - Thought Snippets from Futurist, David Zach (Part 2 of 3)

September 20, 2016 8:38 AM | Laura Chartier (Administrator)

In Part 1 of this 3-Part series, Futurist, David Zach provided three pearls of insight from his in-progress composition, "100 Great Ways to Own Your Future". Today, he continues with three more gems:


#4. Relearn to be Curious

Yes, relearn to be curious, because more than likely you’ve lost most of it. The writer Neil Postman said that, "Every child starts school as a question mark and leaves it as a period." Adding insult to inquiry, Google now answers your questions before you're finished asking them. We think that's clever and convenient, but it's more like confining your brain into a comfy chair from which it never gets up; never having to do the exercise of sculpting a good question, let alone lifting up good answers. Google does the work, so you don’t have to. Curiosity has been automated, because now there’s an app for that. If you’re curious about the dangers of such conclusions, then you’ll have to stop outsourcing yours.

Once upon a time, we had to dig through lots of irrelevant information to find what we wanted. Except it wasn't irrelevant. Much of that process was the act of refining what it was that we actually did want. All that other “stuff” had a stickiness to it, which could fill the gaps in your brain to help you understand, to put into context, the great big world. Understanding the great big world is necessary for thriving in it. Answers don't make the world go around, being able to ask better questions does.

I know this all to be true because I read the book Curious by Ian Leslie. And then I listened to it. And then I read it again. It's that good. It explains why our future depends upon rekindling curiosity. He explains how "diversive curiosity" helps you put the world into context. What he calls “epistemic curiosity” is where you drill down into specific lines of inquiry to develop competence. Diversive curiosity is especially strong in children because they need to learn about all that great big future ahead of them, but then it fades as we gain specific competences. Your challenge is that, when it comes to the future, we are all essentially children. Rediscovering a bit of childlike wonder will do wonders for making better futures. If you can’t relearn how to see the world through the eyes of child, you’ve become that saddest of creatures, an obsolete adult.

The first lesson of well-nurtured curiosity is one that continually reveals itself: a lifetime of adventure; both self-directed and self-rewarding. Curiosity doesn’t create lifelong students; it creates lifelong learners.

Curiosity is not just the foundation of lifelong learning; it is the foundation of life. Curiosity has to be nurtured in children, so they can become learned, ever-curious adults. These sorts of adults are productive, creative, innovating adults. Lifelong learners will save the future, because they are the ones who always save it.


#5. Think Into Other Boxes

“Think outside the box,” is some of the worst advice you will ever get. Most people end up just wandering around, lost in thought. It's because they've lost their context - that box they've been told to get away from is actually their perspective, their learning, their everything. What sense does it make to give that up completely?

That box is not bad, it's just incomplete. It's too isolated. We and our thinking were not meant to be alone. Fortunately, there are so many great ways to connect your thinking to that of others. From coffee conversations to formal brainstorming and even strategic planning retreats, people bring multiple point perspective to ideas old and new.

Just as I had suggested that your thinking shouldn't be merely linear, it also shouldn't be one-dimensional. There's a landscape to innovative thinking. It can be multi-dimensional. Do for your thinking what multiple-point perspective does for drawing and painting. Connect your thinking to additional dimensions.

The easiest way to do that? Don't do it alone. Take your perspective (aka: that box that everyone told you to abandon) and then find another perspective, different from your own, but not completely different. Find common ground. Then talk. Explore the topic that stands between you. Look at it from all sorts of angles. Use mind-mapping to connect and consider possibilities.

You have to do this with curiosity, and you have to do it with enough humility to consider the odd possibility that the other person might just be as smart as you. Maybe smarter. Lean into that.

And what about the ideas you dislike, that you have already discarded? You may have plenty of reasons to do so, but there are a lot of great ideas that don't easily fit with others. Your task is to re-imagine possible connections. The Japanese writer, Junichiro Tanizaki, said that, "Without shadows, there can be no beauty." Look for the shadows, or better expressed, look into the shadows. Look where you're not looking. Look where you might be afraid to look. Find beauty that's not always obvious, not always on the surface. Look where you don't believe you need to look. Look.


#6. Think Outside Occupational Boundaries

This is obviously the offspring of the "Think Into Other Boxes" notion. It's just more specific, and for many of you, more practical. It's about your job, or rather your future job - because that one you have now just might change into something a bit unfamiliar. 

In 2012, I surveyed architecture students on their then supposed poor job prospects, asking: “If you don't become an architect, what else might you do?” Their answers went into wordle.net and out came this word cloud:

This cloud is thinking into other boxes and obviously, so were the students. They get that occupational boundaries are not entirely real. They might be necessary, but they, by necessity, cannot be absolute, especially in the face of all the changes swirling around them and the world of work. Student debt clears the mind wonderfully, especially for those able to think more entrepreneurially in terms of, "What works right now?" What works right now is needing to rethink the edges of the professions, but not eliminating the edges. In practical terms, we need the boundaries to determine competencies. What was competent then, isn't completely transferable into today. 

Everyone's career is really about skill clusters, which will ebb and flow, not according to just which technology is being used, but also which skills and perspectives can be combined. The skill cluster of an architect today is vastly different from what it was a hundred years ago. Just a guess - it's going to be even more differenter (yeah, you see what I did there...) 25 years from now. Your actual mileage will not vary because the same thing applies to you – no matter who you are, no matter what you want to be. 


For more of David's thought-provoking ideas, see Part 1 and Part 3 of our 3-Part Guest Blog Series.

And if you enjoy David's posts, you’ll appreciate seeing see him live, in-action, during Thursday’s keynote presentation at SEWI-ATD’s Fall Special Event.  Register today! 

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