Growing up I loved maps. In fact, I told my father that I wanted to be a cartographer when I grew up. That would be someone who makes maps, in case you were not familiar with that long-lost job. He thought I said photographer and told me there was no future in it. He was somewhat right in that it seems everyone is a photographer these days as long as they are carrying a smart device.
Notice I didn’t call it a smart phone. It’s a camera. “Excuse me while I call my mother on my camera,” you never heard anyone say.
A map can help you tell you where you need to go. Growing up, whenever we went on a family vacation, my Father would send away to the Amoco Oil Motor Club (he was member) our vacation destination and we would receive in the mail several weeks later an full blown atlas with a highlighted route taking us to where we needed to go. The map would have mileage between points on the map, numbered exits, and all the landmarks one would need to get where they needed to go. Easy.
I learned how to read a map that way and it helped pass the time in our 1966 Chevy Impala which did NOT have video screen in the back seat or in the ceiling. It was not an option in 1966.
Those cartographer dreams quickly passed but I attribute my early map adoption and reading with my impeccable sense of direction (ask my wife or kids, they will attest).
Today mapping out a plan to get somewhere is much easier. Just punch the address into your camera, ahem, phone, better yet, smart device and it will get you there with your choice of female or mail voice mispronouncing Sacandaga Road.
Yet, we still need maps to achieve our goals in this day and age. Your device might get you to the hottest restaurant, but it won’t get you to the future. The discipline of Strategic Foresight is the mapping system of the future, for the future. Ancient sailors used maps of dubious accuracy to get them across seas of which they had never ventured. Strategic Foresight is like that too. It can get you to where you need to go, even when the path is not clear.
We all agree that no we can’t predict the future. But with amazing accuracy and ability we can map out a future we want. We can pull ourselves to the future rather than have the future happen to us. That is what democratizing the future is all about.
In economic development we can use Strategic Foresight as a tool to plan the future prosperity of our communities. Waiting for government or private market forces to simply impact us is irresponsible and will result in unintended consequences.
At the IEDC Conference here in Indianapolis I have been able to talk about Futures Thinking and Strategic Foresight with a number of younger economic development professionals in the Young Professionals Mentorship Program. Young upcoming leaders like Ryan Dickison a senior at DePauw University,Lindsey Hahn from the Greater Phoenix Economic Development Council, Tyler Lashfrom Jobs Ohio, Emma Kelly from the Anchorage Economic Development Council and Danielle King from the Development Corporation in Plattsburgh, New York all listened intently as I described how Futures Thinking could be used in economic development strategic planning. Whether they buy my idea is yet to be seen.
I still love maps. Going into an old map store or looking at an old atlas still stirs me. Maybe that is why futures thinking excites me. Futures Thinking gets me excited about what and how we can impact the future of our communities and the future of our profession. Let’s map it out together.