Our first Oblique Thinking Hour

Photo by AbsolutVision / Unsplash

On August 9th, 2022 we held our first Oblique Thinking Hour. These monthly sessions are a forum where we play with new ideas and facilitation techniques. We explore what might be possible with a community of participants who come along to learn and try out fun and interactive prompts, techniques and ways of connecting with each other.

All of this is in service of the work we do at Organizational Mycology to equip organizations with introspection tools and help them excel in understanding their collective selves. With this understanding, organizations can improve communication and build relationships across traditional silos.

Futures Cards Round I

To kick off the first session, we used a futures card deck to get us into a futures thinking mode. We spent 10-minutes in a 1-1 break out room, first getting to know the other person and then building a possible future that aligns with the content of the three cards. We asked participants to suspend disbelief, to imagine what sensations (sights, smells, tastes, sounds) they might experience in this future, and to be playful and creative with their breakout session partner.

Three of the cards, demonstrating that they can each be reversed

In a quick 10-minute session, scenarios generated by pairs across these cards were widely varied and creative:

In the future, Nanotechnology is so focused on profiting from the creation of consumer goods, that it comes at the expense of innovation in the healthcare field.
Trust in media + leads to biotech failure - robotics success + leads to open source communication around health and wellbeing and the integration of robotics in healthcare for accelerated transhumanism.
Greater trust in media / strengthened social fabric leads to community building and creation of systems to help new community members (less emphasis on rugged American individualism).
With international trade becoming more costly and challenging. Communities are reaching to their landfills to find the resources they need to make locally.

Participants were asked about how they felt as they imagined a future in this way. A wide range of emotions were expressed: playfulness, engagement, caution, tension, interest, excitement, generativity, pessimism, hopefulness, ambition, inspiration and optimism were all noted.

During a brief discussion, we talked about how we might bring this kind of futures scenario co-creation to different organizations. Participants saw potential to deploy futures thinking in communities of technologists, STEM scientific program managers, researchers, student leaders, activists, organizers, corporate workers, mangers and their subordinates, sports teams, union leaders and volunteers. Each community could benefit from exercising their futures thinking muscles, whether to shape the trajectory of their organizations or to simply gain appreciation for diverse skillsets and expertise.

Futures thinking in consulting work

Dan Sholler shared with us a bit of background on the work he did to create a California-focused Economic mobility, workforce, and inequality report. He spoke about how futures thinking enabled the team to generate content that both echoed and invited the voices of a variety of stakeholders. In particular, using a future context allowed the work to transcend traditional divisions between policymakers, researchers, activists, and the public. The exercise encouraged these stakeholders to leave their current-state agendas behind and collectively imagine what the future might look. We had a discussion about how futures thinking, when well-facilitated, can help envision desired or undesired outcomes and avoid the deterministic thinking traps that people and organizations tend to fall into when working in traditional ways.

Futures Cards Round II

We then dove into another 10-minute session exploring the cards with a new partner. Feedback from this session indicated that experience from the first round of cards made it easier and faster to create new scenarios. This improvement was driven by familiarity with the technology (e.g., cards and their ability to be reversed) and a better understanding of the previously-foreign collaboration process:

Techno tribes pursue money by selling as much environmental/space tech as they can.
Quantum computing leads to a breakdown of encryption - creating a fear of everything being connected in centralized ways. People begin leaving the internet to live in off-grid alternative energy collectives.
The highway system had so much deferred maintenance that we decided to abandon it in favor of high-speed trains and walkable cities.

The combination of technical and processual familiarity enabled participants to explore more fantastical scenarios in the second session. We think that type of fantastical thinking made the second session more fun, as evidenced by one participant noting that the second session felt much faster than the first.

Learnings

There is clearly value to repeatedly and iteratively creating co-constructing fantastical futures. As social scientists and connoisseurs of all things organizational, we were excited by how quickly futures thinking prompted group connection and cohesion. Perhaps more practically, our participants were able to unpack and explore shared (or not shared) assumptions about what the future might hold and how we can shape our path toward it. Use of the futures cards was at times confusing, and some teams chose to change the rules around card reversal. Yet these cards created a shared context for discussions; accordingly, we're considering ways in which we could create custom cards that help specific organizations and their employees collectively explore topics that are related to the landscapes in which they work and operate. Some feedback from participants was that these exercises probably needed more time (than the 10-minutes).

Further Reading and Other Resources

  • Imaginable – New book from game designer Jane McGonigal with lots of activities.
  • Futures Deck – If you’d like a physical copy of the futures deck we used a digital form of here today
  • Working Futures Book and scenarios
  • The Oracle For Transfeminist Technologies, a hands-on card deck designed to help us collectively envision and share ideas for transfeminist technologies from the future
  • Timelines, future thinking activities for surfacing values and ethics in technologies (also excellent for organizational change more broadly)

Thank you to the participants

A Navarrette, G Hayden, E Bell, C Bertipaglia, A Steel, A Oren, S Malin, J Outlaw

Are you signed up for our next Oblique Thinking Hour on September 13th/14th (depending on your timezone)?

Jonah Duckles

Jonah Duckles

Dunedin, New Zealand
Dan Sholler

Dan Sholler

Beth Duckles

Beth Duckles

Borhane Blili-Hamelin

Borhane Blili-Hamelin

NYC