Situational Futuring Methodology

by | Jul 18, 2019 | Situational Futuring

How would your life change if you understood the future?

A little over two years ago, I introduced a new anticipatory thinking tool called “situational futuring” as a way to gain better insight into the world ahead.

The way I’ve been describing it, situational futuring is a micro-futuring process that positions a single technology, specific idea, or what-if condition inside a future time slot. Through the use of situation-specific scenarios, it builds a growing body of understanding around that topic.

After several test runs I began to realize how difficult it was to develop the “situational” storylines to paint the broader picture, so I made a few changes.

As I worked through a series of alpha and beta stage tests, I concluded that it still needed a few more parameters to improve usability.

For this reason, I’ve added simple use case boundaries to help first time users grasp the significance of its potential.

As a staring point:

  • Create a future-specific situation
  • Select a timeframe
  • Describe the technology or change involved
  • Explain a first use-case scenario

Then Ask “How will it affect” or “what happen to”:

  • Entrepreneurs
  • Students
  • Personal relationships
  • Employment and earning a living
  • Parenting and childhood
  • Governmental systems
  • Personal health
  • Spirituality health
  • Our natural environment
  • Personal safety

As you step through the list, jot down all answers that come to mind. Very often your thoughts will be framed around additional questions, so be sure to add those as well. With enough well framed questions, the answers will follow.

I describe this process as “mining for epiphanies.”

The elements in this list have been carefully chosen to push each person’s thinking in multiple directions, far beyond their normal limitations.

As we struggle our way through each question, forcing our mind to look into the foggy dark places it normally doesn’t want to go, we will hopefully begin to uncover brilliant insights.

With enough of these insights, our narrow perspectives become much wider, until we begin to grasp the situation in its entirety, or at least widely enough to ask important new questions.

Cause and Effect Relationships

Our lives are filled with cause and effect relationships. While these are typically far more complicated than a simple one-to-one relationship, for the purpose of this exercise we will limit it to simple answers about simple relationships.

With enough practice you will be able to describe a complex cause-and-effect relationship in greater detail, but that will come later.

How will electronic voting change our elections?

1. Blockchain Election Scenario – The Birth of Electronic Voting

We will start with a bit of a technical description. Blockchain is a distributed database that maintains a continuously growing list of ordered records called blocks. Each block contains a timestamp and a link to a previous block. Through this rather simple design, blockchains are inherently resistant to modification of the data, and once recorded, the data in each block cannot be altered retroactively.

For this reason, there is a strong likelihood that blockchain can be used to develop an electronic voting system, where votes can be cast easily through any electronic device, and each vote can be crosschecked and verified through a number of algorithms, opening the doors for an entirely different kind of election process.

To help expand our thinking, I’ve created this scenario.

Ten years from now the Norwegian Nobel Committee decides to use a different process for awarding the Nobel Peace Prize. After receiving roughly 250 nominations for the award, the committee narrows down the field to just four names.

Working with a new super-secure blockchain voting system, the Committee embarks on holding the world’s first global election to not only select the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize but also promote peace around the world. The election process will help draw attention to their efforts.

PRE-TESTING: Electronic voting will open the doors for pre-testing the voters. The voting process will still be based on one-person-one-vote, but the votes only count if people understand what they are voting on. By using a series of rudimentary questions to demonstrate subject matter competency, people will be qualified to vote. In this scenario, two simple questions are asked about each candidate to demonstrate basic subject matter proficiency. Pretesting also serves as an extra security measure against hackers.

Allowing a 60 day period for “campaigning” to occur, all votes are cast within a one-day period, with the winner announced the day after all of the votes are in. During this time, people in 84 different countries cast a total of 750 million votes.

As a result of this process, the winner instantly becomes the most recognizable person on the planet…. more famous than presidents, kings, or other world leaders.

Also, as a consequence of this process, the Norwegian Nobel Committee is dramatically elevated in stature and influence, the Peace Prize has become the most coveted award on earth, and the pursuit of peace becomes a global obsession.

With this use-case scenario in mind, how will an electronic voting process such as this change the world over the next 20 years?

NOTE: The answers below are intended to reflect the brainstorming process. Responses will range from comments, to half-baked ideas, to questions that serve as placeholders for more thinking in the future. If you can’t think of an answer at the moment, or think nothing will change, make a statement to that effect. Best done in groups with other creative thinkers.


What Happens to Entrepreneurs?

    1. Entrepreneurs will view online elections as a new form of marketing to expand awareness.
    2. Voting will be used to decide on products, policies, institutions, cities, and a wide variety of other issues.
  • What Happens to Students?

    1. Will students be more likely or less likely to vote?
    2. Will pretesting be too controversial to implement? Will it replace age requirements for voting?
  • What Happens to Personal Relationships?

    1. In much the same way the “like” button revolutionized social media, voting on real-life issues will become a common daily ritual.
    2. Rather than just selecting a candidate or saying “yes” or “no,” will it be possible to vote on a sliding scale or with a wide range of emoticons in the future?
    3. Will it someday be possible to see how your friends voted in the future? (As in Facebook or Twitter friends)
  • What Happens to Employment and Earning a Living?

    1. Since everyone approaches each question from a “what’s-in-it-for-me” perspective, employment and personal income issues will always rise to the top.
    2. Will electronic voting create more jobs or fewer jobs?
  • What Happens to Parenting and Childhood

    1. Campaigning has evolved into a form of open expression often tapping into anger, hate-speech, and divisive sentiments. Will we want to protect our children from that in the future?
    2. How do these campaigns affect early childhood development?
  • What Happens to Governmental Systems

    1. Governments will need to develop rules and systems to create a level playing field for electronic voting.
    2. Who gets to decide on which issues get voted on?
    3. We will likely see national and global referendums that we all vote on in the future.
    4. How will local, regional, national, and global elections evolve over the coming years?
    5. Since the cost of holding an election will plummet, will the number of elections begin to increase exponentially? Too many elections will mean that many will not get enough attention.
  • What Happens to Personal Health?

    1. Will we suffer from “voter fatigue” in the future? Too many issues, too many campaigns, too much rhetoric?
    2. Will electronic voting give a voice to those who feel oppressed?
  • What Happens to Spirituality?

    1. Spirituality is foundational to every voting process because it attempts to tap into your belief system.
    2. Voting becomes an expression of who we are and how we participate in society
  • What Happens to our Natural Environment?

    1. In the past, environmental issues took second place to personal and business interests? Will that be the same in the future?
    2. Very likely we will find ourselves voting on a host of environmental issues.
  • What Happens to Personal safety?

    1. Personal safety issues are easy to turn into emotionally charged topics that sway public opinion.
    2. Since voting will take place with electronic devices in private, there should be less intimidation.

How will driverless technologies change society over the next 20 years?

2. Driverless Car Scenario

As driverless technologies progress, there will be less and less need for human oversight. Eventually we will achieve fully autonomous cars where we can summon a car whenever we need it and car ownership becomes a thing of the past.

First generation vehicles like these will come with a variety of regulator issues and technical problems few can anticipate. But as with all early stage technologies, each of these problems will be dealt with as they arise.

Realistically though, the U.S. has 253 million vehicles (129 registered cars) at an average age of 11.4 years. How long will it take to replace this many cars and what happens to all the old cars?

How will driverless technologies change society over the next 20 years?


  • What Happens to Entrepreneurs?

    1. Most Uber and Lyft jobs will have disappeared. Same with rental cars, taxis, valet, courier, mailmen, bus drivers, truck drivers, and drivers ed teachers.
    2. Driverless cars will likely be owned by large fleet owners in most major cities. But that leaves tons of opportunity for tiny fleets in small towns everywhere.
    3. Autonomous vehicles will create the need for new kinds of in-car entertainment – VR, movies, games, music, courseware, etc.
    4. It also opens the door for specialty vehicles like driverless lawn mowers that can be scheduled during mowing season; furniture moving vehicles that may or may not require some level of human assistance; and delivery vehicles that can deliver food, packages, and medical supplies.
  • What Happens to Students?

    1. Students in all income brackets will have instant access to transportation.
    2. Students can study in cars during a commute, so less need to stay in dormitories.
    3. School parking lots will begin to disappear
  • What Happens to Personal Relationships?

    1. Cars have been a large part of the dating and romance culture for many decades. How will this change?
    2. Both driving and car ownership are stressful parts of marriage and relationships, and both will disappear.
    3. Transportation will become less tied to status.
  • What Happens to Employment and Earning a Living?

    1. Over 3 million driving jobs in the U.S. alone will disappear.
    2. People will no longer be able to rely on fallback positions like driving for Uber and becoming a truck driver.
  • What Happens to Parenting and Childhood

    1. At what age can children travel alone in a driverless vehicle?
    2. If a parent is face-recognized on one end and a teacher on the other end, how young can a child travel to and from by themselves?
    3. Will driverless cars replace school buses?
  • What Happens to Governmental Systems

    1. At what point will traffic cops, traffic court, DAs, lawyers, and judges disappear?
    2. Will cars still need to be licensed?
    3. Since a driver’s license doubles as a primary form of personal identification, what will replace that?
  • What Happens to Personal Health?

    1. Far fewer accidents, injuries, and deaths.
    2. Far easier to access caregivers.
    1. Since spirituality is often a shared experience, easier transportation will make it easier to surround yourself with like-minded individuals.
    2. The freedom we equate with travel and transportation is the same freedom we will equate with our belief systems.
  • What Happens to our Natural Environment?

    1. With self-driving electric vehicles there will be far fewer vehicles and far less road pollution.
    2. The sound of the city dramatically changes as we can listen to nature again.
    3. Very few new roads will ever have to be built. Our existing highway system will be capable of accommodating exponentially more commuters.
  • What Happens to Personal Safety?

    1. Very soon our vehicles will feel like some of the safest places on earth.
    2. With transportation becoming far safer, we will begin expecting that same level of safety in other aspects of our lives

Will there be a micro college in your future?

3. The Micro College Scenario

Technology is automating jobs out of existence at a record clip, and it’s only getting started. But at the same time, new jobs are also coming out of the woodwork.

One common fallacy is that machines are replacing people. The reality is that machines don’t work without humans. A more accurate description is that a large number of people are being replaced by a smaller number of people using machines.

At the same time, every new technology creates a need for more training. Very often it ends up being niche learning that takes place in-house with existing employees. But we’re also seeing a number of new industries driving the need for huge new talent pools that currently don’t exist.

Bold companies introducing new technology are instantly triggering the need for talented people with skills aligned to grow with cutting edge industries.

Whether its virtual reality, chat bots, blockchain, 3D biometric passwords, graphene, swarmbots, or sensor networks, the need for tech-savvy fast-to-adapt talent pools is growing, and growing quickly.

In these types of industries, it’s no longer possible to project the talent needs of business 6-7 years in advance, the time it takes most universities to develop a new degree program and graduate their first class. Instead, these new skill-shifts come wrapped in a very short lead-time, often as little as 3-4 months.

All this is setting the stage for a massive new micro college industry with immersive training done in short periods of time.

How will micro colleges develop and evolve over the next 20 years?


  • How will they affect Entrepreneurs

    1. We will suddenly see a wide range of training for emerging new professions.
    2. Entrepreneurs will view micro colleges as a solution for virtually every major social problem.
  • How will they affect Students

    1. Students will soon have more options than ever before.
    2. Micro colleges will become a recurring option for anyone wishing to shift gears in their life.
  • How will they affect Personal relationships

    1. Every new profession will require a new “network of friends.”
    2. Micro colleges should have good mechanisms for introducing you to these new social circles.
  • How will they affect Employment and earning a living

    1. People who lose their job will have a wide variety of “reskilling” options to prepare them for their next career.
    2. Every completed micro college course will make people substantially more employable.
    3. With education being parsed into smaller pieces, people will have more control over their own career path.
  • How will they affect Parenting and childhood

    1. Parents will lead by example. Every parent that shows their kids how to reboot their career will pave the way for our next generation of workers to do the same.
    2. Any child that isn’t committed to a specific career path will have the latitude to experiment at far less time and cost than traditional college programs.
    3. Micro colleges will open the door for more discussions between kids and their parents.
  • How will they affect Governmental systems

    1. Governments are heavily invested in college education and will have to develop new systems to accommodate micro colleges.
    2. Very soon student loan programs will apply to micro colleges.
    3. Micro colleges will become the new rapid deployment system for reskilling a nation’s workforce.
  • How will they affect Personal Health?

    1. With any career path, people tend to burn out over time. Micro colleges are a new option for instantly shifting gears and doing something new.
    2. Micro college courses in self-diagnostics, life-streaming, and mindful living will open the door to a vastly improved next generation quality of life.
  • How will they affect Spirituality?

    1. Far more niche topics, even on spiritual issues, will be shown to add meaning to our lives.
    2. People who are spiritually confident are also confident in other life choices.
    3. Will micro colleges pave the way for a whole new “age of meaning?”
  • How will they affect our Natural Environment?

    1. Students that study a craft become very sensitive to the work environment they will be entering into. That same sensitivity will be applied to other aspects of their lives including their interest in the natural environment.
    2. We will see tons of new courses that take place in unusual natural settings.
  • How will they affect Personal safety?

    1. Those who complete multiple micro college courses will feel like they are “banking” their skills for later use.
    2. Micro colleges will feel like the “safe” choice in a world with increasing complicated and increasingly expensive forms of credentialing.

Final Thoughts

Thinking about the future is hard. It works muscles in your brain that rarely get exercised.

Situational futuring is a very demanding process, forcing you to look at scenarios from a variety of different perspectives.

As you step through these questions you’ll begin to learn not only about the future but also about yourself.

My goal in showing these examples has been to illustrate the process. I would hope you come up with entirely different responses, and maybe even different questions.

The checklist itself is only guide. Once you do it a few times you’ll want to add your own tweaks, so feel free to come up with additional topical areas.

If you work with a group of people, you’ll be amazed at the diversity of answers.

We all have blindspots and after a few iterations you will quickly realize some of your own limitations.

Naturally, every forward thinking protocol has its limitations and this is no exception.

After you work through the process, please let me know your thoughts. It’s a work-in-progress and I’m very interested in your feedback.