Psychology

Found Futures: Talking with Stuart Candy

Stuart is a researcher at the Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies and a research fellow of the exceptionally farsighted Long Now Foundation. He's also a guerilla futurist who takes alternative futures to the streets.

Maui Poster
Image Credit: Matthew Jensen for FoundFutures

With mentor Jim Dator and co-conspirator Jake Dunagan, Stuart has unleashed a slew of artifacts and experiences from the future upon an unsuspecting public, including postcards from 02036 and plaques honoring those who suffered and died in the great pandemic of 02016.

As the sceptical futuryst explains, these exercises in ambient foresight and anticipatory democracy are intended to engage the public in creative thinking about possible and preferable futures.

By creating immersive experiences that provoke an emotional response and are difficult to ignore, futurists can elude the dryness that can be associated with the two-dimensional text and statistics of traditional scenario planning.

These experiments are also answers to a question at the heart of Stuart's research: how can we study human behavior in contexts that don't yet exist?

This question is clearly relevant to those of us in the design world as well. Our work requires both insight and foresight. Whether the design horizon is three months or five years, our deliverables bring imaginable futures to life.

And, as these examples illustrate...

...we also engage directly in the design of more provocative tangible futures.

Imaginable Futures
Image Credit: Design for Future Needs

These experiments in what Jason Tester calls Human-Future Interaction are just the beginning. One of Stuart Candy's hopes is to engage wider, more distributed audiences through simulations and gaming. Inspired by the success of World Without Oil, he's accepted a spot as game master of Superstruct. Whoever said being a futurist can't be fun?

Of course, futures thinking is hard work too. Towards the end of our conversation, Stuart noted that as Stumbling on Happiness makes clear, most of us are quite terrible at looking forward. We make basic and consistent mistakes. And, we retrospectively edit our imagined futures, quietly building our false memories and false confidence.

But, despite our inability to predict how we'll feel after eating a burrito, Stuart intends to continue searching the future, and engaging us in the process with surprising experiences and shocking artifacts. So be prepared and stay alert.

You never know what might happen next.

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Made to Stick

Made to Stick is the best non-fiction book I've read in a long time. It's jam-packed with interesting facts, useful ideas, and inspiring stories.

Made to Stick

Here are a just a few of my favorites:

Becoming an expert in something means that we become more and more fascinated by nuance and complexity. That's when the Curse of Knowledge kicks in, and we start to forget what it's like not to know what we know. (p.46)
In Hollywood, people use core ideas called "high-concept pitches." You've probably heard some of them. Speed was "Die Hard on a bus." (p.58)
Proverbs are the Holy Grail of simplicity. Coming up with a short, compact phrase is easy. Anybody can do it. On the other hand, coming up with a profound compact phrase is incredibly difficult..."finding the core," and expressing it in the form of a compact idea, can be enduringly powerful. (p.62)
The most basic way to get someone's attention is this: Break a pattern. (p.64)
When our guessing machines fail, surprise grabs our attention so that we can repair them for the future...Unexpected ideas are more likely to stick because surprise makes us pay attention and think. (p.68)
One important implication of the gap theory is that we need to open gaps before we close them. Our tendency is to tell people the facts. First, though, they must realize that they need these facts. (p.85)
This realization - that empathy emerges from the particular rather than the pattern - brings us back full circle to the Mother Teresa quote..."If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will." (p.203)
How can we make people care about our ideas? We get them to take off their Analytical Hats. We create empathy for specific individuals. We show how our ideas are associated with things that people already care about. We appeal to their self-interest, but we also appeal to their identities - not only to the people they are right now but also to the people they would like to be. (p.203)
The story's power, then, is twofold: It provides simulation (knowledge about how to act) and inspiration (motivation to act). Note that both benefits, simulation and inspiration, are geared towards generating action. (p.206)
A review of thirty-five studies featuring 3,214 participants showed that mental practice alone - sitting quietly, without moving, and picturing yourself performing a task successfully from start to finish - improves performance significantly...Overall, mental practice alone produced about two thirds of the benefits of actual physical practice. (p.213)
Stories are like flight simulators for the brain. (p.213)
Stories have the amazing dual power to simulate and to inspire. And most of the time we don't even have to use much creativity to harness these powers - we just need to be ready to spot the good ones that life generates every day. (p.237)

You can learn more at madetostick.com. This is a must-read for teachers, parents, saints, and anyone who cares about the enduring impact of their ideas.

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You Are Here

Welcome to findability.org: the next generation. In case you haven't noticed, it's a borg. I mean, it's a blog. Yes, after years of quiet resistance, I've succumbed to the call of the blogosphere. I've been assimilated.

In blogging, my most transparent and prosaic goal is to promote my new book, Ambient Findability. I've poured blood, sweat, and tears into this strange text, so I won't be shy about inviting folks to read it.

That said, I'm hoping this blog will go beyond the book. As my classification scheme hints, I'll be writing about authority, business, culture, design, search, ubicomp, etc. And let's not forget the oft-maligned category of miscellaneous. I very much reserve the right to write about seemingly random topics.

So, if you want the original findability, it's there but not here. And if you like this new place, please come again, or better yet, leave a piece of yourself behind.

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