Sci-fi as Foresight Methods: Science Fiction Prototyping, Future Personas, 6 Archetypes
What's going on everybody?! so if you're interested in futures and foresight you might have heard that science fiction can be used as foresight, or that foresight practice can actually draw from science fiction to imagine the futures. In fact, in the past decade the interest in using science fiction as a form of foresight has literally skyrocketed, with many organizations purportedly doing it, as you can see just a few here. But what does it mean to use science fiction as a form of foresight? well in this video I will try to explain that by sharing with you three "science fiction as foresight" methods that I think are great, and that is science fiction prototyping, future personas and the six archetypes framework. And along the way I will also share with you my personal opinion on when and how to use each method. But before we start, one disclaimer: everything I say in this video is evidence based, and you will find all the references I've used to create this video in the description box down below. If what I'm going to say is not evidence based, but just my opinion, I will say it. Okay so let's jump right in! first of all, science fiction as foresight methods can be used for four main objectives, and that is first: product innovation, second: reflection or inspiration, third: engagement with an audience, and fourth: expanding the boundaries of scenarios imagination.
Now, I'm going to explain each and every one of those objectives along the way, but for now just keep them in mind because they will be super useful when we're going to be looking at what each method can do for us. Okay that being said, let's get down to brass tacks. The first science fiction as foresight method that I want to share with you is science fiction prototyping. This is also by far the most common and widely used method among the ones I'm going to share with you. Science fiction prototyping was developed by Brian David Johnson when he was working at intel and then popularized in his book "Science Fiction Prototyping". Science fiction prototyping is a method
that allows us to create short pieces of fiction, or as the name says, science fiction prototypes. More specifically, science fiction prototypes are short stories, movies or comics about scientifically grounded present technologies, their potential developments in the future, and their potential implications for future societies. In other words, science fiction prototypes are not prototypes in a narrow engineering sense, and that is, they are not early versions of products or services to be eventually sold in the future. Instead, they are short versions of science fiction creations, and that is, stories, movies or comics about potentially engineerable technological prototypes that may or may not physically appear in the future. So how do we create science fiction prototypes? well Brian David Johnson has a five-steps procedure, but I think that is quite confusing because some steps overlap with each other, so I'm going to share with you a more parsimonious four-steps approach. In the first step, we choose the technology and the underlying science about which we want to develop the science fiction prototype. For example,
an emerging technology that would allow us to build a robotic dog, or a new scientific discovery that would allow us to manufacture a medicine that would make us live longer. We can do this either by researching the scientific literature in a specific domain of interest, or based on the emerging technological developments of our lab, if our organization is doing research and development. In the second step, we speculate on the future implications of the technology for the society at large. Is it improving or worsening people's lives? are there any risks? is it solving current problems? is it creating new ones? are there solutions to such problems? etc. In the third step, we convey the answers to these questions in a story. Here is where we need to think of who are the characters of the story, including the protagonists, and their experiences.
Ideally, the story should feature some conflict or climax where the characters' experiences are brought to the extreme, maybe because the technology chosen is even putting their lives in danger, and also a resolution, where the conflict is solved. Finally, in the fourth and last step, we use the story as an instrument of learning. We ask what could have been done differently to prevent the conflict in the story and thus what should we pay attention to in, the present, when we design and further develop such technology. So as you can see
there are at least three basic elements of a good science fiction prototype. First: the technology itself, but not only that. Also, second: the future context where such technology can plausibly exist. And since this context is social in nature, also third: the fictional people who are in contact with such technology. Now, this is super important because if we go back to our four objectives of
science fiction as foresight methods, we can see that science fiction prototyping covers the first three out of four objectives, so we can choose to design our science fiction prototypes with a heavier focus on one of the three elements I just mentioned, and that is, technology, context or people, based on which specific objective we want to achieve. For example, if our science fiction prototype is meant to encourage or inspire engineers or scientists in an organization to innovate products, then we would emphasize the technology. If with the science fiction prototype we want to sensitize policy makers to understand the social implications of an emerging technology, then we would emphasize the context. And, if our science fiction prototype is meant to emotionally connect with an audience, creating engagement perhaps because we want to communicate the potential of a technology to an organization, then we would emphasize the people in the story.
So as you can see science fiction prototyping is a great and flexible tool that can help us to achieve a number of objectives. That being said, for me the real question is: how can science fiction prototypes enhance a futures and foresight approach? and that is, an approach that looks at a multiplicity of futures in the external environment. And in my opinion the answer to that question is that science fiction prototypes should be used as add-ons to scenario planning in a futures and foresight project, rather than as a substitute to it. And that is because the two are complementary with each other. On one hand, the detail of analysis of multiple external environments that can be achieved with a well done, thorough scenario planning process is unlikely to be achieved with science fiction prototypes. In fact, in the original science fiction
prototyping method, the detail of analysis of the external environment was not emphasized, nor was the multiple futures perspective. But on the other hand, science fiction prototypes can make up for the often weak narrative and sensorial component of scenarios when it comes to experiencing technologies in the future. In fact, although scenarios are often described as stories, they are, yes, stories. But they are stories of the external environment describing a society in the future, and oftentimes do not involve people and their everyday experiences and interactions with future technologies. Scenarios are macro-level and abstract. Science fiction prototyping is
individual-level, concrete and technologically focused. So my recommendation is that, to get the best out of both worlds, we should use one scenario planning method of choice, and then, if we have any specific technologies we want to zero in on within those scenarios, we also create one science fiction prototype for each scenario. And this recommendation leads me to the second science fiction as foresight method that I want to share with you. The second science fiction as foresight method that I want to share with you is the future persona. Now as I said, science fiction prototypes are great when we want to enhance the narrative and sensorial component of scenarios if we have specific technologies within those scenarios that we want to talk about. But what if we want
to make our scenarios more narratively engaging and interesting to an audience, but we don't have those technologies we want to talk about? Well, that is the case when we create future personas. The future persona is a method I have personally developed when I was an assistant to my mentor and scenario planning executive educator Clement Wang at Nus Business School in Singapore. The future persona method consists in creating fictional future characters inhabiting future scenarios, and this is to expose the key takeaways of each scenario through the description of these characters' daily life, actions and psychology, to literally bring scenarios to life.
In the article where I formally introduced this method, I explained a seven-steps procedure to create personas, but let me share with you a more simplified four-steps approach here. This method assumes that a set of scenarios has already been created, so in the first step, we create a fact sheet for each scenario, distilling its key information, such as narrative overview, key facts and depending who the scenarios are for, the implications of each scenario for the organization, policy makers, or the community of interest. So if we have four scenarios, we will create four scenario fact sheets. In the second step, for each scenario fact sheet, we create a future
persona fact sheet, distilling the key features of a fictional character living in that scenario, such as demographical information, socio-economic status, and most importantly mindset and values. While doing this, we keep in mind what elements of each scenario we want to reflect through the personas. Usually, the mindset and values are the most important component because they reflect the social and ideological values of the future scenarios. To help this process, we can also connect each persona's fact sheet with the corresponding scenario fact sheet using arrows and lines. In the third step, we write a short day-in-life narrative conveying the key points of each persona's factsheet in a narrative form. For example, a future persona's typical day at
work in the future and some potential problems he or she might face is a great way to give away a lot of key information about its corresponding scenario, from jobs of the future to the common mindset of individuals in that scenario, and so on. Finally, in the fourth and last step, we illustrate the personas with lively images, either digital or hand-drawn, which really bring them to life in the minds of an audience, and here is where we can give free rein to our science fiction creativity. So in the end, we will have one persona for each scenario. So if we go back to our four objectives
of science fiction as foresight methods, we can see that the future persona really focuses on the third objective, and that is, creating an emotional engagement with an audience, which makes it a great tool to communicate scenarios, to an organization, to policy makers, or to a community of interest. And that is because the target audience would perceive the personas as real human beings living in the future, which helps them connect with and remember the scenarios. In other words, the future persona singles out the advantageous component of science fiction prototyping as stories about people, while at the same time doing away with the necessity to have an underlying technology. On the top of that, as a recent article published by Vallet and colleagues about this method pointed out, if we choose to modify this method and create more than one persona for each scenario, this method can also help us to showcase how different groups of people perceive the scenarios differently.
Now, as far as my opinion on how to use this method, well, that goes along the lines of my opinion on science fiction prototyping. I think we should use it as an add-on to scenario planning rather than as a substitute, and that is because, like science fiction prototypes, this method makes up for something that scenarios often lack, in this case, it is the communicating aspect of scenarios. Now, at this point you might have realized that we have talked about three out of four of the original science fiction as foresight methods' objectives but we haven't talked about the fourth objective, and that is, expanding the boundaries of scenarios imagination, which leads me to the third science fiction as foresight method I want to share with you. The third and last science fiction as foresight method that I want to share with you is the six archetypes framework. This method was developed by me and my doctoral advisor, professor Song Zhaoli, also at Nus Business School in Singapore, as an update to Jim Dator's four archetypes framework. And by the way, if you don't know what that is, you can take a look at this video, where I have explained that in detail. To develop this method, we have analyzed 140 science fiction films
with the purpose in mind to extract predetermined images of the future, or archetypes, of the external environment, to help scenario planners to think about the futures more transformatively. Especially about future shocks and disruptions. In other words, we have created this scenario planning method from science fiction with the idea in mind to, indeed, expand the boundaries of scenarios imagination. Now, the procedure to create scenarios using this method is very similar to Jim Dator's four archetypes method, and it goes like this. In the first step, we identify all the major driving forces affecting the futures, for example, certain developments in artificial intelligence.
In the second step, we interpret the behavior of the driving forces in the six predetermined images of the future, or archetypes, that give the name to this method. These are: Growth and Decay, a future of continuation of the current growth trajectory, but also with elements of social decadence. Threats and New Hopes: a future where an incoming threat significantly challenges the status quo globally, and forces humanity to build new resilience capabilities. Wasteworlds: a future where a catastrophic event or phenomenon transforms the atmospheric environment, and the world regresses due to scarcity of resources. Disarray: a future of disorder, with high levels of war, famine, epidemics, disinformation or social unrest.
Inversion: a future where a transformational event or phenomenon inverts human beings sovereignty over the globe, and The Powers that Be: a future where a totalitarian or dictatorial regime significantly decreases the agency of organizations and individuals globally. Interpreting the behavior of the driving forces using these archetypes means that, for each archetype, we ask: how would the set of driving forces identified behave, together, if this archetype were to occur? effectively pre-imposing the archetypes before creating scenarios. And finally, based on this interpretation, we write scenario narratives, making sure that each scenario reflects the key features of each archetype, as in this guideline table provided in the article that formally introduced this method. The table compares the six archetypes against the five STEEP dimensions, and that is, social, technological, economic, environmental and political.
So as you can see this method uses science fiction as a conceptual framework to actually build the scenarios. So this is a full-fledged scenario planning method rather than an add-on to scenario planning like science fiction prototypes and future personas, and as such, it can be and should be combined with science fiction prototypes and future personas to enhance the three objectives we have been talking about, and that is, it can be combined with science fiction prototypes when we want to enhance product innovation, reflection or inspiration and emotional engagement with an audience when we have a technology we want to talk about within the scenarios, and it can be combined with future personas when we want to enhance the engagement with an audience but we don't have that technology. On the top of that and, no matter if we combine this method with science fiction prototypes or future personas, this method is also generally a very good pick when we want to enhance the preparedness of an organization to disruptive futures of crisis, and in this it is arguably better than other more traditional scenario planning methods, and that is because this method draws from science fiction, which is rather creative and disruptive. In fact, each of the six archetypes contains some elements of crisis and shocks in the external environment.
Okay! so now you know all the major science fiction as foresight methods, which is great! but to be fair, also let me share with you the major challenges of these methods. Because these methods involve the adaptation of science fiction, which is a genre that is not primarily meant for foresight practice, as foresight methods, the risks in applying these methods are that, 1) the output is not plausible, only curiously entertaining, and 2) the output is not revealing enough of the scenarios because they are framed as science fiction mystery thrillers. So to prevent these risks you will have to be conscious of them and make sure to strike the right balance between plausibility and speculation, and between mystery and detail. And that is why I recommend to use one scenario planning method in combination with either science fiction prototyping or future personas as add-ons. Because if you do that, you can emphasize plausibility and detail in the scenarios, and speculation and mystery in the scenario add-ons, thus achieving the best of both worlds.
Okay, so this was just my take on what I believe are the best science fiction as foresight methods out there, but for sure there are other methods, and for sure they are just as great! so I really hope that you liked this video and I really hope that it helped you to understand how to do foresight for yourself or for your organization. If you did, I would super appreciate you give me a thumbs up and subscribe to my YouTube channel! that would really mean a lot to me and it would encourage me to do more of these videos! and !'ll see you in the next one! ciao!