Minding the Millennials, Austin's Problem Solvers, Futurists' Blind Spot, and more

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Volume 3,
Number 12
October 22, 2017

The Millennials at 65

The millennial generation of consumers and constituents will one day turn 65. (It happens to the best of generational cohorts.) To anticipate their future needs and influence, market researchers The Shelton Group identified two groups of millennials—Traditionals and Engageds—based on a variety of surveys. (One lesson for futurists is to remember no demographic group is monolithic in its values and lifestyles.)

To understand what is important to them, Shelton researchers focused on what these two groups said they will feel most proud of when they’re 65.

The Traditional group said they will be most proud of:

  • Having a long and happy marriage.
  • Having wealthy, well-adjusted kids.
  • Having enough money saved for retirement.
  • Owning a home.
  • Being out of debt.

“When it comes to information about [a company’s] environmental or social/business practices, [the Traditionals] are more concerned about employee treatment practices and product efficiency,” the researchers say.

The Engaged millennials, on the other hand, will reflect proudly on the activities they are involved with, such as:

  • Having made contributions to help people in need.
  • Being well-traveled.
  • Having a close circle of friends.
  • Achieving a work/life balance.
  • Taking action to protect the environment.
  • Taking action to help improve people’s lives in the developing world.
  • Starting a company or being an entrepreneur.
  • Being involved as a volunteer in the community.
  • Being involved in political activities to help change government for the better.

“A company’s environmental practice will have a strong [or] very strong impact on [the Engageds’] decision to purchase its products,” the researchers note. “When it comes to information about environmental or social/business practices, they are more concerned about support of social, health or humanitarian issues [or] causes.”

Read The Shelton Group’s report, “Millennial Pulse.”

Austin’s Problem-Solving Team Tackles Recycling

Like many communities in the United States, Texas capital Austin knew it had a problem keeping stuff out of landfills. Austin Resource Recovery, the city’s waste and recycling management department, created a “Zero Waste by 2040” initiative to boost its recovery rate for recyclable and compostable materials, but found its efforts leveled off at 42 percent in 2015. That’s better than the U.S. rate of roughly 34 percent and better than, for instance, Orlando’s 28 percent rate, but it’s not good enough for Austin.

Suspecting that many of its problems are related to entrenched bureaucratic thinking, Austin created a Design, Technology, and Innovation Fellowship program within its Innovation Office in 2016. Tech-savvy and design-oriented, these private-sector fellows are essentially problem-solving temps.

Austin Resource Recovery quickly tasked five of these problem solvers to work with four of its employees and teach them design-thinking. The team looked at the city’s recycling data not just quantitatively, but also qualitatively by examining individuals’ different living situations and recycling behaviors.

The team learned that most people don’t read the labels on the bins they use to separate recyclable or compostable materials from nonrecyclables. And because so many Austin residents lived in small spaces, a very easy solution for both problems was to provide stackable separation bins, with recyclables on top and trash on the bottom.

The problem solvers also developed motivational games and easy-to-understand guides for separating materials.

Austin’s recycling rate will next be measured in 2019, so the success of the problem-solving initiative in this case is yet unknown, but it has sparked interest throughout city government. Teams of temps have also been asked to help with tasks ranging from building a new website for the convention center to improving the alert system for flooded roadways.

Read “Problem-solvers concentrate on Austin waste, recycling” by Lilly Rockwell, Associated Press, Seattle Times (September 16, 2017).

Critique: Can Futurists See a World without Capitalism?

Professional futurists work under a patronage system in which they help their sponsoring organization—corporation, government agency, or nonprofit—envision scenarios and prepare for them. They do not, however, offer visions that alter the meta-economic framework known as capitalism, charges Joey Eschrich, editor and program manager for the Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University, in a recent article for Slate, “The Futurism Industry’s Blind Spot.”

“As we fret over the future, we worry about rising sea levels and robotic job-snatchers, but the economic and political supremacy of the capitalist market doesn’t seem to be up for discussion,” Eschrich writes. Instead, even futurists who successfully guide their “patrons” through the vicissitudes of change are faulted for taking “the long-term durability of capitalism utterly for granted.”

However one feels about capitalism, the charge that “card-carrying futurists” lack imagination is simply unwarranted, as Eschrich acknowledges in praising the role science fiction has played in stimulating creative foresight.

“If we want to drastically change the facts on the ground—acidifying oceans, stultifying wealth inequality, nuclear proliferation—futurists and their foresight skills could be incredibly valuable for creating actionable ways forward,” Eschrich writes.

There is no reason to believe futurists have not used their skills in this way. However, “actionable ways forward” need to be taken by those with the agency and resources to do so.

Eschrich’s issue seems to be with the institutionalization of the futurist profession. It’s a fair criticism and one with which futurists have grappled all along. While futurists can and do make a living offering their talents to “patrons,” should not the skills of futurists be generally available to and cultivated by the rest of us? Recall the simple prescription of the late Harlan Cleveland, who said futurism is (or should be) everyone’s second profession. —CGW

Read “The Futurism Industry’s Blind Spot” by Joey Eschrich, Future Tense/Slate (September 20, 2017).

A Futurist Runs for Congress

Entrepreneur, author, and futurist James Felton Keith has announced his candidacy to represent New York’s 13th congressional district. He is currently chairman of the International Personal Data Trade Association.

He bases his candidacy on “20 years of vision, service leadership, and entrepreneurship,” during which he says he obsessed “about economic inclusion, and how to get equity back in the hands of the people who have increasingly less while the world becomes more productive as a result of their input.” Learn more at JamesFeltonKeith.com.

World Future Society Relaunches

World Future Society President Kimberly Kyle Hall has announced the launch of a new website with the tagline “We Stand for Tomorrow” to reflect the Society’s focus on human purpose. It is producing a crowdsourced digital version of The Futurist Journal, and the editors are now soliciting submissions of 1,000 to 2,000 words (send to this email address). WFS is also planning a program of events, including the World Future 2017 International Series and a 2018 World Future Summit to be held in August in Chicago, where the organization is now based. Learn more at wfs.org.

State of the Future, Version 19

The Millennium Project has announced the publication of the 19th edition of its report series, State of the Future 19.0 by Jerome C. Glenn, Elizabeth Florescu, and The Millennium Project Team. The volume includes overviews of the 15 Global Challenges, an update of the State of the Future Index, and articles focusing on terrorism strategies and scenarios for the future of work. SOTF 19.0 is available in paperback ($49.95) or digitally ($29.95); the executive summary may be downloaded free. Learn more at The Millennium Project.

Help Wanted: Futurists

* Science/Technology Section Editor: Futurism LLC (Brooklyn, N.Y.) seeks editors for three of its science and technology verticals: Artificial Intelligence, Health and Medicine, and Earth and Energy. “Futurism covers the scientific breakthroughs and technological innovations that are shaping our future. We are looking for a highly motivated individual to join our editorial team and help create engaging, timely articles on cutting-edge science and technology.” Read more or apply through Indeed.com.

* Director, Market Sensing and Technology Futurist: GE (Menlo Park, California) seeks a cross-departmental thought leader to help uncover “qualitative and quantitative insights for more impactful marketing, identify areas of growth and investment opportunities, … help drive the long-term market sensing strategy, and advise on how the marketing organization will invest and optimize its budget.” Learn more or apply at GE.

In Memoriam: Daniel Yankelovich

Influential pollster and trend analyst Daniel Yankelovich died September 22 at his home in San Diego at the age of 92. He is credited with incisive studies of youth culture and social change that led him to be one of the first to recognize the emergence of a new conservatism in the United States in the 1970s. For The Futurist magazine, he and co-author Bernard Lefkowitz pondered “The New American Dream” (August 1980) and whether the United States could simultaneously advance quality of life and economic development. His last article for The Futurist was “Tomorrow’s Global Businesses” (July-August 1991). Read “Daniel Yankelovich, pollster whose findings drove corporate, government policy, dies at 92” by Matt Schudel, Washington Post (September 23, 2017).

Editor’s Note: This double issue of Foresight Signals will be the last for this year. In December we’ll publish AAI Foresight’s annual report by managing principal Timothy C. Mack, and we cordially invite all futurists—individuals and organizations—to send us their own annual reports to be included in the January 2018 issue of the newsletter. Contact me at this email address.

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