A History of the Future

In 2011, Max Singer, founding President of the Hudson Institute and a leading practitioner of strategic foresight, published a book called History of the Future.  The premise of the book is very simple – the shape of the world to come is visible today, though there are a few areas of uncertainty (demographics and the future of work being two) which may change the specifics. 

Singer focuses on these driving forces: (a) the emergence of modernity in terms of values and culture; (b) the soaring wealth of the few and the reduction of poverty overall; (c) the growth of freedom; (d) the decline and fall of the war system; and (e) the Jihadi challenge and the rise of Islam, not just in the Middle East but throughout the world. Singer suggests that these forces are shaping destiny and challenging the old values and suggesting new ways of working, new values and new cultural norms.

In an Epilogue chapter called The Desperate Problems of the Future, Singer suggests we should be concerned about:

  1. The emergence of formerly poor nations (Myanmar and Bangladesh, for example) into moderately wealthy modern nations.
  2. The unequal distribution of wealth and the fact that this unequalness is getting more unequal rather than less so – the rich are getting richer at the expense of the middle class.
  3. Changing social structures – especially family, marriage, work, community and sense of identity and meaning.
  4. The demographic deficit – people are not replacing themselves in their own communities and therefore societies rely more and more on immigration and labour mobility to stay the same economically (Canada is a good example of this).

My friend and colleague, David Oldroyd, would add a fifth issue to this list which is the scarcity of raw materials against demand for these materials. As the global population grows to 9 and 10 billion, demands for minerals, food, water and basic materials will increase and so must our ability to either extract these materials or produce them. Many think that demand will far outstrip supply, causing shortages. Water is an especially important area of vulnerability.

In my own book Rethinking the Future – Six Patterns Shaping a New Renaissance I looked at different issues. In particular, I focused on demography, economics, power and authority, sustainability, technology and identity. While end points are not dissimilar – we are both basically optimistic – the route to the end points are different.

What are the drivers you think will shape the future and how will these change the future (positive or negative) in the developed and developing world? These kinds of issues will be explored in the Centre for the Future – part of the International Institute for Innovation (3i) when we launch later this year.

By Stephen Murgatroyd -