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Anticipating the future with Imagine Foresight

Envisioning the future

Everyone has an image of the future. In the 1960’s, cartoonists imagined the future of flying cars. In “Back to the Future 2,” screenwriters imagined hoverboards, video calls, smart homes and screen-in-screen viewing.   

In practically every business, someone is thinking about what comes next, be it in their job description or not.  

Seth Harrell, of Imagine Foresight, hopes to broaden your understanding of futuristic thinking. He says futuristic thinking isn’t just exploring new possibilities – like the incorporation of artificial intelligence. It also assists leaders in making more effective decisions today in the face of uncertainty.  

“The ability to think about the future is one of the defining characteristics of being human yet we’re not taught how to do it in a useful way,” Harrell said.  

Discovering foresight

Harrell was a Missouri State University geography student where he learned the concept of systems thinking, which is a key component of foresight. This sparked his fascination with how systems change over time. After graduation, he moved to Austin, Texas, where he came across a Foresight program offered by the University of Houston. 

Having never heard of a program of this idea, Harrell thought, “Wow! There’s actually people who think about change and how to anticipate the future, professionally.”  

Since then, he moved back to Springfield and completed his degree remotely in 2020. Being used by Fortune 500 companies and governments around the world for planning and innovation, he hopes to bring tools of foresight into smaller cities like Springfield, where he calls efactory his home base.    

“Springfield has a history of innovation in transportation, media, and business. There are people here that want to take bold steps,” he noted. Harrell thinks the area is ripe for more futuristic thinking.  

And at efactory, he sees entrepreneurs planning and anticipating their companies’ futures every day.  

More unpredictable than ever

The challenge today is that companies are using big data to make rough 2–3-year predictions.   

According to Harrell, predictions like these can be highly uncertain because they have built-in assumptions about the future. You shouldn’t make long-term projections based solely on quantitative data.

“Our goal is not to predict the future, but to gain a better understanding of what the future could be,” Harrell said.  

The use of foresight reframes how you understand the problems you face in the present. Instead of just hard numbers, foresight is more qualitative, focusing on how changes 5, 10 or 15 years out, can help us make better decisions today. According to Harrell, it creates flexibility in strategic plans and leads with positivity.   

“My job isn’t to define the destination to be reached, but rather to show the direction.”  

With Imagine Foresight, Harrell helps clients explore their possible, plausible, preferred, and preventable futures, giving them guiding principles to finish out the system on their own.  

“Anybody can talk about the future, but we look at it from a research and best practices approach,” he added.  

He works in collaboration with Christian Crews at Wavepoint Growth Strategies on many projects with global organizations such as Boeing who are designing for consumer’s needs in the future. Together, they evaluate challenges and changes clients can make to thrive going forward.   

These projects go through the process of research, interviews, workshops and written reports. They tailor each phase to the company’s strategic questions.   

But flexibility is key, he noted. Companies should not plan to navigate in the same manner when unpredictable disruptions occur.  Plans should account for the dynamics of change.

Connecting the past with the future

On the side, Harrell is part of a touring Beatles tribute group, playing the part of John Lennon or George Harrison.

He is also a member of the Association of Professional Futurists, the world’s only organization for foresight professionals, where he is proud to now call himself Treasurer. The Emerging Fellows, a program within APF, selects six early-career professionals from around the world, offering them a platform for mentorship, networking and thought leadership.

Harrell was the only person from the U.S. selected last year, and currently serves as a mentor to the 2023 fellows. He’s also on the selection committee for 2024 applicants, where they’ve seen an incredible jump in applications.

“There’s no doubt that futuristic thinking is growing exponentially,” Harrell said.