Working Futures: The Cards Behind The Stories

from the working-futures dept

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Over the last few weeks we’ve been writing about all of the various aspects of the stories in our Working Futures anthology of 14 science or speculative fiction stories all relating to the “future of work.” We’ve been getting great feedback on the book so far and are excited with how many people have been reading it. If you haven’t yet, please check it out as well — and support Techdirt in the process. Here are all the posts summarizing the stories in the book:

  1. Welcome to Working Futures
  2. The future of work is likely to be complicated
  3. The future of work will have unexpected consequences
  4. The future of work will blur the line between humans and machines
  5. The future of work may be beautiful

Since we’ve now written about all the various stories in the book, for today’s post, I wanted to talk a bit about the custom deck of cards we developed and used as part of the process in developing these stories.

As I’ve mentioned in some of the previous posts, much of the impetus behind the Working Futures project was to try to think through the actual implications of technology on jobs and labor in the future. There has been a lot of fretting and a lot of hand-waving, but little exploration of what might actually happen. That’s not a surprise, because predicting the future is mostly impossible, especially when it comes to complex systems. However, one tool that has been really useful not for “predicting” the future, but for exploring multiple possible futures is scenario planning, which is frequently described as a structured way for groups to think about possible futures. It’s not about predicting which future will happen, but to explore various trends, driving forces and the like to determine a few different possible futures — and to explore the implications of each.

We wanted to use this process as a starting point for the Working Futures project, but with a bit of a twist. We first polled people online via Techdirt for what they thought were the key driving forces that would impact the future of work — rating both how much of an impact you thought they’d have and the likelihood that that force would have a true impact. From that, we developed a custom deck of cards showing different aspects of each key driving force on each side. So, for example, one side might show what a world would look like if genetic engineering becomes a much bigger deal, gets cheaper, and is used much more widely — while the flip side of that same card says that genetic engineering has more or less stalled out, and it remains limited to labs, and bigger breakthroughs remain limited.

We used that deck with a group of about 50 people from a variety of different perspectives for an all day session in San Francisco. Attending were journalists, technologists, labor activists, human rights activists, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, academics, lawyers, investors, writers, economists, and more. We had them go through a series of exercises to develop a set of 10 different scenarios, which we then gave to the writers who contributed stories to this collection. A key feature in the scenarios was coming up with four or five “media headlines” that would appear in that world.

Traditional scenario planning folks will likely balk at the idea of producing ten scenarios — as it’s typical to develop just three or four. However, in this case, we thought it made sense, as the goal here was to give authors a variety of different starting points (and I think for that purpose, the system worked quite well).

Either way, in showing the deck of cards to people after the event, we kept hearing over and over again how it might be useful for other scenario planning and strategic planning efforts as well, and people started asking us if they could buy a copy. We’ve now offered up the Working Futures cards via GameCrafter as a print-on-demand option for $19.99. They include an instruction card that basically describes how we used them and how you might use them as well, but there are lots of ways to make use of them, limited only by your imagination.

With this project we’ve been mainly focused on the book and the 14 stories — which was always the end product of the plan. However, we’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many people have also picked up the cards as well and let us know how useful they’ve been for various other scenario and strategic planning efforts. If you think they might be useful for you as well, please check them out.

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Comments on “Working Futures: The Cards Behind The Stories”

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Luis Andrade (user link) says:

Funny, I ended up here brought by a Google alert on news on the I Ching, which I found, sadly, wasn’t part of the article itself but of a derogatory comment. Funny people at the highest level of some governments use it regularly; the government of Germany funds what can be called a "Fate Institute" where these systems are studied, etc. But I’m not commenting here to defend any mantic systems but to, after reading your article, give you cuddles for developing the card deck. As you may know, it isn’t a new concept to use similar decks for decision making and creative endeavors, which has nothing to do with divination. For instance, take the Oblique Strategies deck developed by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt in 1975, which in some creative circles is a cult classic.


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