Thinking about the future matters t65r

On April 10-14 the newly launched DaVinci Tech Academy will be hosting an intensive week-long workshop called “Inside the Mind of a Futurist.” Throughout this event, Michael Cushman and I will be unveiling a number of unusual processes for probing into the future.

This course has been designed for corporate executives, planners, strategists, influential thinkers, and those who aspire to take on that kind of role in the future. A little over two years ago I mentioned a new anticipatory thinking tool I’ve developed called “situational futuring.” It helps me gain better insight into the world ahead. Until now I hadn’t given too many details about how it worked or how to apply it, but I recently decided to reveal how the process works and how to apply it at our upcoming event.

While I’ve been very protective of the crazy brain games I use for developing predictions, I’ll give you a sneak peek into one of the applications I’ve used it for in the past.

Situational futuring is a micro-futuring process that positions a single technology, specific idea, or what-if condition inside a future time slot. Through the use of situation-specific scenarios, it builds a growing body of understanding around that topic.

Early on, after I attempted my first test runs, I began to realize how difficult it was to develop the “situational” storylines to paint the broader picture, so I made a few changes.

As I worked through a series of alpha and beta stage tests, I concluded that it still needed a few more parameters to improve usability. For this reason, I’ve added simple use case boundaries to help first time users grasp the significance of its potential.


  • Create a future-specific situation
  • Select a timeframe
  • Describe the technology or change involved
  • Explain a first use-case scenario


  • Entrepreneurs
  • Students
  • Personal relationships
  • Employment and earning a living
  • Parenting and childhood
  • Governmental systems
  • Personal health
  • Spirituality health
  • Our natural environment
  • Personal safety

As you step through the list, jot down all answers that come to mind. Very often your thoughts will be framed around additional questions, so be sure to add those as well. With enough well framed questions, the answers will follow.

I describe this process as “mining for epiphanies.”

The elements in this list have been carefully chosen to push each person’s thinking in multiple directions, far beyond their normal limitations. As we struggle our way through each question, forcing our mind to look into the foggy dark places it normally doesn’t want to go, we will hopefully begin to uncover brilliant insights.

With enough of these insights, our narrow perspectives become much wider, until we begin to grasp the situation in its entirety, or at least widely enough to ask important new questions.

NOTE: The answers below are intended to reflect the brainstorming process. Responses will range from comments, to half-baked ideas, to questions that serve as placeholders for more thinking in the future. If you can’t think of an answer at the moment, or think nothing will change, make a statement to that effect. Best done in groups with other creative thinkers.

Driverless 25 - 3

Driverless Car Scenario

As driverless technologies progress, there will be less and less need for human oversight. Eventually we will achieve fully autonomous cars where we can summon a car whenever we need it and car ownership becomes a thing of the past.

First generation vehicles like these will come with a variety of regulator issues and technical problems few can anticipate. But as with all early stage technologies, each of these problems will be dealt with as they arise.

Realistically though, the U.S. has 253 million vehicles (129 registered cars) at an average age of 11.4 years. How long will it take to replace this many cars and what happens to all the old cars? How will driverless technologies change society over the next 20 years?

What Happens to Entrepreneurs?

1. Most Uber and Lyft jobs will have disappeared. Same with rental cars, taxis, valet, courier, mailmen, bus drivers, truck drivers, and drivers ed teachers.

2. Driverless cars will likely be owned by large fleet owners in most major cities. But that leaves tons of opportunity for tiny fleets in small towns everywhere.

3. Autonomous vehicles will create the need for new kinds of in-car entertainment – VR, movies, games, music, courseware, etc.

4. It also opens the door for specialty vehicles like driverless lawn mowers that can be scheduled during mowing season; furniture moving vehicles that may or may not require some level of human assistance; and delivery vehicles that can deliver food, packages, and medical supplies.

What Happens to Students?

5. Students in all income brackets will have instant access to transportation.

6. Students can study in cars during a commute, so less need to stay in dormitories.

7. School parking lots will begin to disappear.

What Happens to Personal Relationships?

8. Cars have been a large part of the dating and romance culture for many decades. How will this change?

9. Both driving and car ownership are stressful parts of marriage and relationships, and both will disappear.

10. Transportation will become less tied to status.

What Happens to Employment and Earning a Living?

11. Over 3 million driving jobs in the U.S. alone will disappear. 12. People will no longer be able to rely on fallback positions like driving for Uber and becoming a truck driver.

What Happens to Parenting and Childhood

13. At what age can children travel alone in a driverless vehicle?

14. If a parent is face-recognized on one end and a teacher on the other end, how young can a child travel to and from by themselves?

15. Will driverless cars replace school buses?

What Happens to Governmental Systems

16. At what point will traffic cops, traffic court, DAs, lawyers, and judges disappear?

17. Will cars still need to be licensed?

18. Since a driver’s license doubles as a primary form of personal identification, what will replace that?

What Happens to Personal Health?

19. Far fewer accidents, injuries, and deaths. 20. Far easier to access care givers.

 What Happens to Spirituality?

21. Since spirituality is often a shared experience, easier transportation will make it easier to surround yourself with like-minded individuals.

22. The freedom we equate with travel and transportation is the same freedom we will equate with our belief systems

What Happens to our Natural Environment?

23. With self-driving electric vehicles there will be far fewer vehicles and far less road pollution.

24. The sound of the city dramatically changes as we can listen to nature again.

25. Very few new roads will ever have to be built. Our existing highway system will be capable of accommodating exponentially more commuters.

 What Happens to Personal safety?

26. Very soon our vehicles will feel like some of the safest places on earth.

27. With transportation becoming far safer, we will begin expecting that same level of safety in other aspects of our lives.

Final Thoughts

Thinking about the future is hard. It works muscles in your brain that rarely get exercised.

Situational futuring is a very demanding process, forcing you to look at scenarios from a variety of different perspectives.

As you step through these questions you’ll begin to learn not only about the future but also about yourself.

My goal in showing these examples has been to illustrate the process. I would hope you come up with entirely different responses, and maybe even different questions.

The checklist itself is only guide. Once you do it a few times you’ll want to add your own tweaks, so feel free to come up with additional topical areas.

If you work with a group of people, you’ll be amazed at the diversity of answers.

We all have blindspots and after a few iterations you will quickly realize some of your own limitations.

Join us April 10-14 at the DaVinci Institute in Westminster, Colorado for “Inside the Mind of a Futurist,” a very revealing event that we guarantee will change the way you think about the future.

By Futurist Thomas Frey
Author of “Epiphany Z – 8 Radical Visions for Transforming Your Future