How Human Future Interaction Can Help Plan for a Sustainabilty

The following post is part of the course work for “Live Exchange” the foundational course on communication for The MBA Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts. The rest of the posts are presented here.

By Alvin Cheung

Have you ever tried to think outside the box only to find that you haven’t ventured very far? What about thinking if climate change really matters even after reading a compelling report?  Don’t worry; you’re not alone.

As it turns out, it is inherently difficult for us humans to grasp a vision of an unknown future; in fact a recent research study found that the human brain uses the same neural regions to remember the past as it does to imagine the future. This means that our visions of the future are limited by the innate bias of our past experiences. In other words, it is difficult for us to express the future in ways we don’t already know.

This becomes an issue when we try to plan for a sustainable future. For example, it would be difficult for us to imagine and truly grasp what the world would be like if there was a shortage of water or even a world free of pollution, and as such, we do not make the necessary changes in our behavior to prevent such an outcome. By experiencing the future however, we can create the passion, resonance and relevance needed to drive sustainable behavior change.

Jason Tester of the institute for the future has pioneered a concept called Human Future Interaction (HFI) a method for experiencing the future in accessible ways. HFI operates on three beliefs: 1) that there are new ways to experience the shadow of the future today. 2) Experiencing the future can be a very persuasive way to change behaviors today, and that 3) the future needs us to change the world today.

HFI is leveraged in three ways by:

1. Make the future immersive

Immerse yourself in a compelling vision of the future – imagine opening your medicine cabinet and finding pills for dealing with urban overpopulation or imagine seeing how high up the side of building the shoreline of 2100 would be. Because of the brain’s innate past experience bias, we need to create future visions that are challenging enough to break us out of the mold of our current experiences. We need to create futures that push us to think about new possibilities and new contexts.

An excellent example of future immersion at work is this campaign by the Red Cross in San Francisco. It allows us to imagine what the city would be like after a major earthquake today by immersing you into the experience of a post quake San Francisco when these billboards are viewed from just the right angle. This provocative campaign pushes viewers to think about what they would do in this new context, and ask the question: “would I be ready?”

2. Make the future personal

A personalized future can make the call to action stronger and get people to act. Frame your immersive future vision in ways that matter to your user.  A project from the Stanford Human Interaction lab allowed users to spend a few minutes interacting with an older virtual representation of themselves. As a result, participants indicated they would save more for retirement in a post-experiment questionnaire.

A deeply personalized message creates resonance that allows you to speak to deepest most core level of a person in order to drive behavior change – personalization allows you to tap right into the layer of meaning.

3. Make the future interactive

Show that your actions make a difference – show cause and effect. One way to do this is through simulation such as IBM’s CityOne, a powerful city scale simulation that allows players to experiment in solving complex systems.

Albert Einstein’s famous quote that “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Could not be truer. By utilizing the principles of HFI, we can create new thinking and develop better methods for promoting sustainable behaviors to make the changes necessary for tomorrow today.

These articles were created as part of the course work for “Live Exchange” the foundational course on communication for The MBA Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts. Read more about the project here.