This is the second post in a series sharing my ‘toolbox‘ of processes for facilitating change. This week I would like to share a futures thinking process called the futures triangle.
The futures triangle is a deceptively simple tool developed by Sohail Inayatullah for mapping the past, present and future to help explore the space of plausible futures, as shown below.
The basic idea is that there are three dimensions that shape plausible futures: the weight of the past; the push of the present; and the pull of the future. The tension and interaction between these three forces creates a possible future space, inside the triangle. In a workshop setting, or individual work, we can use this tool to guide a structured brainstorm on each of the three dimensions and then explore alternative scenarios that emerge within the triangle. We ask questions like those below.
Weight of history
- What is holding us back, or getting in our way?
- What are the barriers to change?
- What are the deep structures that resist change?
Push of the present
- What trends are pushing us towards particular futures?
- What quantitative drivers and trends are changing the future?
Pull of the future
- What is pulling us towards particular futures?
- What are the compelling images of the future….you “can’t not” go there?
- Are there competing images of the future?
I find the future triangle particularly useful for getting a group into the futures ‘head space’ and kickstarting a process of thinking beyond the now. It’s a simple tool that can be deployed anywhere, with minimal resources – a whiteboard or big sheet of paper to draw the triangle and write up ideas is enough. You can also get participants to write different drivers on sticky notes and map them onto the points of the triangle as a more interactive process.
While it is a simple tool, it can support deep discussions about possible futures and be combined with other tools such as scenario planning to increase its complexity and depth.
If you would like to read more about the futures triangle, I would particularly recommend Sohail Inayatullah’s paper on Six pillars: Futures thinking for transforming. While the futures triangle is only a small part of the paper, it fits it into an overall process for thinking about the future that is well worth reading about.
If you’re interested in an application of the futures triangle to see how it’s been used in practice, the paper by Marcus Anthony on the future of China is worth a look.