New View EDU Episode 56: Helping Students Shape Dynamic Futures

Available April 16, 2024

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How many of us have taken a history class? But what about a class on the future? Or a class on how to navigate ambiguity? These are the kinds of educational experiences Lisa Kay Solomon urges educators to design for students to prepare them for an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world. 

Lisa Kay SolomonLisa—former co-host of New View EDU—returns to join host Tim Fish for a discussion about the importance of teaching futures thinking. Building off her work at the Stanford and her popular course “Inventing the Future,” Lisa shares ideas and examples of ways educators can incorporate a future-focused mindset into classrooms, both K-12 and beyond.

Arguing that the first time we learn to deal with ambiguity and multiple potential outcomes should not be while we’re in the thick of a real-world crisis, Lisa points to the many ways in which futures thinking intersects with strategic planning, school leadership, and preparation for life. She shares that the work of a futurist is not to predict the future but to scenario plan, anticipating many possibilities and constructing rich narratives and responses to each. 

What’s often missing from planning—both in schools and in the external world—is a broad range of perspectives that bring the future into focus. Lisa urges us to consider whose voices are not at our tables as we seek to gather information and make decisions. Who can represent dissenting viewpoints? Who can speak for the interests of future generations? Whose perspectives will help us shape a course of action that allows us to move forward in care and concern for the people and things we care about most? 

Including multiple perspectives is just one part of the design process Lisa recommends for planning strategic conversations. She shares insights from her book Moments of Impact that encompass setting the stage in every way, from considering the environment in which the conversation will be held, to forecasting what a participant in the meeting will think and feel at different points in the future. Ultimately, Lisa says, the process of designing a strategic, generative, and futures-focused conversation involves accounting for the emotional lives of the people impacted. And the emotion she most hopes to see students carry into the future is joy.

Key Questions

Some of the key questions Tim and Lisa explore in this episode include:

  • What is futures thinking, and what is the work of a futurist?
  • How can, or should, K-12 schools be incorporating futures thinking into their work? Can futures thinking be applied to the classroom? How about strategic planning processes?
  • What can we do to become more comfortable navigating ambiguity? What skills and dispositions do our students need to develop to face a multitude of possible futures?
  • How can we better design strategic conversations to get the most out of meetings and events? What is the difference between a traditional strategic planning process and a strategically designed planning conversation that takes futures thinking into account?

Episode Highlights

  • “I'll start off and talk about futures thinking and I'll say, so how many people here have taken a class in history? And everybody raises their hand. There's probably some historians, probably teachers of history. Everyone's like, yes, of course I did. And then I'll say, well, how many people here have taken a class in futures? Zero, zero hands, zero. And maybe one person that took a workshop or something. And then I say, well, which one of those can you influence? And it's like, oh, mic drop.” (8:54)
  • “You have to practice the stuff that you're going to need in life. And unfortunately, so much of our K-12 system is based on rewarding things that are knowable, that are performable, that are easily measurable. You know, show me the scale on ambiguity. Show me the person that's like, oh, you got an ‘A’ in ambiguity, crushed it. We don't have a great vocabulary for it. We don't have a great practice ground for it. So I think about this a lot, because you don't want the first time someone comes head to head with a high-stakes, high-uncertainty, highly ambiguous situation to be when it matters most. You want them to have done the practice steps along the way, the scaffolding in the safe environment.” (14:11)
  • “You have a really important meeting and you've cleared it on everyone's schedule. People have flown in. They know it's important. And so because it's an important meeting, you go to the important board room that has the big oak table and the leather chairs and no windows and you got the PowerPoint set up. And yes, it's structured, but we have to remember there are human beings walking into that room, and our brains take a look at those signals: big oak table, leather chairs, no windows. And they think status, power, be right, be smart. They're not thinking, be open, be imaginative, be generative, right?” (29:15)

Resource List

Full Transcript

  • Read the full transcript here.

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About Our Guest

Lisa Kay Solomon designs environments, experiences, and classes to help people expand their futures, adapt to complexities, and build civic fellowship. Her work blends imagination with possibility, building the capacity to take the long view when today’s problems seem overwhelming.

Currently a designer in residence at the Stanford, Lisa focuses on bridging the disciplines of futures and design thinking, creating experiences like “Vote by Design: Presidential Edition” and "The Future’s Happening" to help students learn and practice the skills they don’t yet know they need. At the, she teaches classes such as “Inventing the Future” where students imagine, debate, and analyze the 50-year futures of emerging tech. She also works closely with the K-12 community to make futures thinking a mainstay of 21st-century core curriculum.

Lisa was named to the Thinkers50 2022 Radar List and one of ixDA’s Women of Design 2020. She also has taught leadership and design at the California College of the Arts, was the founding chair of Singularity University’s Transformational Practices effort, and has guest lectured at organizations and leadership institutions around the world. 

Lisa co-authored the bestselling books Moments of Impact: How to Design Strategic Conversations that Accelerate Change, and Design A Better Business: New Tools, Skills, and Mindset and Strategy for Innovation, which has been translated into more than a dozen languages. Lisa created the popular LinkedIn Learning Courses Leading Like a Futurist and Redesigning How We Work for 2021, and has written extensively on helping leaders productively navigate ambiguity through teachable and learnable practices.