As part of a GenPop Q&A we ask the subject to give us a question to field on the Ipsos Omnibus. Futurist Amy Webb wanted to know how people think about the future. It’s a mirror of a survey she was conducting among journalists and news organizations.
See the full interview about how businesses can think about the future.
GenPop: Why did you want to ask about our future thinking?
Webb: I was curious to learn how far into the future do people tend to think about themselves just from a personal vantage point and how frequently and then within their companies and industries you know how far are they really thinking out. Are they getting together and just talking about how are they reading industry newsletters and market research or do they have a more systematic approach.
GenPop: What did you think of the results?
Webb: A couple of things that stood out for me. It didn’t really matter if you had a college education – that didn’t seem to have a bearing on how far into the future that people think. But on the other hand people without a college degree are almost twice as likely to report that they don’t spend any time at all thinking about the future than people who do have a college degree.
Midwesterners were more likely to think only one to three years into the future while people in the West think three to five years. People in the South think five to 10 years. The Northeast are the ones to project out the smartest 15 to 20 or so I thought that was interesting. Twenty percent of Americans say that a few times a year they think 10 years into the future. But a third of Americans say that they never do. They never think that far into the future.
GenPop: Why is that important?
Webb: All of this to me is concerning because we have to spend time thinking about not just 10 years from now but generations from now. If we don’t do that and put some thought into how our actions today will impact our future selves 10 years into the future or our children or our grandchildren then how could we possibly leave the world in a better place.
If we are not thinking about the longer ranging implications of our actions then we make poor decisions in the present – on an individual level our own financial planning and personal enrichment and the choices about our own health that we might be making.
GenPop: There are broader implications, too, right?
Webb: When it comes to society-level the fact that so few Americans are thinking much further into their own futures and the futures of their industries is one explanation for the negative impacts of social media. I wonder if people were really thinking further out if have a similar kind of fake news problem… If we would been so polarized. If we would still politicize so many different aspects of everyday life that range from the food that we eat to the technology that we use you know to the transportation that we used to what the weather is like. I worry that Americans are very much Nowist and not Futurist.
GenPop: Do you think you would be different in other nations?
Webb: Well I know that it is. Finland is a country that has really integrated strategic foresight and future thinking into its business practices its governments. It’s taught in schools and universities. . They are now trying to figure out if there’s a way to get high school students and middle school students using the tools of Futurists.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.