Exponential Minds Podcast Interview with Glen Hiemstra, Part 2: Glen Hiemstra on probable, possible and preferred futures
For Episode 1 of the second season of the Exponential Minds Podcast Nikolas Badminton had the pleasure to speak with a futurist with over 40 years of experience in the field, Glen Hiemstra. Nik is also the newest member of the Futurist.com Think Tank.
Glen is an internationally respected expert on future trends, long-range planning and creating the preferred future. An inspiring and deeply experienced voice among futurists, Glen has advised professional, business, and governmental organizations for over three decades. He is also the Founder of Futurist.com.
You can listen to the full interview here, and Part 2 (of 4) of this interview transcription, edited for clarity, is below.
Probable, possible and preferred futures
Nikolas: Today we have buckets of those things that we’re concerned about, and we’re just watching them. Back in the 80s, there was a lot of information but it moved less quickly. As soon as we hit right, the mid 90s, the internet pops up by the early 2000s. It’s going a million miles an hour, and suddenly information is everywhere. And everyone’s saying the world’s worse than it’s ever been and this and information is democratized and more widely available.
Now we’ve got this world of misinformation and so called fake news and, and all the social media platforms, accelerate everything right and, and suddenly, there’s catastrophe everywhere from the corona virus to climate to whatever, but again, all my clients literally asked about those three things, and then can I come and speak about them with you? So it’s really interesting when we look at those probable, possible and preferred futures.
I mean, if you look at Alvin Toffler, if maybe you look at some of the work that Buckminster Fuller did back in the day. This was really visionary stuff. And I remember reading a book called The Usborne Book of the Future. It was the late-70s, I was not quite eight years old. You may remember the book? It drew on ideas from Raytheon, Boeing, NASA, and you had Arthur C. Clarke and a number of visionaries feed into it. And it was wildly fantastical.
Glen: Yes, I remember. One of one of the people I read at that time was a guy named Gerard O’Neill, who was a physics professor or something at one of the Ivy League schools and he was writing about space colonization, building giant wheels in space and the mass drivers to space. He had this vision of the Hyperloop before everybody called it the Hyperloop, building these massive tunnels all around America, and shooting trains at 500 miles an hour through these things. I thought this is just really amazing.
The people we now call futurists and their thinking in the popular press were the precursor to the academic programs in foresight beginning at various universities.
Most of those people that come out of other fields, of course, and began calling themselves futurists, but they were also part of that post World War Two generation that had this massive optimism coming out of that whole experience, having survived it and then seeing the technologies that came out of the war that became popular at the time, from television, to jet airplanes and so on. It felt like we could probably do just about anything that we wanted to do, and so you could call it a naive approach to futures thinking.
There was concern about global warming, there was concern about the environment. Earth Day was started in . So there was certainly deep concern about polluting the environment, but not really about overheating the planet. And so there was a naïveté about that. But mostly they believed that if we collectively decide to do something, we could probably do it. I think that’s been lost. It’s a shame that that is lost.
It is helpful to be more realistic, and to be aware of the massive threat that eight billion people can pose to the planet, unless we work in really, really smart ways. But you go back to Buckminster Fuller, who was a hero and who I got to see do one big seminar at the World Future Society in 1980 in my very first time ever going to those meetings. He was doing one of his Worldgame dymaxian workshops in which he had all these people in this massive room kind of imaging remaking the planet and his whole theme was thinking that if we would agree to shift from, as his language was, shift from weaponry to livingry, instead of putting our resources into war instead into peaceful activities then everybody on the planet could live like a millionaire. That’s been lost.
It’s very hard to find such futurists today. Who would say those kinds of things out loud and not be ridiculed for saying that?
Nikolas: You also had Jacque Fresco and the Venus Project. We’ve lost that idea of fantastical futures now. I’ve started to tell stories now in my keynotes. Recently, I spoke at an agriculture conference in Iowa to 900 people that work in land investment in agriculture.
At the end I finished off with a story of the global world of agriculture in 2220. And then it is really interesting because you can be fantastical and I spoke about the end of the energy wars, and then 50 years after that all wars entirely were gone, and global networks of what is true abundance. Not what abundance is called in 2020, which is a bunch of billionaires talking about, you know, stem cell therapy and living to 120 years old. So it’s kind of interesting that, I’ve started bringing that practice back, but you know, you almost look out at the audience and they’re like, what do we do with this information, and then it’s interesting following on speaking to work directly with companies.
Glen: One of the things that I’ve seen that you’re doing, and what you just described in that highlight presentation is be willing to go very far into the future, to begin with an assumption that that is possible, at least if not probable, that human beings will be around in 200 years or 500 years or 1000 years or a million years. And that’s kind of rare right now.
Of course, organizations who call you say, “come and help us think about the next three to five years.” I try to convince them to at least think of a couple decades ahead, right, but thinking centuries ahead gives you permission to do two things.
Number one to be fantastical but also then to be it frees people up to think in kind of insane, inspiring ways, in inspirational ways about the future. Yesterday I got a call from a publication and did an interview with a journalist. And there is a so-called futurist, I’ve never really thought of him as a futurist, His name is just Zoltan Istvan. He really presents himself more as a journalist and transhumanist. His platform was basically that national governments, namely the U.S. national government, should invest more in science research for emergent immortality, so anti-aging research. Okay, that’s kind of cool. It’s fine. But, when I told the reporter what I thought of whether futurists could have an impact on national politics by running for president, I explained that it turns out I was the Washington State campaign coordinator for a futurist named Barbara Marx Hubbard, who was an early visionary futurist, very involved in planning a future society.
Marx Hubbard ran for vice president in 1984 and the campaign was called the campaign for a positive future. Her platform was very simple. The President of the United States has something called the ‘War Room’ where he manages wars and conflict. And she said the vice president should have something called the ‘Peace Room’ where they keep track of all the breakthroughs and all the opportunities that are emerging all around the world. They could use those to leverage opportunities and breakthroughs technology, social policy breakthroughs, and so on to build a positive future. I watched that speech before this interview yesterday, this 10-minute speech, the 1984 convention by Barbara Marx Hubbard.
And I thought that nobody talks like that right now. It’s very rare to hear somebody say, “the evolution of humanity, the evolution of the species requires us to be to build a positive future.” And, here are the things that we should be doing, we should be shifting to new kinds of energy and we should be ending fossil fuels in order to begin to decrease our impact on global warming, and eventually reverse global warming. We should be shifting from weapons to instruments of peace and we should be developing new forms of energy.
It’s pretty rare to hear people do that. It was very cool. I would like to see more of it. If I do anything here in the next few years, as I wrap up my career, let’s say as a futurist, that’s kind of my intention, to see if I can bring a little bit of that back as, as you’ve said, that you were doing.
Nikolas: It’s kind of interesting as well, you sort of talk about Barbara Marx Hubbard in that campaign to the positive future. It’s seems like what Al Gore was going to do. If he would have ended up being President of the United States then there’s no way that he could have done it in the same way he is doing his activism.
Glen: My daughter did an internship in Washington DC in the White House, and she was assigned to work on the domestic policy office for Al Gore when Al Gore was vice president. That was her assignment that academic year. And, she loved him and, and I should have thought at the time of having her ask this question whether he ever heard about that Hubbard campaign, because he did try to turn the vice presidency into something of a futures office. A locus of thinking about how to do things better in the future.
Of course, as we all know, the vice president who followed him was Dick Cheney who reversed that completely and made it a war-centered kind of thing. But, Al Gore probably made the best stab at leveraging high office as a way of thinking in positive ways about how to build the future [through the National Partnership for Reinventing Government].
Nikolas: It’s interesting when I work with the United Nations ongoing around the climate change framework. I’m on the periphery, helping them think about designs and resilient futures and whatever. It’s almost like we need these organizations to wrap themselves around governments to really push and apply pressure, right, and to really feed that information.
We’ve got people like Andrew Yang. He’s been fairly progressive Then there are the Republicans with one guy literally turning everything back. And that’s it. That’s a big conversation there. But we’re really, you know, we work with companies, but we’re really just small parts of the puzzle. And really, you know, positive futures can only be shaped once. You know, some argue we want policy and money’s put in place to support it. But, then we’ve got like a $2 trillion budget for the military in the US.
Glen: Yeah. When people ask me these days, what are the major trends that I see shaping the future? What should we be paying attention to? Let’s say as futurists, I think the number one, even the dominant trend right now is the emergence worldwide of this sort of reactive, nationalistic, retro view of how the world should work. That we should retreat into our nations and that we should strengthen our borders and keep everybody else out and go back to tariffs and all the things everybody’s familiar with what’s happening. And it’s not just in the US. It’s in Turkey, and it’s in countries all around the world, I’m trying to figure out why that is. Unless that trend is reversed, if that trend becomes the dominant trend, then it’s very hard to do anything about climate change. We’re not going to do anything about shifting to more positive futures.
In my opinion, unless that is confronted and dealt with and … we’ll see, I mean, we’ve advocated, you and I just now, for thinking very long term about the future, but it could be that the next half dozen years, in the U.S., the next couple of election cycles, will be really critical in figuring out whether that is in fact a new kind of dominant trend that’s going to go on for a long period of time, or whether that’s one that that will is a blip on the radar and will be reversed. Brexit is the other example of that going on.
Nikolas: Yeah, Brexit. I’m a Brit and I’m a proud Canadian as well. I look back to the UK and you know what this is? It’s a hangover from Thatcherite Britain. I voted Tony Blair when he came in new Labour, and New Labour was literally it eventually became new conservatives, you know, and then we know what happened eventually.
Glen: Well, that was a surprise.
Nikolas: For sure. And then we accept that we’re gonna work this out and charismatic leaders like Tony Blair, Barack Obama and really smart people can help shape the world and do positive things. I still don’t think we can forgive any administration for making the Iraq War happen.