futures-wheel

What Is The Futures Wheel? The Futures Wheel In A Nutshell

The futures wheel was invented in 1971 by Jerome C. Glenn while he was studying at the Antioch Graduate School of Education.  The futures wheel is a brainstorming framework for visualizing the future consequences of a particular trend or event.

Understanding the futures wheel

Fundamentally, the futures wheel is a simple framework providing a model of the future based on the consequences of an event or trend. It is subjective, qualitative, and relies on the expertise or knowledge of several participants. Put differently, the futures wheel helps the organization move from linear, hierarchical thinking to something more organic, complex, and network-oriented. The structure of the wheel itself is based around a central event, with direct and indirect consequences radiating outward and linked together where appropriate. 

While its low complexity avoids a need for formal training, the futures wheel does require a deep understanding of the problem in question. Only then can the generated future model be as accurate as possible.

Constructing a futures wheel

Here is a simple approach to constructing a futures wheel:

  1. Identify the trend – identify and then write the trend, problem, event, or potential solution in the center of a piece of paper.
  2. Identify direct, first-order consequences – what are the direct consequences of the trend? To stimulate ideas, it can be helpful to consider the trend as a form of change. Write each consequence in a circle and connect it to the central trend with an arrow. At this stage, all consequences should be listed – regardless of their likelihood of occurring.
  3. Identify indirect, second-order consequences – what are the potential second-order consequences of each of the direct, first-order consequences? Add them to the diagram in the same way.
  4. Repeat the process – this step identifies third and fourth-order consequences, and so on. Teams may use a different color for order level to better understand the relationship between each and delineate the different “spokes” of the wheel. In general, the more strategic an event is, the greater the number of orders it will require.
  5. Evaluate implications – one important advantage of the futures wheel is that it may identify lower-level consequences that reinforce or cause higher-level consequences. This helps the team evaluate unexpected reinforcement mechanisms that enhance certain consequences or at least make them more likely to occur. An evaluation may involve weighting the various implications for their likelihood of occurrence and estimated impact level. 
  6. Prioritize and plan – the list of implications should then be sorted according to those worth responding to immediately, those worth planning for, and those worth monitoring. Consider how each group may affect future strategy planning and make useful recommendations to key personnel. Negative consequences require risk mitigation, while positive consequences are opportunities ripe for exploitation.

Key takeaways:

  • The futures wheel is a brainstorming framework for visualizing the future consequences of a particular trend or event. It was developed by former student Jerome C. Glenn in 1971.
  • The futures wheel helps the organization move from linear, hierarchical thinking to something more organic, complex, and network-oriented. It is a simple framework to use but does rely on quality input from suitably qualified participants.
  • The futures wheel encourages teams to identify first, second, third, and fourth-order consequences of an event, trend, or solution. These can be then weighted to evaluate their likelihood of occurrence and potential impact.

Connected Brainstorming Frameworks

Starbusting

starbursting
Starbursting is a structured brainstorming technique with a focus on question generation. Starbursting is a structured form of brainstorming allowing product teams to cover all bases during the ideation process. It utilizes a series of questions to systematically work through various aspects of product development, forcing teams to evaluate ideas based on viability.

Appreciative Inquiry

appreciative-inquiry
Appreciate Inquiry (AI) is an organizational change methodology that focuses on strengths and not on weaknesses. Appreciate Inquiry was created by management professors David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva in the 1980s. The Appreciate Inquiry is also known as the 5-D Cycle, an iterative cycle describing five distinct phases, made of define, discover, dream, design, and destiny.

Round-robin Brainstorming

round-robin-brainstorming
Round-robin brainstorming is a collective and iterative approach to brainstorming. Brainstorming is an effective way of generating fresh ideas for an organization. Round-robin brainstorming is a balanced approach, employing an iterative, circular process that builds on the previous contribution of each participant.

Constructive Controversy

constructive-controversy
Constructive controversy is a theory arguing that controversial discussions create a good starting point for understanding complex problems. A constructive controversy discussion is performed by following six steps: organize information and derive conclusions; presenting and advocating decisions; being challenged by opposing views; conceptual conflict and uncertainty; epistemic curiosity and perspective-taking; and reconceptualization, synthesis, and integration.

Affinity Grouping

affinity-grouping
Affinity grouping is a collaborative prioritization process where group participants brainstorm ideas and opportunities according to their similarities. Affinity grouping is a broad and versatile process based on simple but highly effective ideas. It helps teams generate and then organize teams according to their similarity or likeness.

The Fishbone Diagram

fishbone-diagram
The Fishbone Diagram is a diagram-based technique used in brainstorming to identify potential causes for a problem, thus it is a visual representation of cause and effect. The problem or effect serves as the head of the fish. Possible causes of the problem are listed on the individual “bones” of the fish. This encourages problem-solving teams to consider a wide range of alternatives.

Rolestorming

rolestorming
Rolestorming as a term was first mentioned by personal development guru Rick Griggs in the 1980s.  Rolestorming is a brainstorming technique where participants pretend they are other people when sharing their thoughts and ideas.

Reverse Brainstorming

reverse-brainstorming
Reverse brainstorming takes advantage of the natural human tendency to more easily see problems than solutions. What’s more, many individuals when placed in a traditional brainstorming environment will find it difficult to become creative on command. Reverse brainstorming is an approach where individuals brainstorm the various ways a plan could fail. 

Lotus Diagram

lotus-diagram
A lotus diagram is a creative tool for ideation and brainstorming. The diagram identifies the key concepts from a broad topic for simple analysis or prioritization.

Futures Wheel

futures-wheel
The futures wheel was invented in 1971 by Jerome C. Glenn while he was studying at the Antioch Graduate School of Education.  The futures wheel is a brainstorming framework for visualizing the future consequences of a particular trend or event.

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