Sarah Lietz is MDC’s Vice President of Owner Engagement. She recently attended an MDC-Exclusive IFTF Foresight Practitioner School and is sharing her thoughts below.

Any useful statement about the future should at first seem ridiculous.

Jim Dator – Professor, and Director of the Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies, Department of Political Science, University of Hawaii at Manoa

What do Chinese panhandlers and a 5-year-old girl who wants to learn about the Titanic have in common? Both are signals identified by two of the 14 MDC credit union professionals who attended IFTF’s Foresight Practitioners Training in Palo Alto last week.

Signals are places where the future is emerging—unexpected experiences or uses of technology, emerging social values. etc. They are the things you are surprised about, or the news that makes you shake your head in wonder or worry. Maybe it’s a new law that makes you ask, “what if this scaled nationally?” Signals are not things we already know about. Signals are not trends, but they can be found within trends. Most importantly, signals must be specific, current, and compelling.

Each of us was tasked to bring two signals to the training session. I quickly realized mine were…well, crappy. But others did a lot better. Robyn LaChance from Sound CU in Tacoma WA told us about how Chinese panhandlers are now using QR codes for donations—which sparked a conversation about the impact of a cashless society on the poor. And Dan Rousseve from Teachers Credit Union in South Bend IN told us about his 5-year-old daughter, who asked him questions about the Titanic. By the time Dan returned with his laptop ready to use Google to find some answers, his daughter had already gotten the info she wanted from Alexa. So now people who can’t even read can have access to a world of information just by using voice technology. And perhaps an entire generation will no longer use “google” as a verb.

By identifying these signals, we have early access to trends and changes in the world that may have lasting impact on our members, communities, and businesses. We can use specific data to challenge consensus forecasts and provide alternate points of view. Doing so gives us time to proactively plan for impending changes and makes us more aware of the world around us.

This was the second session of Foresight Practitioners Training MDC has offered through IFTF. A total of 39 people from 31 MDC credit unions have completed the training. I am now planning to pull together volunteers for the MDC Signals Team. Using MDC Connect, we can share the signals we see with each other and start conversations about what it all means. Signals Team participants can then take those shared signals back to their own organizations and use them in strategic planning discussions with their boards and executive teams—and even start their own signals teams at their credit unions.

Nobody has time to read all the information out there that we should—but collectively we can sort through all the static and share the important things that matter.

Background.

About a year ago, MDC identified the need to create a set of plausible futures (scenarios) in which credit unions will have to operate over the next 10 years. The project team of 20 MDC credit unions identified and selected the Institute for the Future (IFTF) to drive us towards the creation of these scenarios. IFTF worked with these credit unions to create four scenarios, four scenario videos, and a workbook for credit union staff to utilize as they lead the planning process at their credit unions. These resources can be found on MDC Connect on the Scenario Planning project page.