Developing a futurist’s mindset: stop watching the news and start noticing

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A sigh of relief.

That’s what I felt when I was getting my Certificate in Strategic Foresight from the University of Houston. During a Q&A with Andy Hines, a student asked, “How much news should I read?”

Hines replied, “Maybe once a week.”

My whole body relaxed. Here’s why.

Ever since the interwebs, I sensed that keeping up with the news was a losing battle. I noticed that “keeping up with the news” took my attention away from the deeper issues I was most interested in, and consuming online news was not making me smarter. It was making me stupid. For all these reasons, I started to hate the cultural expectation to “keep up on the news.”

Andy’s answer gave me permission to stop playing a losing game and invest my time to develop a true futurist’s superpower: noticing.

This post has two halves: the half where I try to convince you to take a break from national news, and the half where I give you some cool stuff you can do instead, that will actually help you become a better futurist, visionary, and change maker.

FIRST HALF: TOUGH LOVE

I’m going to challenge you to something that may seem heretical: Stop watching national political news.

Just stop.

Right now, some of you are f-r-e-a-k-i-n-g out just considering this. Your reaction to my challenge may cause you to stop reading mid-sentence and skip over to your favorite news site. Because just thinking of not having it makes you want it. And isn’t that the definition of an addict?

You’re the ones I’m worried about. You’ve gotten hooked into this shit, and the Algorithms have turned you into a junkie. That doesn’t benefit you. It benefits Them.

The rest of you — the ones who felt like I did when Andy said it was okay to dip into the news once a week — you like this challenge to stop watching national political news. Like me, you have a feeling deep in your guts that this stuff isn’t good for you.

You’re right. And I want to help you switch out of your news-consumption habit and take up the habit of noticing.

I’ll get to that in a second, but first, two things I learned from reading Ezra Klein’s book Why We’re Polarized:

1. The news I grew up reading has changed…for the worse.

News emerges not from individuals seeking to improve the functioning of democracy but from readers seeking diversion, reporters forging careers, and owners searching for profits.

~ James Hamilton, All the News That’s Fit to Sell

Klein argues that we follow politics as hobbyists like we follow our favorite sports teams or bands. Looking across the entire panoply of online consumables, he writes:

We (news organizations) can’t rely on people to read us out of (a sense of) duty; we have to compete with literally everything else for their attention. Netflix’s CEO Reed Hastings famously said that his biggest competitor is sleep. This is the context in which modern political journalism is produced and absorbed: an all-out war for the time of an audience that has more choices than at any point in history.

2. Consuming national news will divide our country further.

The national news media have invested heavily to understand how to hook and keep our attention. In short, they do it by dividing us.

Having a mutual enemy is a quick way to make a friend — we learn this as early as elementary school — and politically it’s much easier to organize people against something than it is to unite them in an affirmative vision. And, within the economy of attention, conflict aways get more people to look.

~ Jia Tolentino, Trick Mirror

So I challenge you to put your phone down. If you’re truly courageous, delete your news apps from your phone. Take a break. It doesn’t have to be forever. Cal Newport recommends Digital Minimalism. Jake Knapp suggests the nuclear option. I’ve tried both. Both work.

SECOND HALF: GIVE YOUR MIND ANOTHER (DELICIOUS) TASK

When I revamped Futurist Camp, I added an entire section on developing a futurist’s mindset because it’s as critical to foresight as techniques like scenarios. Here are some noticing practices that Campers learn:

1. Just 5 minutes

Take yourself outside for five minutes. Set a timer. Sit comfortably without holding your phone and find something — preferably a plant, tree, something in nature — that grounds you. Now, pay careful attention. Look at it very closely as if for the first time. What do you notice? When your timer goes off, get up slowly, and go on with your day.

2. Keep a noticing journal

Cartoonist Linda Barry has oodles of way to sharpen your noticing, but the one I’ve benefited most from is the “16 things” daily journal. Open a fresh page in your journal and create a grid to note:

  • 7 things you did
  • 7 things you saw
  • 1 thing you heard
  • Draw 1 thing you saw
Cartoonist Lynda Barry’s drawing about the “16 Things” to notice about your day
Cartoonist Lynda Barry’s drawing about the “16 Things” to notice about your day

3. Notice with friends

All of us benefit from multiple points of view, so why not notice with friends? If you know a few people who care about the same domain you do and have different points of view, you might consider a Signals & Sensemaking panel.

Your Signals and Sensemaking panel will widen your point of view and help you notice more.

I double-dog dare you to stop obsessing over your news feed and start noticing more.

You got this.

Note from the author: Hi! If you enjoyed this post, I encourage you to subscribe to my newsletter because ^this^ is exactly the kind of stuff you’ll get every couple of weeks. In fact, this is a lightly edited version of my Sep. 13, 2020 newsletter. You might also be interested in our Futures Friday live webinar series where futurists and changemakers gather to talk about big ideas, insights, and initiatives to make the world better for future generations. I hope to see you soon. ~Rebecca Ryan, APF

Written by

Passionate about better futures. Futurist, economist, Zen priest. This is where I workshop my ideas. Also: http://eepurl.com/cWJno9 and rebeccaryan.com.

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