Meeting with Jim Dator. Futurist. Legend

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Recently I had the privilege to meet with Futurist Jim Dator of the University of Hawaii. Jim is renown in futurists’ circles and has left an indelible impression on the disciple of Futures. He has also appeared (as himself) on the TV show South Park, something not too many people can attest to I am sure!

Jim DatorI had requested to meet with the recently retired Futurist whilst I was in Hawaii to teach in the Asia Pacific Leadership Program and the Pacific Island Leadership Program. We met on campus at a coffee shop and Jim arrived, helmet in hand, having motored up the hill from his home in Waikiki, Honolulu. Always a risky mode of transport given Hawaii’s frequent and inconsistent showers but Jim assured me he had first checked the weather and after all, if a Futurist can’t get it right, then who can?

I had lined up a number of questions for Jim as part of my ‘Curiosity Conversations’ series and I wasn’t disappointed at the thoughtful answers he provided. In TomorrowToday we frequently reference Jim and his work and so it was nice to hear in person the story behind his renown ‘Second Law of Futures’ that he framed in 1995 and that states,  ‘any useful idea about the future should appear to be ridiculous’. “Why the ‘second’ law I asked”? “Because nobody remembers the first law” was his response. “Can you tell me what the first law of thermodynamics is…but I bet you know the second law” he added, as if to prove his point. He did emphasise that there was an important clause to his second law that should not be ignored and that was this: that not every ridiculous idea is useful. “In fact” he said, “the vast majority of ridiculous ideas prove not to be useful but that shouldn’t stop us from entertaining them”.

One of my questions to Jim was to ask him what he would suggest that business leaders do in order to be futurefit. His answer wasn’t what I expected but was chillingly accurate. “There is no compelling reason for corporate leaders to think long-term”. He went on to elaborate on the context in which business operates and the pressure on producing short-term profitability. We discussed to what extent the global financial crisis of 2008 had shifted this reality but I got the impression that Jim was not optimistic that any meaningful changes had occurred as a result of the crisis when it came to longer term thinking and perspective on the part of business leaders. He admitted that most his work was with government and select institutions and not in the corporate sector. As we chatted I grew increasingly confident in our approach and framework as TomorrowToday in matters of global disruption and in being futurefit. I am more confident than ever that what we have to say, teach and facilitate is both accurate and well packaged, in our endeavours to secure successful engagement and application at an executive leadership level.

Perhaps the most insightful of comments for me had to do with how we should teach history. All you educators out there take note: “History” Jim said, “should be taught through a lens of choice and consequence”. It was immediately apparent to me what a significant difference that would make to how one taught, viewed and applied history.

The forty minutes I had requested and which I wanted to honour, flew by but not before I got in my standard stock question that is: what is your best advise for me? “Have a positive view about the future – about things, for out of collapse comes opportunity. Have a positive view but not a Pollyanna view” was his answer, said with a slight smile and a definite twinkle in his eye.

I walked away knowing I had met with a legend. Jim Dator, Futurist.

But I also walked away confident that as we get to do this work in executive educational programmes worldwide, we (TomorrowToday) have something significant to contribute and something meaningful to offer!

Thank you Jim.

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