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I've Seen the Future

"Visioning" is not the same as hypnosis, Oliver Markley assures me. Then he tells me to relax, to imagine I'm drowsy, and to count backward from 10. At least he doesn't have a pocket watch.

Markley is a professor at UHCL's Studies of the Future program. One way for people to create a future that they will be happy with, he argues, is to engage in an exercise that helps them to see, or to intuit, multiple futures.

Visioning starts with a vehicle. In a soothing voice, Markley instructs me to choose a vehicle that will carry me from the present into the future. "It can be a fantasy vehicle or a real vehicle," he says. My unexotic choice: a blue station wagon (it looks a lot like the car I left back in Ohio when I moved to Boston to join Fast Company).

Markley then asks me a series of questions about my journey into the future: What's your first stop? What do you notice? How do you feel?

Next Markley asks me to imagine that I encounter a "wild card" - an event whose probability of happening is low but whose impact, should it occur, would be great. Wild cards can be deeply personal (I give birth to quadruplets), totally cosmic (an asteroid hits Earth), or something in between. (My two wild cards were a little wilder than my vehicle. Let's just say that the more inviting one involved an alien invasion of Earth.)

The ultimate goal of visioning is to see multiple views of the future. Markley pushes me to create what he calls Plan A and Plan B - two very different futures. "What do the two plans feel like?" he asks. "What are the similarities? Can you create a Plan C, a hybrid that feels better than either plan on its own?"

As for my future, I don't want to reveal too much. That's between me and the cute little green man in the passenger seat of my blue station wagon.

A version of this article appeared in the October 1998 issue of Fast Company magazine.