For the last twitter chat (#futrchat) held by the Association of Professional Futurists, I wrote a blog post on the topic: what big questions do we need to ask about the future? The twitter chat was great, so I thought it might be interesting to record all the big questions and big issues that were raised in the chat. Five questions were asked in the chat, with only the last one dealing with big questions themselves. The other questions all generated interesting points and comments, so I've included some of them here too. Big questions actually emerged throughout the chat, and I've tried to cluster them all under question 5 (the question about big questions).

I've not tried to see if there's any common themes or patterns, just cluster the answers to the questions so they are easier to follow than the transcript of the chat.


Question 1: Why ask big questions about the future? What's the point?

  • The question is not really the matter, the matter is the process, the exchange @chvdHaegen
  • All of the big questions filter down with implications for even the smallest questions @jbmahaffie
  • Futurists often want to save the world and humankind, thus big questions @jbmahaffie
  • The future we all work together to build for overselves @JDEbberly
  • Individual flourishing for all means collective flourishing, no? @ChvdHaegen
  • Big questions (and potential answers) provide a direction. No one asks a child what classes they want to take when they grow up @phi162
  • Not asking the big question is like walking through a forest, just trying to avoid the trees @fredmcclimans
  • It is the exchange and the other questions it spawns @SMSJOE


Question 2: What are the areas where big questions need to be asked urgently?

  • All sorts of version of 'what is the future of humankind?' since that's deep down what people are wondering @jbmahaffie
  • Communication - how will we talk and connect? with whom etc @urbanverse
  • Education for what - for participation in industrial era work or for living in the future @aussiefuturist
  • Asking how we should change/modify our behavior @CASUDI
  • Those areas that affect our basic needs: safety & security. That broad - could be economy, could be environment, could be... @dbevarly
  • One big area is developing safety into nanotechnology @JBEbberly
  • First principles, i.e. what is essential? Ensuring resources still available regardless of supply disruption @sLange_Windsor
  • Big questions needed in climate change, income equity, and the 'global' governance of complex systems (disruptive tech, etc) @justinpickard
  • Future areas of need: human rights (see current unrest), hunger, health, education & environment @CathyWebSavvyPR
  • How about the impact of religious fundamentalism of all types on society? I c mostly negatives, can there be pos outcomes? @jimmath
  • The environment: Water, deforestation, species extinction etc.
  • Also: how big, chaotic, complex & interdependent entities can fail safely with the minimum of damage @justinpickard
  • Big questions in future resilience...society, technology, climate, food
  • I agree with policy/resource issues offered up. Would add democracy and entrepreneurism. Anyone teaching/instilling? @TonyatCollins
  • Availability of gas is important to developing the future - until we fully implement alternative fuels @JDEbberly
  • What will the future economy consist of? People need jobs to buy, but automation makes products w/ less people. Conundrum @phi162
  • Post scarcity 'economics', synthetic biology, 3D printing. They're going to cause a 'bucketload' of disruption and realignment @justinpickard
  • Big questions in future resilience...society, technology, climate, food @fairsnape
  • Biggest big question is 'how do we ask big questions and derive succinct answers" @fredmcclimans


Question 3: How can we, or should we, ensure asking big questions is the primary driver of strategy development?

  • We have 2 b able 2 show gr7 results frm asking the big Qs to get ppl willing 2 keep asking them virtuous cycle @jimmath
  • Are big questions being asked at Board level? who is driving change, strategy? @fairsnape
  • I believe you can/should sometimes ask tiny little questions, then open thinking up to biggest q's. Future of kittens! @jbmahaffie
  • How to ensure bigQ is primary driver of strategy dev? Commoditize - build incentives into economies @urbanverse
  • Should it be? Canned future shock and seemingly unsurmountable challenges aren't the best way to get people on-side right? @justinpickard
  • Big q to strategy - its the most logical way. Big questions are like clouds - they hover in the background sometimes @urbanverse
  • Moving to big qs must stretch strategic thinking byond the next qtr or year @jbmahaffie
  • Do big questions always move us to long term thinking? @urbanverse
  • Big q's and long term thinking, maybe its the L-T thinking that moves us to big q's @urbanverse
  • asking big Q should move us out of today at very least which moves us in direction of long term@jbmahaffie
  • sometimes big Qs move us backward as much as forward @urbanverse


Question 4: What's the biggest challenge to asking big questions?

  • what constitutes a big question inside a company is quite different to a big question outside? @aussiefuturist
  • Institutional intertia & risk-avoidance, but also a sense that if the Q is 'too' big, you can't do anything useful w/it @justinpickard
  • Maybe...if you could make action plans from them, yes? RT@ChvdHaegen: big questions bring a cloud of answers, and action @urbanverse
  • ORGS maybe, GOVT never, small CO v possible and individuals = YES (cynical YES) @CASUDI
  • biggest obstacle 2 getting the big questions asked in orgs, govt, by ppl in general = ostrich syndrome. ppl don't always want As @jimmath
  • Big questions seem overwhelming. People like answers and those questions don't always have them @phi162
  • ppl are overwhelmed by bigq's and don't know how to move forward @davidmcgraw
  • so perhaps real question is what might make companies interested in the long term @JDEbberly
  • Challenges to big Ws being asked en masse - incentives for short-term projects that satisfy long-term reqs @sLange_Windsor
  • Future and big Q = uncertainty and answers = certainty: need to be more comfortable with uncertainty @mareeconway
  • how to get people to accept the inevitability of uncertainty? @aussiefuturist
  • Are the big Qs necessary, but not sufficient, to drive good foresight efforts @jbmahaffie
  • It seems like only a small %age of ppl care if things get better & r willing to act. is there enuf 4 critical mass? @jimmath
  • Biggest challenges to all is creating the "appropriate" forums that allow exchange of ideas/answers/curation @fredmcclimans
  • A big challenge to getting people, orgs thinking about the future is that most people have only vague grasp of the present @geofutures
  • Perhaps big question are waht we can rarely agree on? @phi162 and RT I think it is the answers to, ppl struggle with @urbanverse
  • Are small unanswered quetiosn obstacles to reach big questions @ChvdHaegen
  • Companies interested in long term when they have answers to big questions already @urbanverse


5. What's Your Big Question?

  • Another big question, when life expectancy 140. Personal implications and natural resources too @TonyatCollins
  • What's the utopia that we all can share? @chvdHaegen
  • So how do we deal with, change our behavior to combat or align ourselves w the WATSONs @loisgeller
  • How are we going to build relationships when the more devices we have, the more isolated we seem to be @loisgeller
  • Do you think that the 'gross happiness index' in Bhutan is a big question or a big answer in changing the future? @krash63
  • If we are going to ask big questions, we should start with the really gib ones like what brings meaning to life @kristinalford
  • On post-growth, Sadar asks r we in postnormal times? @drjaygary
  • We've adapted to the speed of fax, email, IM - so what do we need to adapt to next?
  • Where does the future come from? Who is in a position to choose & drive it, and with what goals @geofutures
  • Svante Arrhenius warned of the dangers of fossil fuels to earths climate in 1896. We are still debating the merits of his questions @davidmcgraw
  • Will we really see a technological singularity @JDEbberly
  • 50 yrs from 2day, will the world b better or worse than it is today? & by who's standards? @jimmath
  • How does one define quality of life? and how do we say what's better for future generations? @urbanverse
  • How 2 anticipate sysfails at level of individual, ie each person is their own 'survival kit'?
  • The big question today is, how to think about finding the right, ultimate question? @chvdHaegen
  • Taught a calss at the local university yesterday. Students asked where the job opportunities will be in the future @loisgeller
  • How can we be smart enough to anticipate change, and change our behavour (patterns) accordingly @CASUDI
  • How do we avoid irreconciliable divisions/clevages in humanity - generational, political, reality-based etc. Us vs them @justinpickard
  • What is the future? Humans/technology: a turning point in history @robinbrittain
  • What's the process for formulating the questiosn that will guide us towards a better world for all @ChvdHaegen
  • Our needs (Maslow) are static. What's the process for formulating the questions that will guide us towards a better world for all? @phi162

And some general comments

  • The most important thing is...They have brownies in the future! @RealTerminator
  • About questions and answers: I believe if we have one very big question, the ultimate question, we will have a cloud of answers @ChvdHaegen
  • And the clouds of answers will be millions of people going through life with purpose and serenity @ChvdHaegen
  • Do big questions produce fewer big answers actually? @urbanverse
  • Staying competitive in the future global marketplace can only be achived through continuous self education @mARkeTingOtakus
  • Independent and effective learning and critical thinking should play a key role in the future @mARkeTingOtakus

What's your big question about the future?