Smart Thoughts

About Designing the Future

Think About Rules for Thinking About the Future

Written by: Stephen N. Elliott

What does “design thinking” have to do with treating the future as a design space?


Thinking drives actions.   That’s fundamental to future design.  So how should one design how one thinks about designing a better future?

Note – I did not say what specifically one should think.  I want to encourage a focus on how to think.   There are types of thinking known to influence constructive behavior and future results.

For years, I have shared Think Rules with psychologists and educators who are committed to improving children’s behavior for a more successful educational future. For example, two of the most important Think Rules are Think Positive and Think Solution.

Think Positive is designed to stimulate ideas about desired behaviors.  For example – pay attention to directions, or cooperate with a peer to solve a problem.   This avoids focusing on problem or undesirable behaviors. Think Positive leads to putting energy into improving behaviors rather than trying to suppress negative, problematic behaviors.

Think Solution focuses on creating a strategy that can lead to a desired outcome. Many people seem to want to admire a problem – and place blame elsewhere.   Instead, flip your focus to building a solution framework. 

Ideally, to Think Positive and Think Solution leads to more constructive and focused actions designed to improve one’s future. As simple as it sounds, many people have difficulty staying focused on positive solutions. Those that do have better, more productive days today and into the future.

So let’s extend some of the existing Think Rules to the broader topic of all our futures. Let’s also consider a couple new Think Rules. First, it seems easy and fundamental to apply Think Positive and Think Solution to one’s own future. The challenge comes in enacting a series of positive steps toward a series of short-term futures that meaningfully link to a long-term future solution in an evolving world.

To accomplish this one must also learn to Think Flexible, Think Time, and Think Momentum.

Think Flexible means to be adaptive.  Expect disruptions along your solution path, and plan for them.

Think Time means to appreciate the limits of how much time you have to act and the timing of one’s actions. Whenever possible, invest time early to build relationships with others involved in the solution and to be proactive about addressing resistance to change. There will be resistance.

Finally, Think Momentum.  As you know, momentum is all about movement and energy. So to Think Momentum means to design a pathway to the future that captures your initial energy/passion and minimizes the friction/resistance that is inevitable later.   If you can design elements that pull you rather than push you, momentum is inevitable.  So think about designing ways to minimize the challenges of procrastination and reorientation that are so associated with starting.  

Of course, designing the future takes many hands, but it starts with people who use rules to think effectively about the future they want.  Onwards!


 About Stephen Elliott

Stephen (Steve) Elliott is the Mickelson Foundation Professor at ASU’s Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics.  Steve is the co-author of the Social Skills Rating System (SSRS) and its revision, the Social Skills Improvement System (SSiS) – one of the most widely used social behavior assessments in the English-speaking world – as well as other widely used behavior-rating scales that, among other things, evaluate the performance of principals, teachers, and students’ opportunity to learn.  Currently, he is the Principal Investigator on a U.S. Department of Education project that integrates software tools that help teachers document student’s opportunity to learn and their achievement outcomes.  He also is an investigator on another USDE technology project focusing on coaches’ intervention decision making.