I went and saw Richard Slaughter speak at the launch of his new book ‘To See with Fresh Eyes‘ last week. It is always a pleasure to hear Richard speak and this was no exception. The audience included many ex and current students of the Master of Strategic Foresight at Swinburne, the course that Richard founded in 1999 whilst working at the now defunct Australian Foresight Institute, which was also the home of the AFI Monograph series. Richard very kindly mentioned my editorship of the monograph series, thanks Richard!

The main points from his speech that resonated for me were that we are currently in an emergency, this situation isn’t something that will go away or resolve itself. This bears repeating because if all you consume is popular media, you would be hard pressed to know there was anything much going on. The interaction of resource restriction and climate change is a species altering event. Richard believes that this is time in history during which the decisions we make will be judged by future generations, so he urges us to make wise and foresightful decisions.  We can do this through seeing the construction of reality and understanding our symbolic capacity to change it. We each need to develop the language and depth understanding to perceive what is happening and what might change and how we might do things differently. This development also has to happen in the structure and institutions of society which Richard has written about in previous work.

Prof Richard Slaughter and Dr Peter Hayward
Swinburne Oct 2012

He was clear that he sees there are sources of hope and inspiration. I questioned him on this in the Q&A following his talk – where did he find the passion and belief that this will be possible? He responded with the following: “It is my responsibility, I cannot sit back passively and allow the future just to occur when I have children and grand children.” He also spoke about individual maintenance of balance, his stubbornness and tenacity in the face of challenges and finding renewal in nature. He was clear that there are individual recipes for each of us.

I have heard him say similar things over the past 10 years and I was struck by his ability to totally submerge himself into another activity related to nature, for instance he spent nearly 2 days taking photos of a tree, and he continues to do a lot of bird watching. Richard spoke about taking the long view, being on purpose and fully present in the moment with a touchstone to the enormity of what we see as a representation of the history that has passed. My takeaway from his speech was – don’t do futures all the time, spend time doing other things that require your full and complete attention.

His call to action in through the motivation of people who have chosen to see with fresh eyes and engage with the problems at hand. He was quite clear that those who had studied the Swinburne course were expected (by him) to make use of its teachings to change the trajectory we are currently on.  I always find that when I am in a room with people like those who attended the launch, I come away with high hopes for the future and our ability to change what we are doing. This wears off as I spend time in the ‘real’ world with our preoccupation with consumption, celebrity spotting and reality TV shows. The discipline of taking time out to do something else with full intensity is one I don’t do on a regular basis as the time pressures of family life usually take precedence. I think this discipline is going to be very important as we grapple with the challenges of the next 10 years. Futures work is wonderful, it feeds my soul, but it is also draining and finding a balance is one of the keys to longevity in the field.

I hope I am able to find that balance and keep going.