Leadership Training Courses in Forecasting and Communication:
Better Tell the “Story” of Your Organization and Its Future
A teaching team of world-class futurists, science fiction and entertainment creators, and military and business leaders teach the “how” of forecasting and narrative communication, in order to better reach and influence target audiences. Structured as half, 1, or 2 day executive education courses, the in-person or online class blends experts sharing the principles and lessons learned through a mix of lecture and conversations, along with “writer’s room” exercises that allow hands-on creative experiences that a) identify key issues for the organization to better communicate and b) new ways to explore and share them. These engagements can be combined with an “office hours” type ongoing relationship that allow for an expanded conversation about how to approach specific creative and analytical tasks. Useful Fiction has provided such classes to organizations that range from the NATO military alliance to Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs training program for US government executives.
“Blue Horizons” is a group tasked by the commander of the U.S. Air Force to identify and understand future trends and their implications for its strategy and planning. Useful Fiction built both 1 and 2 day in-person and online courses designed to train USAF mid-career leaders on forecasting and narrative for more effective communications. The events featured how-to lectures and lessons learned from a group that included New York Times best-selling authors, a venture capitalist investor, a corporate futurist, the head of Australian military officer training, the former Commander of US Special Operations, the co-writers of Game of Thrones, the producer of Hunger Games and Crazy Rich Asians, and the team behind The Walking Dead and Good Lord Bird. These were followed by various training exercises to allow the students to apply the lessons learned into developing actual story concept creation based on areas of real world concern to their organization.
Drew Wagstaff, the USAF Blue Horizons director, reviewed of the experience: “…The content was thoroughly engaging, whether it was discussions with the authors themselves, engagements with Hollywood executives, or hands-on assignments meant to teach the skills of creative writing and FICINT. Highly recommend to any program seeking top notch instruction that boosts the creativity and passion of their students.”
Creation of Original Narratives and Visualizations:
Communicate Reports and Strategy Papers In Story Form
FICINT is the use of research and narrative to build “synthetic environments” as a tool for analysis, prediction, explanation, and communication. Also known as “useful fiction,” it fuses real world data with creativity, bringing together the best aspects of nonfiction and narrative. Research is turned into insightful character-driven stories that can help individuals and organizations understand complex concepts, distill key themes, explore alternative points of view, reveal analytical blind spots, and/or project future issues and dilemmas.
Such FICINT comes in many formats, from commissioned short stories, visual art, and graphic novellas to crowd-sourcing the same via writing and art contests. In some situations, it is designed to surface new insights, in others to reach a target audience and/or have greater impact. Our team literally pioneered the concept, applying it in projects that range from authoring New York Times-best selling books and consulting on the video game that is the best-selling entertainment project in history to running such projects for entities like the U.S Marine Corps and Air Force
Tailored to each organization’s objectives, FICINT-type engagements come in three primary forms:
1. Creating dynamic narrative vignettes as briefings/scene-setters used to inform wargames, seminars, and board-level or executive meetings.
The US National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence and the Defense Innovation Boardheld a series of board meetings to determine US policy in both AI strategy and investment, as well as ethical guidelines. We built a series of narrative vignettes that were utilized as supplements to the standard briefing packet for the board members, to aid them in visualizing complex information, as well as potential scenarios to be resolved. The visualizations proved integral to jumpstarting more effective discussion during their meetings and were subsequently reflected in policies that will literally guide the future of AI and its allowed uses.
2. Embedding in seminars and wargames, and then generating a reader-friendly narrative drawn from the insights and experiences of the client’s discussions, in order to better communicate the vision and influence key target audiences
Aiding the Norwegian Army on its projections about the future of conflict, AI, and autonomous systems, we generated a fictionalized narrative that distilled key insights from their exercises. Putting in that format allowed their own lessons learned to reach a wider and more influential audience than the standard wargame memorandums; the “Arctic Night” project was ultimately used in briefings all the way up to the Minister of Defense.
3. Enhancing a client’s report/publication with the addition of vignettes, spin-out visions, and even introductions that allow the work to achieve greater readership and influence.
The Cybersecurity Solarium Commission is a bipartisan group of members of Congress tasked with remaking U.S. cyber strategy for the next generation. Its members and research team spent a year generating a 182-page report with 80 recommendations. We were commissioned to summarize and transform the findings into a format designed to reach key audiences, as well as generate emotions that would lead them to pay greater attention to the key recommendations. In a first for both US government documents and fiction, the resultant “Warning from Tomorrow” was made the introduction chapter to the report.“
CONSULTING AND SUBJECT MATTER EXPERTISE
Our principals are considered among the world’s best at strategic forecasting and technology futures, including being described in The Wall Street Journal as the “premier” at the task. They are regularly engaged to help organizations develop fresh perspectives on emergent trends that can guide investment, policy, and growth. Renowned as public speakers, they have provided keynote lectures and briefings to audiences that range from heads of state and Fortune 100 CEO business retreats to 20,000-person tech industry conventions. They have spoken at venues as diverse as the White House and Nobel Institute to the Sydney Opera House and the deck of an aircraft carrier. Their extensive networks and experience as event organizers also mean that they are able to develop projects that engage a wide range of fellow subject matter experts, from award-winning science fiction writers to generals and admirals.
A video game firm enlisted us in a project to identify key trends and technology that will shape the next 20 years, to allow them to better understand their future market and geopolitics. As the lead developer later evaluated, the work “really showed us that we were only scratching the surface of what we should be thinking about in the future. After listening to him, we have never been able to look at the world the same way again.”
Mentoring and “writer in Residence” Programs
A team of experienced editors and writers will provide on-call writing and editorial support to an organization’s reports and publications, ensuring they are crafted at a professional level and achieve intended effect on their target audiences.
A U.S. Navy Command needed to develop a strategy paper to make the case for its vision of operations over the next 10 years. We assisted the writing team, providing mentoring and feedback in the four phases of the project: ideation, outlining, drafting, and editing. The document was successfully used to shape senior leadership’s understanding of key issues and trends.