Interview with Riel Miller at Cesco Week Santiago 2019

Riel Miller: “I hope that the mining industry would have the confidence to say that they could be wrong”

The doctor in economics and Head of the Futures Literacy project of UNESCO presented as a keynote speaker at Cesco Dinner 2019, where he  gave a speech about the power of learning how to gain control of our imagination, and the potential this skill has for the mining industry.

Riel Miller, Canadian economist, is a world leader in the field of strategic foresight, and is promoting UNESCO’s Futures Literacy Labs all around the world. This discipline helps people to learn how to use what we know today to open up to the future, and it’s have been presented in workshops in more than 20 countries.

One of this countries is Chile, which the expert visited – among other activities – to present the method in front of more than 1.700 industry leaders that attended Cesco Dinner 2019.

In an interview with Cesco, Riel Miller speaks about the purpose of Futures Literacy in a fast-changing world and the impact that this skill can have in society, the mining industry and humanity in general.

In simple words what is Futures Literacy?

Futures Literacy is the ability to understand the differences ways we use the future. It’s like reading; yo need to learn the alphabet, you need to understand words and paragraphs and you become able to distinguish between fiction, detective, etc. In the same way Futures Literacy understand that you can use the future for difference reasons and with different methods. In other words, we gain further control of our imagination, and the role our imagination place.

How can you train the ability to imagine, think and balance the ideas about the future?

One of the things that we know is that different children learn to read in different ways. In the same way, learning about the future and how to use the future is something that different people do in different ways, but I have observed – because I do this all around the world – that it’s quite important to let people learn by experience. So, inviting people to think about the future is the way for them to learn to use the future in different ways for different reasons.

How much effect in our actions today have assumptions about the future?

There two kinds of assumptions about the future: one are the images we have about the future, a good future, a nice restaurant where you imagine the food would be very good, and that’s an escenario, you have an idea, like going to the movies, and you have the image in your head, and you assume that that image will be true. But the other thing that we do is that we make assumptions about the way we imagine, so you assume that the transportation system will work, you assume that the chef will be healthy, you assume many things, and also we can change the assumptions we use to create the imagination. So there are two kinds of assumptions and is important to distinguish the kinds of assumptions in order to understand what you are doing.

In there any technique to establish a correct assumption and avoid mistake?

No. If you are mistaken, you are mistaken, There is nothing bad of been mistaken. The best things about mistakes is that you learn from them, and learning is crucial. The big danger is if you don’t learn, and the only way to be sure of learning is to make mistakes. So you have to experiment, and you have to accept that there will be success, and there will be failure. If you make no bet, if you don’t go outside your home and say “I will be safe if I stay home”, well, you won’t eat, so you won’t be safe anyway.

What is the utility of Futures Literacy for the mining industry?

People in this industry is very wealthy and very powerful , and place a very central role in the way the world works, so they can offer a leadership to the world by showing how complexity is nothing to be afraid of. What I would hope that the mining industry would have the confidence to say that they can be wrong, and also the confidence to say “we can adapt”. So not only trying to preserve the existing systems, in a way that might be harmful. That takes courage, but also takes accuity, meaning it’s takes capacity, and if the mining industry falls his historical example of resilience and adaptation, then it’s shows a good example to the rest of the world.

Is Futures Literacy the best way to achieve sustainability in a business?

No, there is a difference. The world around us works in an evolutionary way; trial and error, things that fail, things that die. If you have many companies trying many things then you have a strong evolutionary context. But if a firm try to live forever, then you defeat the purpose of an evolutionary system. So, if firms dies , if sectors die, if nations disappear, it’s not a problem, that’s something about our universe, which is full of evolution. So trying to make a firm live forever makes no sense to me. On the other hand, been able to adapt and maintain a connection to what we consider to be important in terms of value, well, that is something that we want to see continue as an expression as something universal.

Can you name any successful experience globally where Futures Literacy had helped a business or a sector to go further?   

What’s important here is to understand how success is define. We have been doing Futures Literacy all around the world with the private sector and with the public sector, and the crucial point is after people understands, they can do things they cannot do before. Now, do they create good things? Do they create bad things? That’s and open question. But we know that they can do things they couldn’t done before. I can give you an example: there was a company that was using genius foresight, meaning, they want to try and find the “true answer”, and they collapsed. What they didn’t do was to use the wisdom of their own employees and consumers to think about how to change; they tried to be too smart, and to be the only ones to own the information of which ticket will win the lottery, and that was a very bad strategy for them. If they had used the Futures Literacy approach, they might have learn things sooner, they might have seen failures soone, and they might have better able to adapt to survive. That’s an example on how the lack of Futures Literacy can be dangerous for a company.