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“Future Back” To See Where You’re Going

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Once participants in Future Back exercises arrived at their desired future, they’re able to re-prioritize the efforts of today.  These groups are then able to define a detailed path for their organizations, products and relationships with customers.

By Mark Murray

The term “Storytelling” has been thrown around a great deal over the years.  When we use the term in a true research context, we’re referring to a highly structured forum designed to prompt a participant driven dialog.  The skill is in observation, not leading.  Respondents own the conversation.
When fielded properly, we believe these explorations are able to go deeper than ethnography.

The fundamental premise of narrative methodologies:

  1. Humans are fundamentally shaped by and shape the narrative structures of their existence.
  2. Narrative stories and anecdotes tell us what people really internalizebased on their experiences.
  3. People’s perceptions are hidden in their stories and anecdotes – What people retain from and take out of their experiences and pass on to others. This “take-out”influences their decisions and behaviors.

Stories include characters, a time and place. We carefully watch and observe behaviors (some of which we can probe if it doesn’t interrupt the narrative).

As you know, stories have an arc. You’re able to get a good idea of the where, who’s involved and what is the focus of the activities.  We’re able to reveal areas of conflict. We’re looking for an incident or trigger event that leads to a specific call for action.

There’s richness in framing the discussion around a “Hero’s Journey”.  In this format or forum we more easily get to core emotions and the struggles that need to be overcome.

The Storytelling consists of Characters, Moments In Time, Location, Incident/Trigger Events, Emotions, Struggles & Conflicts, Transformation, Resolution, Overcoming Obstacles, and a Hero’s Journey.

It’s been our observation that people are much better storytellers than listeners.  The Researcher is the trained listener as participants are in the comfortable role of Author.

A favorite technique for Storytelling or Narrative exploration is “Future Back.”

Step 1:  As a group, participants are instructed to identify elements that would describe a best and worst future imaginable.

Step 2:  The group is then asked to identify a significant event or turning point that immediately preceded and helped shape this future scenario.

Step 3:  This process is then repeated, identifying the events that preceded the “turning point.” The process continues, event-by-event – working back in time to identify how specific events determined the end state (both favorable scenarios and worse case outcomes)

Finally, common elements are combined and organized by the group into coherent paths that lead to future outcomes. Now you’re ready to plan with a future vision that unites teams.

It’s something to look forward to.


MarketResponse International is a full service, global research firm based in Minneapolis, USA.  The firm works on a global scale for leading brands in financial, automotive, retail, and consumer products.  Founded in 1992, MarketResponse is recognized as the most experienced firm in the field of Motivational Research.

For these and other narrative techniques, MarketResponse moderators are accredited practitioners of Cognitive Edge.  Founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden, Cognitive Edge builds methods, tools, and capabilities to utilize insights from Complex Adaptive System theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems.

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