13 – Make your Future. Tap into World Building with Ronni Kimm
On this episode, we are exploring how you can partner with future in order to create your future as opposed to feeling uncertain about it. We are joined by Ronni KImm, who helps clients and people in organizations imagine what is possible.
We look at the world building, which is often used in gaming and film, and apply some of those principles to future scenario making.
In this episode walk away with: The idea of mapping scenarios for your future. How to enter creation in a state of discovery How to partner and dance with your future versus feeling uncertain
About our Guest Ronni Kimm is the founder of Collective Future, a design and innovation consultancy based in Los Angeles. Her work focuses on utilizing human-centered design and storytelling to imagine new possibilities for the future. Project outcomes have included everything from strategic directives, digital prototypes, immersive AR/VR experiences, and narrative dinners. Ronni has led future-focused initiatives for Autodesk, Clif Bar, Ford, Nike, and VF, among others.
As an educator, her background includes lectureships, and visiting artist/critic roles at the ArtCenter College of Design, California Institute of the Arts, Cal State Long Beach, General Assembly, Otis College of Art & Design, SCI-Arc, UCLA, and USC. As part of her exploration of new meanings and forms, Ronni loves to incite conversations and collaborations with brilliant thinkers and doers whenever possible.
Contact our guest Hello@futurecollective.com or at www.futurecollective.com
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*This Transcript is Autogenerated
Hey there and welcome to the HiHelloSura show. I'm your host Sura Al-Naimi. Listeners, so glad that you're here. And today this episode, we're really going to be focusing on how do you generate and create your future. And by that we're really taking into consideration, how do we partner with the future versus feeling uncertain about it?
Today, we're joined by Ronnie Kim, who is the founder of collective future. And she helps clients, people and organizations imagine what is possible. So in our conversation, we're going to be tapping into how do you create and generate these different scenarios. We're going to be looking at, the notion of wealth building, which has been used so much in film and in the gaming industry.
So how do we use those tools to think about, our future, our team's future, our family's future, and. Step into it with more of an idea of discovery and, wonderment versus, being petrified and feeling really out of control. So without further ado,
ronnie, welcome to the show. Hi Sarah. Thank you. It's so nice to be here. Thank you for inviting me on. Absolutely. I thought that with the weld being what it is right now, and with things changing so rapidly, both at work in our personal lives, on all spheres, I thought it might be helpful to bring the listeners to have a listen to a conversation between the two of us, given that your focus is.
About what is happening in the future and that's the world that you live in. So looking from the edge and being able to see over the horizon. Being able to share that context with the listeners. So without further ado, what's happening in the future. Ronnie, that's such a huge question. and one, I don't have an answer to be honest, it's, the future is so unknowable , I'm the founder of a design innovation studio called collective future. And what we do there is we help our clients and we help people in organizations imagine what's possible. but what we don't do is we don't, ever. Pretend to think, or even say that we're predictive. So people talk about the future all the time.
I feel like they're talking about it now more than ever. So even before COVID you would see, the future of work, the future of cities, the future of just about everything you could think of and post COVID, So pre COVID. I think people were interested in five, 10 years out dreaming about what the possibilities were and, or, sending out different kinds of warning signals or flares, and now post COVID.
I think that people are they're just, there's so many questions around, what does this mean for how we live? Not just today, but what is, how is this going to impact, right? The way that we work or the way that we go to school or the way that we even live at home or go to the grocery store. And so there's a different kind of urgency around this question about the future that I think is on everyone's minds.
And I say all that to make the point that the future is also not just one thing, right? It is so diverse. it's something I've been thinking a lot about lately, how there's only one word for this thing that is beyond any moment beyond this moment, but there's a million different ways to conceptualize of it.
And so that's another thing that we really focus on with our. With our consultancy with our studio it's to help people to develop more of a, more of an understanding about how to approach the future in a way that's not just full of uncertainty, but where you can start to develop some approaches and methodologies for understanding how you might influence where you could go.
And So once you start to establish a sense of either agency or a sense of, an ability to partner in what happens next, then that brings, you to a completely different mindset versus being completely reactive, constantly reacting to what's happening to you, versus being able to be proactive or responsive to what's happening to you.
and I'm not sure I answered your question, those are some of the ideas that we play with. When we talk about what is the future, or what does the future hold the question really turns back to the person who's asking the question, what do you want it to hold? What are the things that are important to you?
What are the things that you're scared of? what is the uncertainty that is. Keeping you up at night or what are the areas where you feel maybe some major threats. So if you're thinking about the future of work, AI might be an area where you're not sure what that means. And so there's also, I think when you talk about future, there's also there's everything from.
Different portrayals of it through science fiction. Which can be super fantasy, or some more near term things that are pretty disobeyed, like black mirror. And there are, I think that there's all of those things are depicting possibilities. The thing that individuals can do is start to own their own narrative around what they want that future to be.
You're going to have a much better chance of getting to what you want to have happen if you know what that is. And if you start to do some discovery and exploration around, how do I get there? What are the different kinds of roadblocks? Or things standing in my way, what are different kinds of threats?
And I think today, when I work with businesses that, one of the big questions has to do with what are the things I don't know about. So this is really all a story about change. I don't think it's possible for us to move forward into the future without some things changing. And sometimes they're smaller changes and sometimes they're just massive blowout.
It's like COVID or it might be like political situations or social movements or things like that, but it could be technology like AI or, predictive, algorithms, which is a part of AI. And I think that's part of. That's part of the story is understanding what are some of those unknowns that you're really thinking about or curious about, or maybe don't even know about?
So that's what we do bring some of the, those ideas or those, emergencies to the table. So when you, I love this idea partnership with what happens next and being able to influence, and this notion of, it's this active thing that occurs. So when we think about being more proactive and partnering with the future, what are, what are ways that we might do that?
And what are ways or conversations that you'll have in having potentially with organizations and clients at the moment? So we have an approach where we go through a few stages and the first one is to start to map out that context. So what is the future context? Whether it's a year out or five years out, are we talking about, social media still being like a dominant force in culture?
Or has that shifted a little bit? Are we still on our smartphones or are we starting to use more immersive technologies? And so the. the way that we started is by really mapping out that landscape so that we can start to understand whether you're a food company or you're a sports retailer, or, whatever it is your industry is in, there's going to be.
Technologies that are going to be relevant to you, but then also other kinds of behaviors, And things that happen in culture. So mapping that out is always the first step that we make. And once you have a map, the other really big part of what we do is so we call that creating, it's we call that.
So I come from. The practice of world building and world building is really set. you see it most in places like film and literature and gaming, where there are people, writers, practitioners, all kinds of people who are working on creating the sense of a world where there's new kinds of rules that are introduced.
And so if you think about Spotify, new rules might be, Oh, you're on another planet. So gravity works differently. Or if you're in a postdoc, apocalyptic, earth, and the new rule was, we don't have, because of the, I don't know what created the apocalypse. Maybe it was like a virus like we have today, or, climate change, whatever it is.
Those are new kinds of rules. You don't have to go that extreme. I just mentioned a bunch of new rules that, that we're encountering today. And once you develop that context of the world and it doesn't have to be massive, that's the other thing you say world-building and it just sounds like you're somebody said, it sounds like you're boiling the ocean.
Like when do you stop the world is so massive. You only need a few key pieces of that world to really understand and start to develop, an, start to develop different kinds of scenarios. And so storytelling is a really big part of how we navigate. That world once we've created a structure for it, that's based on these new rules. So let's take covert as an example. Okay. I would say that COVID the biggest new rules that was introduced to our, to our lives. What did that do? That influence everything we talked about earlier, the way that people interact with each other, the way we go to school, the way we go to work, the way that we, are able to, just even move and travel.
So one new role can introduce so many different kinds of new behavior or influences. If you follow that thread, you can follow it to just about any segment of any industry. Right? How did COVID influence food production? How did food, how did covert influence food scarcity?
So there's no. The really interesting thing about this is that it's very system-based system nine. We really acknowledge that the world is very interconnected and that there's multiple systems at play. And so that's what I love about this work, about how we approach the future. It's we're thinking about all these different systems and how they're interrelated.
your question was originally like, how do you have this play with the future? how do you have this dance with the future? We play with it through storytelling. And so once you've established this context of the world, if you can see that world through the eyes of different people, it's going to give you a sense of how the, how people are going to.
Be behaving within that. And so I'm shifting between a third person perspective and a first person perspective. If you made yourself one of those people. So we call them characters, we develop characters to help people understand these different points of view. You can start to understand COVID.
If I have a character who is a mom. a mother of three and she is, she holds down two part time jobs. Now she has three children that have to live with her at home and she has to take care of them and educate them. What are some ways that we could start to maybe understand and ease her pain?
Are there things that we can do to try to understand, what could make it her life better as the mother, you can start to think about. This is really tough. Are there different ways for me to approach the situation that I haven't had to deal with before, whether it's like finding other families that maybe your kids can play with or finding neighbors or different things like that?
I feel like I'm going really I'm like going down multiple paths to connect it. It's all interconnected. So that dance has to do with creating stories because stories are really how we make sense of complexity. It's how we understand the world. It's something that we've had for 35,000 years, and there's a reason why story has been so pervasive.
And so what we do is we create these different stories and scenarios to really play with the possibilities. And when you do that through characters, I'm coming back to this through different people's points of view. You cannot start to understand, you can get outside your own perspectives for how other people might've responded.
So it's all about. When we talk about possibilities, it's all about how do you create a more generative space for understanding the future versus only seeing it through maybe this one perspective or this one path that you've either been on or that you imagined that you'd always be on. I love that.
So it's real empathy. It's being able to really step into these different dimensions, these different characters, as you said, to be able to look at their lay of the land and what might be going on for them. And then from that, to be able to generate stories or scenarios. Yep.
That's exactly right. That's exactly right. And the reason why that's so important is because I think stories are distinct in that the reason why they make sense of the world is because they create meaning and they have incorporated. And so it's not like you're making a data flow. a lot of times designers will make these user journeys that show like, Oh, somebody started, at home, they said they were hungry and then, Oh, they're going to get in the car and they're going to go to the grocery store and they're going to get this and that.
And then they're going to come here. Oh no. Okay. A lot of people do that, but what about like when you have, I have a craving for something, or what about when you just noticed that there was this new, like all these local restaurants that you want to support or, there's all these. there's all these things that you can't necessarily, that you reveal basically through these stories and through these different character viewpoints that help you to understand why they did those things.
And also to translate that into. Into new possibilities. So if it, yeah, I'll stop there for a second. there's so much, what you're sparking for me, I was listening to a dare to lead by Bernie Brown recently. And. Instead of staying within her team, tell me what Dan looks like.
They say, paint me done. And so that gets into all the scenarios of usage and what's important to them. And what's happening with this client and what's happening with that client. I tried it out a couple of times that fast. I said, what does done look like? And then. We ran into something that we didn't anticipate, but I didn't anticipate no.
Later on I used the language of paint and I got so much more in terms of usage. And so that really unlocked this whole, scenario for me that, as I'm working with this individual, I can ask to state these things so I can see how, almost like going into the filing cabinet of, stories gives us access to so much more.
Yeah, that's exactly right. And I think that, what you're proving to again, is that idea of being generative. So can you be generative with your future about how you think about the future versus shutting it down right. Versus only seeing the past that have been working, but are no longer starting, but are fading away or, is there a way for you to think about how you transform or change with the ways, with the different.
like with the new things that the future is introducing. And so if you can create stories about that and start to create scenarios around it, that's where the proactive part comes in. So then you're not just facing these things. Blindly, you've already started to play with some of these ideas and started to create a sense of what it is that you might want to do, how it is that you might want to respond for businesses.
What are different kinds of opportunities, right? And ways you can start to influence. So then going back to that idea, you can start to, create some new way, ways of doing things for new plans, for how you might get there. And so that's where that play is really important, because if you don't have an opportunity to, you need to have those generative.
Really productive ideas or possibilities, then you are not, you're naturally constrained by what you already have been doing or what you already know. It makes me think about when we talk about rule breaking and innovation and creativity, we say, most, all the rules that play in an industry and break one of them.
And now imagine a wealth. You know where that is true. And when we look at, some of the. Things that we've grown. So used to in our time, Netflix or Uber, Airbnb, et cetera, they took one or two rules at play and then flip them and then created this new reality. So I'm connecting with that spirit.
So if I'm a business owner and I'm looking to scenario play so that these, moments aren't coming upon me, Whereas I'm actually starting to create with them.
is there any advice that you would have for that individual I think it can be simple as getting a group of people together and we always add for advocate for getting as many different kinds of things. Thinkers as you can, because that's really what introduces like these new possibilities as well. So if everyone has the same thoughts, you're going to have a lot of the same ideas, but if you can bring in different kinds of, whoops, sorry about that.
If you can bring in different kinds of, people who naturally tend to break rules or who tend to think about things differently, Or people even outside of your direct industry, That can be really useful or different kinds as a domain experts. It's amazing how many creative that space can become.
And, if you sat down and you just started, so we have another tool that we use, which is. which is where we create these different lenses for looking at the world. And so depending on what your industry is, can you narrow it down to, three or four lenses or one or two lenses that you're really interested in?
So again, if we go back to food producers, the lens might be, Thinking about how to become more direct to consumer, right? that's something that we're starting to see when you talk about Uber or, some of these different, even streaming, All of these things have become direct to consumer.
That's a new rule that was introduced about 10 years ago that hasn't stopped. In fact, we're just at the beginning of it. And so you can start to think about, all right, if we're really, is that a lens that we would be interested in, or you might think about personalization, that's something that was introduced like 20 years ago, that word still talking about, or maybe the new rule is AI, is there a way in which machine learning can really help us to, to understand our customers better or to provide better services to them.
And so if you can identify these new rules, And the lenses through which you want to be understanding them for your business and you get a little group of people together, then you can start to brainstorm, And start to think about, okay, what are some different scenarios or ways in which we would, what are some scenarios that we could actually write out?
The thing I would also add to that is identify three or four characters, which can be your customers. Or they could be your suppliers, or they could be employees, right? there are people within your organization that are heavily, fully influenced by what you do. And so if you can identify different character or it might be a 10 year old girl or boy, Who has even yet come into the market, maybe they're just about to, or we know that kids heavily influenced their moms, So there's different ways to think about outside of your typical target audience. Who are some other stakeholders in your business that you can start to look at your business through their eyes.
And so that's a starting point. It's, it's really just getting a group of people together asking some really good questions and identifying what aspects of the future you're really interested in or concerned about and starting to, starting to generate some stories and scenarios from there.
We have a much more structured process, broadly speaking, that's the process that we go through. That's amazing. And I love this, the idea of introducing different perspectives, because the more that we get into something that will, we maybe have people that are like us. And so that's helpful for certain things, but it sounds like a kaleidoscope of individuals is super important, for waking some of these assumptions.
Yeah, I think that we've gotten so into our target demographics and audience that sometimes we forget that are people and that they have lots of needs that maybe we haven't even considered, in relation to our business or that they could be, or that there's lots of people not being served, by something that you're offering.
If you just put a different, you don't put a different frame around it. and that's part of what I think is so exciting about this work. there are opportunities. In so many places across, all these industries. but I think that businesses have become so focused that sometimes they forget that there are opportunities if they want to grow or transform or evolve, or, do any of these things and responding to this moment right now.
I think we've seen some great innovation from different kinds of companies and, the ones that have been most hurt, like the travel industry or, I think. I think education is a mixed bag, on the one hand they're more needed than ever, but they've got a lot of limitations that they're having to confront.
there's lots of opportunities for thinking differently about those things. what worries me a little bit is when everyone, when people talk about going back to the way things were like, I don't think, I don't think that place exists to be honest, it's like the world is changing.
Such an accelerating pace that it's a real opportunity to move forward, with it. But, I'm not sure that people are always thinking about, what it is that they do or their business in that way.
Yes, absolutely. I've met some people who want things to go back to normal, but I don't know, really get back to your point.
Exactly. this is, we are here today and it's constantly changing, like you said. so with that in mind, and then thinking about, all that amazing work that you're up to, what projects, what have you been, I know that you just finished a sprint a 10 day sprint. What are you up to right now?
That's really exciting. You and getting you, I don't know if I can say jumping out of bed, getting you basket. we are confronting like many business, many small businesses, similar kinds of questions, About who we are and what it is that we're doing.
And so you just pointed to the sprint. we developed a model where, it's called future today. It's a rapid 10 day sprint that we're moderating virtually or that we're facilitating virtually. And what's exciting about that is once you've done the future visioning and the storytelling, creating different stories and scenarios.
You want to, I think a lot of people, people have asked us about this. It's like, how do you decide which path you're going to take forward? How do you, how do you prioritize? And I think that's another really huge question. And so what this rapid sprint does is it allows you to create a prototype and test that prototype.
So going from an idea to a prototype in 10 days, and actually we're looking at. Making that an even shorter period into six days. So you can prototype anything from a business model to marketing campaign, to a product idea. And within that short timeframe, you can start to assess, rather than everyone just speaking into the air about, debating what's right.
What's not right. You can have an actual, you can have an actual outcome that you can look at and point at and interact with to understand a better so that you can make some of those choices. And so that's something I'm super excited about. it's something that I think made sense in the pre COVID world, but I think now more than ever, it's a really interesting way to work.
This idea of being iterative has been around for a while, but can you iterate on your future possibilities? That's really what we're, that's what we're. That's what we're doing with this process. the other thing that's exciting me is I've had a couple of, online. I guess events. And one of them is a few trust literacy series where I've been, I did different, practitioners in this field to come and talk to us about their practice.
And people have been working in this way, thinking about the future for a long time. And there are people who've been doing it professionally for a long time and it ranges. From foresight practices all the way to world-building. and there are a lot of different kinds of ways that people practice this.
And so having those conversations and being able to make those available to people have been really exciting and we're getting ready to start shift the series. To speak with people inside corporations and inside different businesses to speak specifically to how it is that they approach these kinds of problems.
So that's been super fun as well. And those have been like the two latest things that we've been working on. That sounds amazing. A feature series. Is that something that people can tap into? Yes. if you, yeah, anyone can sign up for it. It's happens typically around once a month. and if they go to our firstname.lastname@example.org, there's a link to our events and you can see past events and then you can also sign up for the ones that are upcoming.
That sounds like a really inspiring space. Yeah. Create some new stories and some new futures. That sounds amazing. Yeah, there's all kinds of things. we just had someone, who was talking about design fiction and what they do is they create artifacts from the future. that's also super fun, to be able to, again, create something that's tangible.
And once you start to have that, you, the questions completely shifted, right? Your questions are not about what should we do or how do we do it? It becomes like, why shouldn't we do this? or how can we do this? as how can we integrate this into, our existing business so that your questions completely shift.
Once you start to have some, the thing I'm a little bit, but more tangible that you can start to, again, start to play with, right? So then you get into a different mode of either planning or sharing those ideas across the organization or with your customers. And, one more thing that we're doing. That we have right now is a prototyping, stories of the future.
That's a workshop that we're provide or that we're offering. And that's also another way to go through this process. It, in a guided way, in a more facilitative way so that you can be sure to come out with those stories and then start to have the conversations around, which one of these do we want to try to activate, I love being able to step in to, or reframe and being able to step into, this proactive, creation process.
when so much has been changing so rapidly to be able to say, what do I want to create going forward? That feels so powerful. Yeah, absolutely. And we talk a lot about navigating uncertainty. If you think about it, what does that actually mean? It's you're uncertain because you haven't stepped into that space because you haven't started to imagine what could be possible in that space.
And once you start to have, not only have you, he collected the signals around what that future could be like, but you started to proactively create as, just as you're saying. It just gives you so much more senses of agency and control over what you know about what could happen next. there's still a lot of other stuff to deal with, but, compare that to not having taken any of those steps.
Absolutely. Yeah. To be able to just be and have conversations about these things, that's a game changer, Cause I, I've met people, who've just pushed them away. Oh, like the thing is. This thing doesn't exist. I'm just gonna put this thing over here, but it's always present.
so yeah. Yeah, it's a really good point. And it's even if you think about it in your personal life, everyone knows the future is coming. I think everyone, there's nobody that denies that, to your point, it's but are you, Are you able to ask the questions that you need to in order to step into it in a way that gives you that makes you more sure footed or gives more senses of who you're going to be, right?
Like what are you going to do? And, given that, those situations and the scenarios, Which is at the end of the day, I think just a huge question for each person, to be able to, to have an idea of. It makes me think about suspending, disbelief or suspending judgment rather.
Cause I can imagine that I'm looking to create something new and to play with these different ingredients, but maybe in the back of my mind, I have a bunch of constraints of why something won't work so I can see why having different people in that conversation will be helpful. but what are some things that you've advised for people as they're going through this process?
To, basically not scare themselves out of creating. It's such a good question. It's the reason why we'd like to go out a little bit further into the future. So you've got like the immediate future, which is like the next day, next few weeks, months. you have the near future, which is typically defined like five to 10 years out.
you have to decide where's the right place for you. We like to stretch your timeline. To the point at which we can ask the question, what if, right? what if we didn't have XYZ? Or what if, sustainability was evaluated all organizations or, that it was a value that became really important, right?
Like honesty and truth or, stuff like that. And. And when you have a, it's like having a stretch goal, right? If you can get, if you can find a timeline that gets you a little bit past your constraints of today, then you really entering a rich field of possibility. We're not talking about science fiction.
We're not talking about fantasy, but. what, if you had the right partners, right? Or what if this technology started to become really mainstream? What would you do differently? And once you ask that question, it just gives you a little bit more room to start to imagine. And if you come back from that place or that space to today and start to do your planning before, you know it, like a year or two goes by like nothing, right?
And if you're constantly working from your constraints are limited to your organization. That doesn't mean the world around you has those exact same constraints, right? There are other organizations that are constantly innovating. There are startups, there are millennials, they're the digital natives.
Sooner or later somebody is going to disrupt your industry. And if you're not already thinking about how to get past your constraints to a, to a place of evolution or transformation of who your organization is, Then you're going to get left behind. And I think that's one of the dominant business story of our time.
We've seen it over and over again, whether it's an entertainment, whether it's in a transportation or it's in, it's just basically every industry has, it has encountered this. If they haven't then they're going through right now. and so I think that's a really important question and something to.
Encounter is, can we, do we have the courage to get past thinking about who we are today and all of that strengths that weigh us down and to, using Britain Brown's language, dare to be more imaginative, right? So that you have a bigger playing field that you're creating for yourself.
and I think that's, that's the. That's the whole point and the whole goal to this. Can you create this bigger playing field? Can you imagine what a bigger playing field would be like? And from there, there's all these different ways in which you can then start to enact, or start to, create from that space.
Amazing. So if somebody wants to find out more or get in touch with you, what is the best way that they can do that? definitely they could email me. they can email us at hello, H E L email@example.com or they could just, check out our website. I'm also on LinkedIn and I'm pretty responsive there.
So if somebody wants to just look me up over there, they can, those are probably the best ways to find me and get in touch mainly. thank you for your time, Ronnie. I really on behalf of myself and the listeners, we really appreciate being able to have this conversation. Thank you so much, sir.
I enjoyed it. I always love talking to you.
As do I, Ronnie, thank you so much. And listeners also thank you to you. And if you enjoyed the show and got some food for thought and would like to support a little farther, where they donation, please visit. Hi. Hello, Sura.com/show until next time. I'm your host, Sura Al-Naimi.