(via Schultz, Wendy The History of Futures, in The Future of Futures http://thefutureoffutures.com/ )

  • 1st wave - Oral Tradition. For example: Shamans, mystics, priests and other
  • 2nd wave - Early Written Age. For example: Sīmă Qiān, Ibn Khaldun, Nostradamus, Thomas More, Robert Boyle
  • 3rd wave - Extraction and enlightenment. For example: de Condorcet, Comte, H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, William F. Ogburn, Soviet planning
  • 4th wave - Systems and cybernetics. For example: RAND, SRI, la prospective, Herman Kahn, Shell, GBN, The Limits to Growth
  • 5th wave - Complexity and emergence. For example: Integral Futures, Causal Layered Analysis, experiential futures, anticipatory systems

The first wave, alluded to above, is the oral wave of the shamans and mystics, still embedded in the deep myths of futures practice; not just in the Delphi method, but in the ‘Oracle’ question of the Seven Questions method and the ubiquity of the ‘Cassandra’ problem in futures: even when you are convinced of a future outcome, it is difficult to persuade others to act on it.

written wave, much of it outside of Europe. Some of these were early macrohistorians, such as Sīmǎ Qiān (around the second century BCE) and Ibn Khaldun (14th century), looking for patterns in the past and for cycles of repetition. Qiān, for example, charted virtue cycles in 30, 100, 300, and 1000-year spans. Ibn Khaldun traced patterns of nomadic conquest, consolidation, waste and decadence, and conquest. Their work and methods prefigured the work of later macrohistorians, such as Spengler, Hegel, Teilhard de Chardin, Toynbee and Sarkar.

The third wave of futures studies is deeply embedded in the idea of progress through science, technology and rationalism. Voices such as de Condorcet and Auguste Comte emerge into view. But that story of progress encourages the development and the acceleration of resource extractive economies, and the development of a recurring argument in the history of futures between images of technology and images of the environment.

The Great Depression and the experience of the Second World War perhaps represented the limits of the enlightenment project. But total war, in particular, accelerated experiments in technical forecasting and systems operations. A significant center for this in the US was the think-tank known as RAND. But all the countries embroiled in the war needed grand scale planning and forecasting both to mobilize the millions of men and women involved, and to provide the resources needed for their support. Systems science evolved side by side with futures studies during the 20th century. A ‘sister science,’ ecology, also emerged hand-in-hand with systems thinking. This is the fourth wave.

We are at the early stages of a fifth wave. […] In the late twentieth century, systems thinking developments in the form of chaos and complexity theories enhanced understanding of the dynamics of intertwined human and planetary systems. These theories provided a paradigm of change as an emergent property of complex, adaptive living systems, explorable but rarely predictable.