Fixed Point Futurism

I don’t think there is such a thing as the future of indie consulting. In a way, the whole point of indie consulting is to break free of the company-sized shared futures that bind paycheck employees. That’s the “ indie ” in indie consulting. The real question is, how do you figure out a future for yourself under this umbrella concept of indie consulting? That’s the personal futurism question.
We generally assume futurism is for institutions, not individuals. Think tanks conduct futures exercises for countries, corporations, and militaries. Individuals make plans for the future but don’t generally conduct personal futures exercises. There is a good reason for that. Most individuals are employees. For employees, personal futurism gets radically simplified to the future of a specific employer or a set of adjacent employers you might easily move to. You just have to make plans. The futures pre-work is already done by the context. In fact, one of the attractions of working a paycheck job is that you can outsource futures thinking to a leader. Your own futures decision gets reduced to — does my future lie with this leader or elsewhere? For indies, on the other hand, the future is wide open and subject to invention, not just choice.

The only way to future-proof your life is to act dead to a greater or lesser extent. Test-driven futurism is futurism within the iron cage of spreadsheets. That’s the reason it is primarily risk-averse bureaucratic organizations that approach futures this way. It does work to bootstrap plans, but the plans that emerge tend to be uninspired and conservative, like a hedged portfolio constructed by a doomsday prepper with a lot of money. A case of risk-management procedural skill overwhelming imagination and openness to experience.

You don’t even have to go through the exercise to land on the “ answer ” it is rigged to produce when pushed to the limit of absurdity with enough money in play — save enough to build a bunker in Wyoming or New Zealand and pack it with guns and supplies.

You’re not going to end up doing interesting, noteworthy things with your future if you limit yourself to this kind of test-driven futurism. It is a fundamentally nihilistic way to approach the challenge of life. The more you have to lose, the more apocalyptic the futures you will imagine.

How do you look at the future in a way that might make you a differentiated part of a living, growing, thriving condition? How do you avoid becoming a bunker-secured survivalist in an apocalyptic future predicted by your spreadsheet and which you help turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy? How do you avoid death by spreadsheet? How can you become one of those who, in some small way, helps invent the surprising, serendipitous future, rather than one of those who predict the doom-and-gloom one ? A different, complementary approach to futurism helps you approach planning from that angle.

I call it fixed-point futurism.

Fixed-point futurism is related to the idea of inventing the future rather than predicting it. You’ve probably heard the Alan Kay line that it is easier to invent the future than it is to predict it. The line is generally invoked in relation to huge inventions, like semiconductors or the personal computer ( which Kay had a hand in ) that “ invent ” the future for everybody. Much as I like that sort of thing, and though indies generally are pretty creative and talented, I definitely don’t expect 99.9 % of you to participate in such revolutionary acts of invention. I’ll be really happy for the 0.1 % of you who do end up being part of such big inventions. When you do, I hope you’ll remember the rest of us and toss us some juicy gigs. For the remaining 99.9 %, how do you apply the invent-the-future idea at a more modest, personal scale?
It’s simple: don’t make plans, choose fixed points. Choose one thing to make true, force to be true, about the future. Something that is likely to be within your control, no matter how the future plays out. Something that isn’t rationally derived from something else more basic, but is sort of arbitrary and self-defining. The more nonsensical the better. The fix for the default disease of having more rationality than sense is to aim at more nonsense than sense. It could be as simple as “ I’ll only wear blue shirts from now on.
It sounds silly, but it’s really amazing how such small assertions of personal agency, far short of putting a “ dent in the universe ” can magically make life feel more meaningful. You’re arbitrarily using your life to declare that futures, where you wear blue shirts, are better than ones in which you don’t. Many people intuitively do fixed-point futurism. In fact, in the U.S . , the so-called American Dream has historically been based on the standard fixed point of homeownership. As in, “no matter what happens in the future, I’ll be a homeowner. ”
A way to understand fixed-point futurism is to think of it as a priceless commitment. No matter what happens, and no matter what else goes wrong or off-the-rails in weird ways , you’ll make sure one thing goes really , really right , even if you have to go crazy making sure it does .
The nice thing about fixed - point futurism is that you don’t have to worry about tradeoffs . You don’t have to constantly revisit cost - benefit analyses . You don’t have to worry about competing priorities . The fixed point is priceless , so you can commit to it without knowing lots of important things about the future .
Your chosen fixed point is basically a proxy for your identity. To contemplate giving up the fixed point is to contemplate changing who you are at a deep level. Those are the stakes of fixed points. It’s not that you’re not willing to change at a deep level, even a death-and-resurrection rebirth level. It’s about what stakes represent the existential cost of that depth of personal change. Your choice of fixed point is an indirect expression of your identity attachments, in particular the priceless parts. This is why the fixed points people intuitively pick are typically the obvious identity-linked ones in a given culture: providing for family participation in religion building a home car/vehicle an element of lifestyle like camping or surfing community service. Here’s the thing though, it doesn’t have to be limited to these obvious ones. In fact, unless you are super pessimistic and lacking in confidence about your own ability to do more with your life than merely survive, you probably will have life energy to do more than “ provide for family, ” no matter what happens in the future. Your fixed-point future is what you solve for, assuming you have a surplus beyond what it takes to meet these basics. Your passion mission.

The problem with the zombie apocalypse was never that zombies might kill you. Something is going to kill you eventually in any future and zombies aren’t actually much worse than Covid, car crashes, climate change, or cancer. The question is, what hill is worth dying on, in all futures?

To bring this riff back to earth, of course, practicality is important in futures thinking . But if practicality is all that goes into your thinking about the future, it will be a very dull future you script for yourself. And it will be your own fault. Why would you expect to get interesting things out if you don’t put interesting things in?

Additional Notes On Fixed Point Futurism

A good metaphor for keeping this in mind is that of a compass pointing to true north. What happens if you actually reach the magnetic north pole? The compass needle starts spinning uselessly! Every direction is ( magnetic ) south so the dipole has no way to align to a particular direction . It’s like a division-by-zero error. A singularity. A self-annihilation. And this is a good thing. Now you’re free to pick a new direction, a new fixed point.
The problem would be if you didn’t have the blindness past the event horizon. Then I would doubt whether you had in fact discovered a meaningful fixed point in your future . If you can see past it, it’s a means, not an end.