Storytelling can go where data won’t
Two new books imagine the next decades with science fiction and games
Going by just about any available data in late 2019, the last two years should have been like the previous two, three, ten, or twenty years. The data most of us knew about said they probably would be. Then along came Covid, January 6, and Ukraine.
It all sent the data-driven among us scrambling for explanations, and yet the data had little to say. So it’s no surprise that we’re now still looking for better ways to see any other upheavels ahead. The recent crop of books about scenarios should help.
Among those that have caught my attention is Jane McGonigal’s Imaginable: How to See the Future Coming and Feel Ready for Anything—Even Things That Seem Impossible Today. She’s best known as a researcher and designer of games, a topic I believe deserves more attention among the data driven. But the book I can’t wait to read is by science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson, The Ministry for the Future: A Novel. Each book challenges people to imagine futures.
Games and science fiction complement data analysis. Games offer a framework in which willing minds can imagine alternate worlds. And science fiction is an imaginative writer’s description of their own game-like fantasy. Any fully outfitted planner should use some form of fantasy-generating process, whether it’s games, science fiction, or a kind of blend of the two, scenario planning.
Robinson and McGonigal give a boost to the neglected, under-rated, and misunderstood sibling of data, the storyteller. Where data goes blind, the storyteller can tap a lifetime’s observations to extrapolate from repeating patterns. That practice is what goes into well done fiction to make it so compelling.
Now that we’ve been shaken and alerted to a crucial weakness of data analysis, I hope that storytelling can be given new respect. Read McGonigal’s and Robinson’s books and ponder.