Founded in 1989 by futurist John L. Petersen, The Arlington Institute is a 501(c)(3) non-profit research institute that specializes in thinking about global futures and trying to influence rapid, positive change. We encourage systemic, non-linear approaches to planning and believe that effective thinking about the future is enhanced by applying newly emerging technology. Therefore, we strive to be agents of change by creating intellectual frameworks & tool-sets for understanding the transition in which we are living.
TAI believes that we are living in an era of global transition, to a degree that our species has never seen before. The exponential increase of human knowledge, and the acceleration of its application through technology, is propelling humanity towards a new era of thought and endeavor. Society, science, ecology and commerce are converging at the intersection of danger and opportunity. A complexity and unpredictability that is beyond our past experience characterize the challenges at hand. If humanity’s preferred future is to be realized, new tools for strategic planning and problem solving must be invented and combined. We must think differently.
We have made it our mission to help facilitate this transition, and to connect and associate with like-minded people so that we may together embrace the opportunities of this future. In the broadest sense, we help leadership from all sectors chart the most direct course to preferred futures by:
Tracking and evaluating major scientific, technological, social, demographic, and environmental forces that drive change.
Conducting future-focused studies and initiatives.
Exploring how trends might crosscut in significant ways.
Cataloging potential ‘wildcards’ – low probability high impact events.
Helping leadership translate information – from data to scenarios – into mental maps by which to guide decision making and build sophisticated organizational visions.
A TIME OF IMMENSE OPPORTUNITY:
We are attempting to produce a historic breakthrough in the ability to anticipate and understand the future by building a world-class combination of extraordinary analytical technology, a core group of very creative analysts, and an internationally distributed network of thinkers and resource people. This is a radical new model for a “think tank” that focuses upon the fact that TAI as an information/idea enterprise that exists in an era of unprecedented advances in information technology. This revolution is eliminating the historic constraints of geography and location and makes it possible, for the first time in history, perhaps, to predict the social behavior of large groups of people to certain types of events.
WILD CARDS AND TRENDS:
The unprecedented change that we are seeing in almost every area of reality presents the significant likelihood that, in the coming few years, the world will experience one or more low probability, very high impact events – Wild Cards – of a scope and magnitude for which we have neither the experience nor the tools to respond effectively. TAI tracks the early indicators that might lead us to anticipate the arrival of selected Wild Cards. We are also developing computer-based tools that would provide new insights into the behavior of these events.
The global have/have-not situation
Wars over drinking water
Rapid climate change
Fundamental computer-influenced changes happening to major human institutions.
Rapid disintegration or positive change in Africa’s future
Genetic modification and biotechnology
Augmented intelligence – where humans were merging with computers and computers were taking on the capabilities of humans.
Discovery of extraterrestrial life
These issues, which included both trends and wild cards became the core subjects that the organization continues to focus upon today. TAI began to monitor these subjects and enlisted input from an international network of friends who regularly submitted harbinger articles and stories from a wide variety of publications and sources.
These pieces were edited by Petersen and published fortnightly in the free email-based newsletter, FUTUREdition, which has grown to a readership of many thousands of individuals. TAI regularly receives comments from readers who consider it one of the most informative publications in existence for staying abreast of early indicators and weak signals of potential global change. When the dot-com bubble burst, the scenario project ended. The loss of funding necessitated that TAI cut back its staff and activities to a minimum and begin a process of redirection.
Tools for anticipating change Global change will only come with shifts in human values and attendant consciousness and in the development of new tools that will allow us to operate on this planet in fundamentally different ways. TAI has developed a number of potential projects for encouraging new ideas that will lead to rapid social evolution. One two-year project, the Arlington Forum, is designed to develop a strategy for the future of humanity – looking out twenty years for a new framework for human behavior that deals systemically with some of the largest problems that our species faces.
Global change will require breakthroughs in the tools available to humanity for providing the basic needs that advanced and developing societies need, like energy, education, drinking water, food, health care, et al. In 2001, John L. Petersen conceived of what has become the Technology Horizon Foundation, a partnership with two venture capital executives to raise significant amounts of philanthropic funding ($30 – 100 million) for seed capital investments in fledgling companies that have a product idea that could “fundamentally change the world”. THF is presently reviewing the business plans for companies in the healthcare, waste conversion, education, and energy areas, among others. Financial projections suggest that over a decade as much as a billion dollars could be made available for funding breakthrough technologies through this vehicle.
In the early part of this decade, influenced by technologies TAI had become exposed to in the Y2K era, John L. Petersen came to believe that humanity was on the verge of being able to develop, for the first time in history, tools that could begin to relate current events to specific alternative futures, thereby providing early warning of major, disruptive events. Individual applications were being developed that could perform extraordinary single functions (like searching for information from multiple sources, monitoring specific sources twenty-four hours a day, translating between and among languages, performing a variety of processes based upon natural language processing, visualization of complex information in increasingly powerful ways, and recognizing patterns over time and allowing systems to learn) which, if integrated together into a seamless tool suite could open a new era in “sense-making.”
TAI began what turned into an eighteen month process of evaluating alternative technologies that might be included in such a tool suite. Its efforts came to the attention of the government of Singapore in 2001 which ultimately joined TAI in a two-year partnership to develop the capability that is now called DIANE (DIgital ANalysis Environment). DIANE represents the beginning of a revolution in what TAI calls “anticipatory analysis” – the process of analysis with the goal of anticipating the emergence of specific futures. Many government agencies and other organizations are seriously considering adopting the DIANE tool suite into their analytical processes as it represents a capability that is otherwise unequalled.
Over the next two years TAI is building upon the capabilities and success of DIANE to make it the core engine in a national surprise anticipation center. This will necessarily include some very innovative thinking and the development of a methodology of identifying and storing a large number of scenarios in a database and being able to easily and quickly relate them to all that is known that is happening in specific areas of interest. When the concept has been proven at the national level, our plans are to scale it up to a global surprise anticipation center which will be located in Arlington, Virginia.
Facilitating a global transition:
TAI has continued to work to learn more about the major forces that are driving global change. A particular area of interest for many years has been energy. In 2003, TAI completed a project for the Office of the Secretary of Defense to develop an energy strategy for the country that accelerates the movement away from a dependency on oil for transportation. A Strategy: Moving America Away From Oil has been embraced by the United Nations Foundation as the best strategy that they have found to move the U.S. toward renewable biofuels and is cooperating with TAI to develop a transition plan for the country.
Recently TAI has taken the lead with Dr. Don Beck of Spiral Dynamics Integral in developing the concept for a Center for Human Emergence. CHE is designed to become the major international organization functioning to encourage rapid, massive social change to a new way of living which effectively deals with the present situation at a new systemic and structural level.
TAI’s newest initiative is the development of a major web portal called the “World’s Biggest Problems,” which will be a single source of descriptions, scenarios, resources, news, and unsolicited advice on dealing with those problematic trends that will inevitably force major global change. Subjects that will be addressed will include increasing shortages of drinking water, the fragility of the global financial system, the end of oil as an economical source of fuel, rapid climate change, et.al.
TAI works with big ideas that can make a big difference. We are sincerely interested in helping humanity prepare for and transition to the new era that is clearly on our horizon.
Knows how to think about the future. We know where to look and how to array information so that current trends inform our clients about future operating contexts. We use very sophisticated processes and information technology to scan the horizon for possible big surprise events and early indicators of change which could rapidly shift the familiar fundamentals upon which an enterprise is based. We use systems thinking to look at the driving forces and wild cards so we can understand the complex interdependencies that are the fabric of any future. We can help you think out-of-the-box – and see relationships and possibilities that otherwise you would have missed.
Is expert in identifying possible futures that would fundamentally effect our clients. We lead groups in developing scenarios, or images, of how their marketplace – or any other environment or relationship — might evolve. We help them identify normative scenarios, or desired futures, that can form the core of a concrete organizational vision. We can help an organization look internally and extract its unique business idea from all that it does and then relate those core ideas and competencies to the spectrum of plausible futures that it will confront. For some of our clients, we look for convergent areas of great opportunity. For others, we look for hazards.
Looks for early indicators of large-scale change that would impact those for whom we work. Our technology will allow us to identify potentially significant information emerging from almost any place on the planet which can then be used to find meaning in subtle events that point toward the possibility of much larger change. Our clients have early warnings of change that are not available elsewhere.
Has a unique understanding of the future which comes from viewing the emerging environment from a high, integrated vantage that is informed by a sensitivity to potential unusual events. We have worked for many types of organizations and have seen the future through their eyes. These varied perspectives, coupled with those from our stable of creative and curious analysts, provide us with a singular viewpoint that tends to be richer and wider than those of most observers.
John L. Petersen is considered by many to be one of the most informed futurists in the world. He is best-known for writing and thinking about high impact surprises (wild cards) and the process of surprise anticipation. His current professional involvements include the development of sophisticated tools for anticipatory analysis and surprise anticipation, long-range strategic planning and helping leadership design new approaches for dealing with the future.
He has led national non-profit organizations, worked in sales, manufacturing, real estate development, and marketing and advertising, mostly for companies he founded. A graduate electrical engineer, he has also promoted rock concerts; produced conventions; and worked as a disc jockey, among other things.
Mr. Petersens government and political experience include stints at the National War College, the Institute for National Security Studies, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the National Security Council staff at the White House. He was a naval flight officer in the U.S. Navy and Navy Reserve and is a decorated veteran of both the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars. He has served in senior positions for a number of presidential political campaigns and was an elected delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1984. He was twice the runner-up to be Secretary of the Navy.
In 1989, Petersen founded The Arlington Institute (TAI), a non-profit, future-oriented research institute. TAI operates on the premise that effective thinking about the future is impossible without casting a very wide net. The “think tank” serves as a global agent for change by developing new concepts, processes and tools for anticipating the future and translating that knowledge into better present-day decisions. Using advanced information technology, a core group of bright thinkers and an international network of exceptionally curious people along with simulations, modeling, scenario building, polling and analysis, Arlington helps equip leaders and organizations from many disciplines with tools and actionable perspectives for dealing with uncertain times.
An award-winning writer, Petersens first book, The Road to 2015: Profiles of the Future was awarded Outstanding Academic Book of 1995 by CHOICE Academic Review, and remained on The World Future Societys best-seller list for more than a year. His Out of the Blue: How to Anticipate Wild Cards and Big Future Surprises book was also a WFS best-seller. His latest book is a Vision of 2012: Planning for Extraordinary Change. His coauthored article, (The Year 2000: Social Chaos or Social Transformation?) was one of the most highly acclaimed writings on Y2K. His 1988 book-length report (The Diffusion of Power: An Era of Realignment) was used at the highest levels of American government as a basis for strategic planning. He has also written papers on the future of national security and the military, the future of energy and the future of the media.
Petersen is a past board member of the World Future Society, writes on the future of aviation for Professional Pilot magazine and is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Charles A. and Anne Morrow Lindbergh Foundation. He is a former network member of the Global Business Network and a fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science. A provocative public speaker, he addresses a wide array of audiences around the world on a variety of future subjects. When he is not writing or speaking, Petersen invests in and develops resources for large, international projects and advanced technology start-up companies. He lives in the Washington, D.C. area in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia.
Speaking Inquiries: Email [email protected]
Scenario Development, Business Idea Identification, and Strategy Design for enterprises or groups of enterprises.
Normative Scenario Development for individuals, organizations, sectors, and humanity.
Customized Brainstorming and Tutorial Workshops to catalyze ongoing projects and teach new thinking skills.
Sophisticated Group Facilitation to achieve specific objectives from groups of all sizes.
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