September 26, 2021

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Life After COVID-19: Get Ready for our Post-Pandemic Future from the Institute for the Future: Q&A with Jane McGonigal

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Jane McGonigal, Ph.D., instructs Life After COVID-19: Get Ready for our Post-Pandemic Future, which stacks into the Futures Thinking Specialization from the Institute for the Future. The new course examines how futures thinking can help address societal issues exacerbated by COVID-19 to create a better post-pandemic world. In addition to her role as a research director at the Institute for the Future, Jane is a game designer, author, and speaker.

Can you share a little bit about your background? How did you become interested in futures thinking, and what led you to want to teach on the topic?

I started training at the Institute for the Future fifteen years ago, and I’ve been a research director there for more than a decade. 

Before I started my futures thinking training, I was actively working as a game developer. This isn’t a common career path—game designer to professional futurist—but I wanted to create change in the game industry. My goal was to help video games become a more positive force for good in society and bring resilience-building games to education, healthcare, work, and global development. 

At the Institute for the Future, I discovered that one of the most powerful ways to create change is to research what the world could be like ten years in the future. When you give people a vivid alternative to immerse themselves in, it can inspire them to try new things. It’s often said that the best way to predict the future is to invent it. I believe the best reason to become a futures thinker is that you want to create lasting positive change—in your life, at your company, in your industry, or in your community.

What was the motivation for creating this course and why is it so relevant to this moment in time, when we’re continuing to wrestle with a global pandemic? 

Over the past year, so many of us have felt locked up in one way or another. We’ve been living smaller lives. We’ve stayed inside. We’ve stayed apart. We’ve had to protect ourselves, literally and metaphorically.

Hopefully, things are beginning to change. COVID-19 vaccines are becoming more available. Numbers are going down in many places around the world. It’s not over, but many are starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel. There’s a desire to open the door to our post-pandemic lives and find out what’s on the other side. 

This is where futures thinking can play an important role. Because it’s not just about finding out what’s waiting for us out there in our new post-COVID lives. We can help make that new world. This moment of transition, from pandemic life to post-pandemic life, can be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change our lives and society for the better. It’s also the best chance we have to get ahead of future risks. We’ve seen what happens when society ignores a global risk and fails to prepare or act quickly enough. No one wants to be blindsided again — whether it’s by another pandemic, the climate crisis, or some other “unthinkable” event.

This is an opportunity to prepare our minds for life after COVID-19 and start planning for the next three-to-five years. Events are only “unthinkable” when we don’t think about them ahead of time. That’s why the Institute for the Future created this new course. 

Is the course designed for a particular audience? And, what should learners know prior to enrolling?  

This course is for everyone! I invite you to enroll, especially, if you want to:

  • Increase your personal resilience and plan for your future.
  • Prepare to lead your company or organization through post-pandemic recovery and re-invention.
  • Serve a larger community or social mission, so you can make life after COVID-19 a future that’s better for all. 
  • Turn your own COVID-19 experiences and challenges into something positive.

There’s no previous experience or training required to enroll. Just bring an open mind and a willingness to stretch your imagination!

The new course addresses some of the “underlying diseases” exposed by the pandemic. What are those underlying issues and why is the post-pandemic recovery period a suitable time to discuss them? 

This course is designed to help learners better understand the shock we’ve all just lived through. At the Institute for the Future, we say that you have to look back to look forward. So we’ll begin by looking back at seven pre-existing conditions of society we’ve identified that made the pandemic more severe and harder to recover from, including economic inequality, broken health systems, the climate crisis, political division, brittle supply chains, racial injustice, and fragile public trust. 

Then, we’ll look forward to some of the most innovative and exciting solutions that are being proposed to help our organizations and communities heal and move forward from these pre-existing conditions. In the next three-to-five, we believe there will be more opportunity for transformative change and global collaboration than perhaps at any other moment in human history. 

This is a chance to do something big, to use this moment of unprecedented disruption to rethink and reinvent our lives and our society for the better. That’s why the final project for this course invites learners to identify small actions they can take right now to contribute to post-pandemic recovery and help shape our future.

What advice would you give a learner trying to prepare themselves, their community, or their organization for the first few years after the pandemic? 

I would advise learners to try and adopt a mindset of urgent optimism. It’s the biggest benefit I think futures thinking training has to offer. Urgent optimism is a balanced feeling. It’s recognizing that yes, there are great challenges and risks ahead, while also staying realistically hopeful that you personally have something to contribute to how we solve those challenges and face those risks. Urgent optimism means you’re not just staying awake all night worrying about what might happen. You’re leaping out of bed in the morning ready to do something about it. Urgent optimism is knowing that you have agency and ability. You can use your unique talents and skills and life experiences to help create the world you want to live in. 

As we begin the journey from our current pandemic reality to our new post-pandemic lives, we all need as much urgent optimism as we can get!

Get started by enrolling in the Life After COVID-19: Get Ready for our Post-Pandemic Future course today.

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