Communicating foresight using mixed metaphors

My last post here on the APF blog was difficult to write and involved a lot of soul searching. So this month I decided to do something more fun. Initially this post was going to be about communicating foresight. But then I thought; why write about how to communicate foresight when I can try to communicate foresight instead? Why not do it with an example? So here we go.

Most futurists like to use models and frameworks to help people make sense of the world. Here follows two metaphors that I use sometimes when I try to communicate foresight.

The Hero’s Journey

Fig 1. The Hero’s Journey (Wikimedia Commons)

You’ve probably seen Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey from his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. This so-called monomyth is an archetypal narrative, which is similar in many myths from all over the planet through human history. A cyclical narrative which returns in films, games, books and real life. Frodo and his gang fighting orcs in “Lord of the Rings”, Harry Potter’s magic tricks and many personal and organisational narratives follow this metaphor.

The Future as a Landscape

Fig 2. The Strategic Landscape (Tibbs 1999)

In Hardin Tibbs’ image Star, Mountain, Chessboard, Self the future is imagined as a landscape. According to Tibbs:

“Seeing the future as a psychological landscape clarifies the elements of strategy, provides insights into key areas of strategic thinking, and helps develop the strategic conviction essential for visionary leadership.”

Mixing these two metaphors

In today’s world the metaphor of the lone hero or small team climbing a mountain could be updated. The large, complex challenges we face rather seem to require global networked solutions with large, diverse and multidisciplinary teams. Community building is now a key task for our hero – not only in social media and on the Internet, but also in politics, entrepreneurship and art.

Combining the two images might help us illustrate this.

Fig 3. Mixing Metaphors: The hero’s journey towards the mountain across the chessboard guided by the star. (Image by author and Tibbs – based on Tibbs,1999)

In this journey towards the mountain, guided by the star, our hero wanders across the chessboard as in Tibbs’ metaphor. But this time he’s not alone. He starts out o­n his own and builds a community along the way.

In this image, the star is our “enduring and guiding social role”, the reason for our being. The mountain is our challenging objective, which might be to collaborate over disciplines and paradigms to create a preferred, participatory future. The chessboard would be the strategic environment where co-creation of this future takes place with the available structures, systems, processes, tools and techniques, but also challenges and pitfalls ahead of us. The “self” is in our image, the collective self, with our diverse skills, knowledge, values, experience, strengths and weaknesses.

The adventure is both a strategic game of chess and a cyclical, spiraling heroic journey, which attracts more fellow travellers. In strategic challenges and serendipitous encounters, our hero meets helpers, enemies, wise men and women. All these contribute to strengthening the character and move our hero closer towards the mountain.

The journey is not linear. It is highly complex and impossible to predict or plan. Some things are good to know:

* Know thyself and your star

Before our hero sets out it is good to reflect on strengths, weaknesses, needs and the purpose of the journey. The star must be clear and visible. Often none of this is clear, but reflection might make it clearer. After a reflective period it is good to start – even if the mountain is not visible. Start in a direction and trust that the mountain will appear. Some heroes want to see the mountain they will climb when setting out – others prefer to trust emergence and start to wander aimlessly. Both strategies are good. The star will guide them.


* Listen to your call to adventure

Many heroes’ journeys never start since our hero doesn’t listen to their call to adventure. The mountain might seem so far away, the chessboard too confusing, or the star vague. So our hero ignores the call and stays at home. This is however often more painful than the challenges on the hero’s journey in the long run.


* Swap treasures with other wanderers

I visited the alternative business school Knowmads in Amsterdam a couple of weeks ago. Here, the curriculum emphasizes personal development as much as entrepreneurial action. Kim, one of the students I bumped into, encouraged me to exchange treasures that we had found on our respective life journeys so far. To a “knowmad”, life is a journey where you pick up treasures, and when you meet new people on your journey it is good to swap tools, magic tricks and other treasures. Kim and I swapped theories, books, stories and dreams. 

Here it’s also good to remember what Joseph Campbell said;

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”


Metaphors are excellent for communicating foresight. An increasingly complex world requires new images and metaphors. Images ­can hold complexity without being too confusing. In futures, we can therefore experiment by combining, ‘hacking’ and mashing up different metaphors, futures tools and frameworks.



Campbell, J 1968, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton University Press, Princeton

Tibbs, H 1999, ‘Making the future visible: psychology, scenarios, and strategy’, paper presented to the Australian Public Service Futures Group, Canberra, 14 September 1999,

With thanks to Hardin Tibbs who helped me with the update of the image in Fig 3.