What Does the Future Hold?

At the recent CAE Celebration, Marsha Rhea led us in a futurist thinking exercise, which seemed apropos as this is the 50th anniversary of the CAE.  (Find out what she thinks will happen…)

After flying through some pretty densely packed slides, she divided us into groups that were to look ahead to 2020 (10 years), 2040 (30 years) and 2060 (50 years).  Apparently, looking 30 years ahead is pretty wild stuff for professional futurists – they usually stay more in the 3-10 year range – and 50 years is considered downright crazy.  But we forged ahead anyway.

I happened to find myself at a “2040” table with people who were all quite a bit older than I was (most started in association management sometime in the 1970s).  New CAE and (NACHRI colleague) Sue Dull observed astutely that people were having a hard time not just projecting what’s happening now (virtual meetings, blurring of work and life, telework) out into the future.

I didn’t say much (shocking, I know) because the rest of the group couldn’t seem to wrap their minds around things like:

What will all this mean for associations?

To quote Sue again (she’s really smart!):  humans will have to come up with new ways of affiliating.

By 2040, the Millennials will be in their 40s/50s and will be running our organizations.  Assuming GenX iconoclasts don’t kill them first.  And Millennials are big on respect for authority, institutions, and hierarchy, which could mean a real renaissance for associations.  There will also be a pressing need for humans to collectively organize ourselves to address the above problems.  And – at least so far – government officials have shown themselves distinctly disinclined to address anything that might hurt their chances of winning the next election.  We will need someone to lead us, and nonprofit organizations could fill that leadership vacuum.  Assuming we survive the larger global forces at work.