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The Polak Game, or: Where do you stand?


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This article describes the origins and uses of a classroom and workshop activity called "The Polak Game" or "Where do you Stand?". Over a dozen years of use to date, the game has provided a user-friendly structure for facilitating quite far-reaching conversation among foresight students and clients. Duration is flexible, but typically runs 30-60 minutes. It represents an effective and accessible approach to introducing "images of the future" as a basic property of both cultures and individuals, and so to pave the way for more advanced tools and frameworks. The article is in two parts, covering the experiences of the two authors. First appearing in the Journal of Futures Studies, it was republished in the Knowledge Base of Futures Studies 2020: <>.
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Journal of Futures Studies, December 2017, 22(2): 5–14
The Polak Game, Or: Where Do You Stand?
Peter Hayward
Swinburne University of Technology
Stuart Candy
Carnegie Mellon University
This article describes the origins and uses of a classroom and workshop activity called “The Polak Game” or
“Where do you Stand?”. Over a dozen years of use to date, the game has provided a user-friendly structure for facil-
itating quite far-reaching conversation among foresight students and clients. Duration is flexible, but typically runs
30-60 minutes. It represents an effective and accessible approach to introducing “images of the future” as a basic
property of both cultures and individuals, and so to pave the way for more advanced tools and frameworks. The arti-
cle is in two parts, covering the experiences of the two authors.
Keywords: Facilitation, Foresight Pedagogy, Futures Literacy, Game Design, Group Activities, Images of the Future,
PART I: Origin and Orientation (Peter Hayward)
The Polak Game was a magical development arising from a surprising source.
The Image of the Future is a famous text in the history of futures studies, written by the Dutch sociologist
Frederik Lodewijk Polak (1961). The author, who was Jewish, survived the Holocaust hiding out in German-
occupied Netherlands, and went on to write this magnum opus about how various human cultures have shaped
their own destinies through their collective images of the future (van der Helm, 2005).¹
It is a book of its time in which Polak takes a swing at some big post-WW2 themes, including Christianity,
Marxism, Utopia, and Culture, to name a few. It’s a ripping read.
In such a far-reaching work––over 800 pages in the original two volumes, though less than half that in the
abridged edition²––I became fascinated by a particular passage explaining the role played by Optimism and
Pessimism in the power of the image of the future. I have reread this single paragraph many times.
It will be helpful to make distinctions between optimism and pessimism along the lines of the con-
cepts of Seinmüssen, “what must be,” and Seinsollen “what ought to be.” It would then be possible
Journal of Futures Studies
to speak of Seinoptimismus or Seinpessimismus, which we will refer as essence-optimism
or essence-pessimism, and Willensoptimismus or Willenspessismus, which we shall re-
fer to as inuence-optimism or inuence-pessimism. The essence categories refer to an
unchangeable course of events; the inuence categories refer to the supposed or rejected
possibility of human intervention. The rst point of view sees history as a book that has
already been written; the second sees history as a process than man can or cannot ma-
nipulate (Polak, 1973, p. 17).
I found that this explanation led me to imagine a 2x2 matrix, with the vertical axis describing
essence-optimism and -pessimism, and influence-optimism and -pessimism plotted on the
horizontal. And so in my mind’s eye, I saw it as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Imagined Polak Orientations
These factors, Polak seemed to claim, gave every image of the future its underlying logic,
moral basis, and power to attract people and create culture. My understanding may be wrong, but
nevertheless that was the basic grasp of the theory that gave the game its start.
It seems fitting that the first time I really began to use Polak’s idea was in response to someone
else who I thought was missing the point. Dennis Morgan published an article on The Image of the
Future, finding that it lacked for him the essential notion of human progress (Morgan, 2002). My
rejoinder to Dennis was that the notion of progress was wholly dependent on where you stood in
relation to these dimensions of essence and influence (Hayward, 2003). On reflection, it was this
simple metaphor –– “it all depends on where you are standing” –– that became the enduring motif
of the game itself.
The first time I ran the Polak Game was in the classroom with Joseph Voros at Swinburne
University around 2004. We were teaching the concept of “the image of the future” and invoking
Jim Dator’s statement of its importance to the futures field.
Futures studies does not––or should not––pretend to predict “the future.” It studies ideas
about the future––what I usually call “images of the future”––which each individual (and
group) has (often holding several conicting images at one time) (Dator, 1995).
It was of course Polak who had introduced the concept of “images of the future” referred to in
Dator’s remark. At that moment, however, instead of trying to explain Polak, I said “let’s do Polak”.
I asked everyone to stand up and gather in the middle of the classroom. I then stood at one
end of the room, and Joe stood at the other. I explained that the two of us marked the extreme
perspectives as to whether change in the world was working its way towards optimistic futures (my
“north”) or pessimistic futures (Joe’s “south”). People were asked to arrange themselves somewhere
on that spectrum to express their expectations for the future relative to the endpoints. The first
question from the class was “What context do I use?” and I think I responded, “How you experience
the world, so you set the context.” This may not have been great direction, but it did illustrate a
key point in using the game: the context of participants is crucial, and you need to establish its
importance early on.
The Polak Game, Or: Where Do You Stand?
The whole class was now distributed along a north-south (or upper-lower) line, the expectation
axis (the vertical in Figure 1). Joe and I moved to the sides of the room, and I instructed everyone
else not to move. Now the two of us were marking out the ends of the influence axis (horizontal
in figure 1). Again we explained the perspectives corresponding to the two ends: that people have
influence (right), or that people don’t (left). The participants were told to retain their present upper-
lower positioning and to move sideways to indicate their own degree of optimism or pessimism on
the influence axis, and then stop.
Having moved the second time, everyone was now standing in one of the four quadrants I had
visualised. We went on to explore the nature, logic, moral basis, culture etc of each quadrant. Each
had its own distinct ontological and ethical foundations.
As the game developed after that, I would either show this basic set of perspectives in a
powerpoint slide, or draw out the relevant characteristics through discussion during the game.
Figure 2 shows an attempt to capture a sense of the quadrants, employing what I would describe as
a naïve framing.
Upper Left: Things are good and
getting better;
We can't do anything about it,
but why worry? Things are OK!
Lower Left: Things are getting worse;
the world is going to hell;
There is nothing we can do about it!
Upper Right: Things are good
and getting better;
AND we can act to make things
even better.
Lower Right: Things are getting
the world is going to hell;
BUT we can act to change things
for the better, and avert disaster.
Figure 2. Generic Responses within the Quadrants
The framing shown in Figure 2 will get participants to stand somewhere and have interesting
conversation, but I came to feel that it was also a bit limiting, as people tended to congregate on the
influence-optimism (right) side only.
I soon began to modify how I would ask people to orientate themselves. The vertical axis was
still essence-optimism and -pessimism, but I would explain it this way:
I will ask you to orientate yourself according to how you experience the world; how you
understand the way that it has been and is. At one end of the room [the upper half], our
sense from experience in the world is this: while things go wrong from time to time, the
overall trend is that things are getting better. At the other end [the lower half], while
things go okay from time to time, the overall trend is that it’s more of a struggle, and
things are not getting better.
I made this textual change because I did not find a binary utopia/dystopia framing that helpful.
A more realistic and complex spectrum seemed more useful for participants than a simple good-
world/bad-world dichotomy.
The influence variable was tricky as people would commonly see the optimistic right half of the
matrix as “strong”, and the pessimistic left side as weak or passive. Again, I did not consider such
simple dichotomies very useful for groups to play with, so here is how I ended up explaining that
Journal of Futures Studies
Now we are orientating ourselves according to what caused our experience and sense of
the world. On the inuence-optimism [right] side, the driving cause was the actions of
people. While there are big processes and forces that have shaped the world, by far the
biggest cause is people. On the inuence-pessimism [left] side, while people are inuen-
tial, it is the larger forces –– physical, political, cultural, and spiritual, to mention a few ––
that have caused the world to be the way you have experienced it.
Using a script along these lines, we would see a more even spread of people around the matrix,
and the slightly different sense of the four quadrants could be described as in Figure 3.
Upper Left: Things are good and getting
We have to work with the larger forces
and play our part.
Lower Left: Things are getting worse;
There is nothing I can do about it. I
cannot make things worse so I am free
of the responsibility of trying to do
Upper Right: Things are good and getting
AND we can act to make things
even better.
Lower Right: Things are getting worse
But I can act to make a difference here
and now, in this place. It may not change
the futures but it is still worthwhile.
Figure 3. Modified Responses within the Quadrants
With participants distributed more evenly around the matrix, the facilitator can draw out a richer
discussion both of where people are, and of what they see or feel when thinking about those in the
other quadrants. The attributions and conversations across quadrants are probably among the most
useful aspects of the game.
When you ask players to describe what energises their own image of the future, you tend to get
the following self-descriptions within quadrants:
Upper Right (UR) – Powerful, or Agentic
Upper Left (UL) – Service-oriented
Lower Right (LR) – Realistic, or Stoic
Lower Left (LL) – Free, or Que Sera Sera
When asking players how they would describe the other quadrants, you get something like this:
Table 1. How the Other Quadrants are Viewed from Each Quadrant
In-quadrant view View from UR View from UL View from LR View from LL
UR - Powerful X Deluded Unrealistic Oppressors
UL – Service-oriented Passive X Idealists Lucky
LR – Stoic Battlers Martyrs X Lost Cause
LL – Free Losers Victims Lazy X
The Polak Game, Or: Where Do You Stand?
The UR may, for instance, think of themselves as powerful change agents, but then hear from
others (moving clockwise) that the LR regard them as being unrealistic or just privileged; the LL
describe them as deluded or hubristic, and the UL see them as the ones who create the world that the
LL live in. You can then move people into different quadrants to “see how things look from where
others stand”.
When deployed in an organisation the dynamics of the game can get very interesting. Once I
worked with an executive group who all huddled in the UR, almost competing to be furthest into
that optimistic-optimistic quadrant. As if channelling the UL’s critique, I asked: “How do you know
you are not deluded?” When a group of decision-makers cluster in the UR, you can ask, “Where are
your staff standing?” “Where are your customers?” The realisation may start to dawn that others
are not necessarily energised by the same image of the future.
On another occasion, I ran the game with an executive group where, again, most were in the
UR. Later on, however, while developing their strategic plan, I heard them listing all the things that
they “could not do” until someone else acted first. I asked, “So why were you standing in the UR
earlier?” The group quickly dropped the “We need others to act first” comment and got on with
planning the actions they could take.
It is when I have used it with groups trying to create a vision of a shared future that I think the
power of the Polak Game has become most apparent. Humans construct narratives from their own
experience and sense of the world. You could say that we stand on our individual ontology. What
the game can reveal to players is that we each need to meet others where they are, and listen to their
ontologies, before we have any chance of creating a shared one. During the game, it often becomes
obvious who in a group feels that they have power and opportunity, and who does not; who has been
treated fairly in the past, and who has not. By bringing these hidden dimensions to light, those with
power may feel humbled by their privilege, and those with disadvantage can feel acknowledged and
heard. And from there, an enduring sense of what “our” future could be starts to emerge.
PART II: Exploration and Evolution (Stuart Candy)
Peter and I met for the first time at the World Future Society Conference in Chicago in 2005.
Early the next year he managed to visit the “Manoa School” for a few short days, where Jake
Dunagan and I were graduate students at the time; a group of us spent a highly memorable afternoon
which Peter facilitated and which we hosted at the Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies. As
I have consistently found to be the case with Peter, even this all-too-brief interaction left a lasting
Somehow it did not register with me at the time that this activity he had introduced to us as the
Polak Game was such a recent invention; it already had the hallmarks of a classic, tried-and-tested
pedagogy. It had a robust rationale, and an intriguing backstory in Polak’s own life experience, and
it offered a striking way to call participants’ assumptions forth to be examined by themselves and
others. This key aspect of futures work is not always simple to pull off. Yet this game was easy to
play, and endlessly generative.
In our very first conversation in Chicago I recall Peter describing his notion that a thorough
understanding of a subject, coupled with a willingness to experiment, could yield an endless stream
of innovations in pedagogy and practice –– an “infinite toolkit”.
Sometimes, in the course of experimentation, you hit on a key pattern that crystallises into a tool
worth keeping, revisiting, and iterating. Such was the case with his invention of the Polak Game.
Flashing forward to a 2016 retreat held in Silicon Valley to explore futures and imagination,
Institute for the Future’s Jane McGonigal (herself a renowned game designer) led our assembled
group through an activity called “the Future Orientation Game”. Although neither Polak nor
Hayward were mentioned at first, the family resemblance was unmistakable. The game had made its
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way to IFTF via Dunagan, who had worked there for many years after leaving Hawaii. I was glad
to be able to add something about its origins and underlying thinking (McGonigal & Frauenfelder,
2016, pp. 13ff).
Now, any useful and thought-provoking futures activity deserves to spread, and this second- or
third-generation descendant reminds us of an important fact about how futures practice and tools
are actually disseminated––evolving from hand to hand, like any folk knowledge or craft. We might
recognise that the evolution of our tools and tricks of the trade; these foresight craft genealogies,
often escape not only documentation, but even our explicit notice. In this context then I want to
share a few lessons I’ve gleaned as an avid facilitator of the Polak Game during its first ten years, as
a resource for those who may wish to build on it during the next phase.
Further to the point above: until we wrote this article together, I was not aware of changes to the
game that Peter had made later, so the game I’ve developed over the years, both in its intellectual
framing and in its more theatrical aspects, is probably more a cousin of the original than a clone.
A few months after his visit in 2006 I contacted Peter to ask permission to use the game with
a group from the East-West Center’s Asia-Pacific Leadership Program, in a session that I would
be running at the end of the year in Sapa, Vietnam. In that event, out of 30 or 40 participants
from perhaps two dozen countries across Asia and the Pacific, all but one stood on the influence-
optimism side of the matrix. Unusually diverse in terms of disciplinary and cultural background, an
invisible dimension of the cohort was suddenly apparent; one on which they turned out not to vary
so much. These aspiring leaders had a distinct, robust sense of personal influence.
This first deployment highlighted one of the key learning opportunities that the game presents:
a playful but meaningful way to talk about “who is in the room” and who is not. Leaders (and
as a design professor, I would add designers) of various kinds are often well-represented in the
UR quadrant (essence-optimism and influence-optimism). Rarely would a group of players be
statistically representative of attitudes to the future found in a random sample outside, there being
a level of privilege built into educational and organisational contexts, which we can recognise and
use to underline the critical value of considering other perspectives. Indeed, depending on group
size, one or other of the influence-pessimism quadrants sometimes stays empty. (I don’t recall ever
seeing more than one empty quadrant.)
In the end, whatever their configuration, people are challenged and encouraged to explore and
empathise with each other’s views, and especially with marginal or absent perspectives on possible
futures: how do, and how should, each of us relate to our peers or constituents who happen not to
have the same attitudes to change and agency?
These moves exercise the perspective-taking muscles that foresight practice asks us to
develop. The lesson that contrasting ways of thinking about futures may be present in a society or
organisation, but that these are not necessarily all represented at the top table where the loudest
voices are heard and the biggest decisions taken, is important for those with positional authority to
The Asia-Pacific group in Vietnam was the first of dozens of deployments I have facilitated in a
range of contexts; futures students from Singapore to Mexico (often with Dunagan as co-instructor);
leaders of the United Nations Development Programme in New York, and the International
Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Geneva; mental health experts at Yale
University, and the Board of Directors of the Sydney Opera House; designers in the Netherlands,
Russia, and Brazil; high school kids in North Carolina, biomedical engineers in Toronto, and
members of the South Sudanese community in Melbourne.
Generally, as in the first run of the game in Hawaii, I ask players to start by standing in a line,
all in a single row, facing me. (The line they are forming will soon become the horizontal dividing
the upper and lower halves of the matrix.) I open with something like this:
The Polak Game, Or: Where Do You Stand?
I have a question for you, and I will ask you to answer by moving. The question is about
your expectations for the future. When you cast your imagination one generation for-
ward, say 25 years from today, do you expect the world to be better than the one we live
in–– better as dened by you –– or do you imagine it as being worse? If you feel optimis-
tic in your expectations for how the world will look in 2042 [as of 2017], then when I say
“go”, you should step forward, and the stronger that feeling is, the further forward you
should step. If on the other hand, you feel pessimistic or doubtful in your expectations
about the state of the world in 2042, then when I say “go”, step backward, and again, the
more strongly you feel that way, the further you should move. There is a subjective judg-
ment at play here, which is ne––that’s what we want. Go! Move as far forward or as far
back as you like.³
Having stepped forward or back from the starting line, however clustered or spread out they
are, I double check that folks are comfortable that where they stand reflects their answer. This is
of course a far cry from the kind of tidy, replicable responses prized by many social scientists, and
there is a significant element of tacit social positioning and interpersonal negotiation at play in any
given Polak Game. Some individuals for example take it upon themselves to push to the edges of
their group, while others may hold back. However, this is all grist to the mill, because the process
itself is in large part about the complex interplay between individual and emergent group/cultural
Next, having them take care not to move forward or back, but to step sideways and, still facing
forward, gather along the imaginary vertical/upper-lower axis through the centre of the space, I
might say the following:
Now I have another question for you, and it is about your agency; your personal ca-
pacity to inuence change at the global level over the next 25 years, in directions you
personally consider to be positive. If you feel that you do have agency and can shape the
world, when I say “go” please step to the right, and the more strongly you feel that way,
the further you are invited to move. If on the other hand, you have your doubts, if you are
sceptical or pessimistic about your capacity to shape things on that scale, over that time
period, then when I say “go” move to the left, commensurate with your level of doubt.
These specific parameters –– the whole world, one generation from now, your own personal
capacity to affect global level change –– represent shared reference points, variables we hold in
place so that the conversation can then push off and pivot around these in considering the multiple
other issues in play. In this approach, as Peter noted, we are aiming to avoid a simplistic good
world/bad world dichotomy, using instead a more dimensional better/worse (than today) spectrum
and associated confidence levels to surface a range of responses. More open-ended language in the
prompt is certainly possible (e.g. leaving out a time horizon, or leaving out a scope of influence), but
the ensuing conversation could take a lot of time unearthing predictable differences of interpretation
of a vaguer prompt (“oh, I was thinking about a decade from now, whereas she was thinking more
like a century”). Being specific helps factor certain differences out, and focus instead on some of
the many other issues at play behind people’s responses, such as the different kinds of evidence that
players attend to, or ignore, when explaining their expectations.
The personalities, experiences and imaginations of those assembled are the always interesting
and potentially revealing raw materials of the Polak Game. It presents a wealth of opportunities to
surface and sift countless factors that might lie beneath people’s varying responses on the day and in
that moment; cultural, disciplinary, developmental, dispositional, contextual, and so on. I may invite
players to move in case they find their view has changed: they rarely take you up on it, but the fact
Journal of Futures Studies
that people’s current positions are fluid, and partly arbitrary, is good to acknowledge.
I’ve run the game indoors and outdoors, in gardens and courtyards, hotels, classrooms,
boardrooms and hallways. If lacking access to a suitable space for bodily staging the conversation
(which usually lasts around 45 minutes), on a few occasions we have resorted to people writing their
names on index cards, and moving those around on a tabletop. This can work well too.
While not, strictly speaking, a game of experiential futures (“the design of situations and
stuff from the future to catalyse insight and change”; Candy & Dunagan, 2017), it is certainly an
experiential game about futures. What is remarkably effective about the game is that, not unlike
The Sarkar Game (Inayatullah, 2013), it beds down a new vocabulary, or dimension of awareness,
through embodiment. It makes immediate and memorable some useful abstract and analytical
categories that can be referenced and built upon in later futures work, both inwardly (as in our
invitation to players to keep paying attention to these factors) and outwardly (as in Peter’s example
of the buck-passing execs from the Upper-Right quadrant).
The game works well with classes or professional groups brand new to foresight. As a way
to structure introductory conversation it can be highly effective: you can incorporate learning
people’s names, departments and the like just as readily into the game as any stand-alone icebreaker
or introductory circle, and it often goes a lot deeper than those. At the end of a futures course or
program, days, months or even years later, people regularly remark on how this first conversation
stayed with them.
Sometimes, quite moving personal stories arise in answer to the simple question posed of people
in each quadrant, “Why do you stand where you are?” I always thank participants for generously
sharing of themselves in this way. I also like to encourage direct dialogue between players. (“Peter,
what do you think you’re seeing that Stuart might be missing? Tell him.”) In a successful game,
the facilitator finds ways to move out of the conversational spotlight as the group gathers its own
momentum, and members assume more responsibility for negotiating understandings across
multiple dimensions of difference.
On the whole, I don’t see major differences between workplace and educational deployments.
Whatever the occasion convening a group, discussion usually gravitates to the themes that matter
most to them. Where a shared mission unifies participants, as in a recent session at Red Cross / Red
Crescent headquarters, they may join the dots spontaneously between insights from the game and
their organisational functions. If they don’t, you can invite them to.
One practical difference between contexts may show up in the takeaways that bear emphasis
as the game concludes (although these distinctions are not hard and fast). For groups from a
single organisation, considerations of inclusivity and personal responsibility may have a sharper
operational upshot; for example, “How can you bring in, honour and learn from the perspectives of
those not in the room?” For disparate participants in the classroom, the closing moments may turn
to broader philosophical questions: “What images of the future do you personally carry? Where do
they come from? How do they fit, or not, into wider cultural patterns?” You might add: “Whose
interests do they appear to advance, and whose do they marginalise? What might these themes, and
the variety of such images, or lack thereof, portend for the culture?”
In early 2017, as part of a forthcoming documentary about and with the South Sudanese
community in Australia, I ran the game twice, back-to-back (Owen, in production). The first time,
my questions used the standard parameters concerning participants’ expectations and influence
around global-scale change over the next generation. The second time, however, we focused in
on their expectations and influence with respect to the futures of the young nation of South Sudan
(independent from Sudan since 2011). Several participants stood in completely different places from
one round to the next, and both similarities and contrasts between iterations were instructive: having
heard about and seen each other’s dispositions at the world level gave people a deeper context for
their own and others’ views – optimistic, pessimistic, or mixed – at the scale of their country of
birth, which has since 2013 been in a state of civil war.
The Polak Game, Or: Where Do You Stand?
I have found that the parameters of the game may be adjusted for valuable conversation in all
sorts of settings.
At its heart, however, the Polak Game introduces the central concept of images of the future
and invites players to put up antennae; to pay closer attention to the ideas and sentiments circulating
in their personal, organisational, and cultural imaginaries. Everyone tends to have a view on these
questions even if they may not have thought much about them before.
In theoretical terms, of course, tuning in to these often unsuspected but ever-present interior
(individual and collective) dimensions of futures discourse is among the prescriptions of integral
futures (e.g. Slaughter, 2008).
However, the reasons to do so are equally practical, and in playing the Polak Game, those new
to the field quickly grasp why this is a literacy with extensive ethical and practical implications.
Cultivating awareness of the landscape of images of the future goes directly to the cultural, political
and interpersonal challenges of implementing change in multiple settings. In this sense, the game
can be a very effective gateway to more technical tools and frameworks. (Incidentally, it also
provides a foundational or baseline conversation to refer back to, as people reflect on their own
learning and shifts of perspective while developing futures literacy.) For practitioners, it is not a
replacement for but a handy prelude and companion to more focused, pragmatic tasks.
Although for many in the world, foresight is currently a luxury, normatively we could consider it
a right (Candy, 2016). I believe, with Robert Jungk––another important figure in European futures,
a contemporary of Polak, and like him, a Jewish Holocaust survivor–– that “The future belongs
to everybody” (Jungk and Müllert, 1987, p.9). For those who share an impulse to democratise
foresight, wherever they may be operating, having ways for “everybody” to contribute matters.
The fundamental question, “where do you stand?” in relation to futures, as inspired by Fred
Polak and crystallised by Peter Hayward, is one we should all consider. To approach it playfully,
with good humour, curiosity, and compassion, is a great way to start.
Stuart Candy (Corresponding author)
Associate Professor, School of Design
Carnegie Mellon University
5000 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA 15213
Peter Hayward
Swinburne University
Glenferrie, Victoria, Australia 3124
The book’s lineage is even more interesting when you discover that it was translated from the
Dutch by Elise Boulding, another giant of the futures field (and peace studies too). There exist
perhaps apocryphal stories of the Polaks living “at the bottom of the Bouldings’ garden”, while
Elise learned enough Dutch to translate a very dense text.
An electronic download of the abridged single-volume version is presently housed on the La
Prospective website:
In my approach the vertical axis is described in terms of expectation (rather than essence)
optimism and pessimism; a semantic shift which might help players acknowledge their particular
Journal of Futures Studies
perspectives as being just that (as opposed to coming from some future “essence” entirely outside
themselves). Other game variations are certainly available and worth investigating. For example,
a generation before Polak identified the dimensions of “essence” and “influence”, physicist J.D.
Bernal observed, “There are two futures, the future of desire and the future of fate, and man’s
reason has never learnt to separate them.” (1929, p.7) Bernal’s framing suggests an alternative
“Where do you stand?” matrix, exploring participants’ attitudes to a certain scenario for instance.
(For more on “fate” and “desire” as perhaps primary dimensions in futures studies –– reframing
and simplifying the set of categories that usually begins with possible, probable, and preferable ––
see Candy, 2010, p.35.) At any rate we are not overly concerned about “getting Polak right” in the
Polak Game; even its core activity, discussing people’s personal views of futures, is a departure
from the focus of his work. “We do not discuss private images of the future [in The Image of the
Future], but only shared public ones… because we are primarily concerned with the larger social
and cultural processes.” (Polak, 1973, p.14) Instead, we play in the spirit of standing on Polak’s
shoulders, even at the hazard of occasionally treading on his toes.
Bernal, J. D. (1929). The world, the flesh and the devil: An enquiry into the future of the three ene-
mies of the rational soul. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co / New York: E. P. Dut-
ton & Co.
Candy, S. (2010). The futures of everyday life: Politics and the design of experiential scenarios.
PhD dissertation, University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Candy, S. (2016, April 30). Foresight is a right. The Sceptical Futuryst. Retrieved from https://
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... Many successful examples of this pairing probe it such as Face the Future (IFTF n.d.), The Polak Game (Candy 2017), The Sarkar Game (Hayward, Voros, and Inayatullah 2017) and The Thing from the Future (Candy 2018). Tenkuä acknowledges the lessons learned from some of these games and picks up some of their principles although it explores its pathway putting its emphasis on two fundamental aspects. ...
... Hi ha nombrosos casos d'èxit d'aquest emparellament: Face the Future (IFTF s.d.), The Polak Game (Candy 2017), The Sarkar Game (Hayward, Voros i Inayatullah 2017) i The Thing from the Future (Candy 2018). Tenkuä admet haver après lliçons d'algun d'aquests jocs i aprofita alguns dels seus principis, tot i que obre el seu propi camí incidint en dos aspectes fonamentals. ...
... Existen numerosos casos de éxito de este emparejamiento: Face the Future (IFTF s.f.), The Polak Game (Candy 2017), The Sarkar Game (Hayward, Voros e Inayatullah 2017) y The Thing from the Future (Candy 2018). Tenkuä admite haber aprendido lecciones de algunos de estos juegos y aprovecha algunos de sus principios, aunque abre su propio camino poniendo el acento en dos aspectos fundamentales. ...
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This work presents the initial results from two years of Tenkuä, a participatory futures workshop created by CENTRO, a higher education institution in Mexico City specialised in creativity. This experience aims to help participants to have a better understanding of the contexts and environments where they live and to design strategies that can contribute to improving community life. The methodology of the workshop combines a foresight framework with the Right to the City approach. The preliminary results refer to the learning experience as a product of design itself and how, during the process of participatory futures, the relationship between the institution and its neighbours was transformed into an experience of participatory presents.
... This activity helps organisations consider the different viewpoints that each individual has about the future. It also opens up a rich discussion in which the participants share the nature of their answers, their moral basis, and culture (Hayward and Candy, 2017). ...
... The game's object has initially been to use a set of cards, divided into four groups, to generate new artefacts or "things" from the future. The four sets of cards are: a) arc, which outlines the type of future world that the "thing" comes from and how far away it is from today; b) terrain, which is the thematic location where the object is to be found in the future; c) object, a specific cultural element that reveals something about how the state of the future is different from the present; and d) mood, which express how it might feel to experience this object from the future (Hayward and Candy, 2017). The way the players create the artefacts from the future is by producing their brief description and sketch or collaging images of the object they have developed by combining the cards. ...
Conference Paper
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The Circular Economy (CE) is conceived by many as paramount to decouple economic growth from environmental impacts and resource depletion. Implementing this economic paradigm in the private sector is challenging, as it requires substantial changes at the strategic level. However, while SMEs represent 99% of all businesses and 67% of employment in Europe, the available support for a CE transition has been mainly focused on large corporations. Therefore, the backbone of the European economy might be left out by the CE if tailored solutions are not implemented for SMEs. Furthermore, most strategic decision-making activities lack Futures Literacy (FL): the capability to understand the role that the future plays in influencing the present and the skills to generate the imaginary futures to catalyse change today. Through a literature review, complemented by a snowballing technique, we reviewed the available CE and FL approaches and analysed further the most prominent of these frameworks. As the available frameworks lack guidance for their implementation, we developed an integrated and systematic process to make it more practical and applicable, especially for those SMEs to which the FL concepts are novel. The combination of Futures Studies (FS) methods and a Futures mindset could contribute to a successful transition towards sustainable futures by (i) understanding the different concept and meanings of the term future(s); (ii) exploring possible future pathways for better decision-making in the present, and (iii) building resilience for unexpected events to survive and stay future-relevant in uncertain times. The developed process provides a customisable approach to SMEs, contributing to both disciplines’ literature. This paper attempts to discuss the relation between FS, CE and how SMEs can thrive with the support and input of both disciplines. We expect this research will influence the interface between top-down policy-making and bottom-up business decision-making as a valuable hands-on guideline. By that, the approach could enhance the policy developments that focus on supporting the vast number of existing and future SMEs in Europe and around the globe.
... Sweeney (2017) reports on a foresight gaming system initially developed for the United Nations Development Programme, with the aim of serving as a tool for dialogue and exchange. The so called Polak Game (Hayward and Candy 2017) is another example of games being used in the context of foresight. However, BW in the context of firms focuses on the competitive dimension (Schwarz et al. 2018) and is in respect to its duration longer, as for instance compared with Polak Game which might only run up to thirty to sixty minutes (Hayward and Candy 2017). ...
... The so called Polak Game (Hayward and Candy 2017) is another example of games being used in the context of foresight. However, BW in the context of firms focuses on the competitive dimension (Schwarz et al. 2018) and is in respect to its duration longer, as for instance compared with Polak Game which might only run up to thirty to sixty minutes (Hayward and Candy 2017). ...
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The key aim of Open Strategy is to open up the process of strategy development to larger groups within and even outside an organization. Furthermore, Open Strategy aims to include broad groups of stakeholders in the various steps of the strategy process. The question at hand is how can Open Strategy be achieved? What approaches can be used? Scenario planning and business wargaming are approaches perceived as relevant tools in the field of strategy and strategic foresight and in the context of Open Strategy because of their participative nature. The aim of this article is to assess to what degree scenario planning and business wargaming can be used in the context of Open Strategy. While these approaches are suitable, their current application limits the number of potential participants. Further research and experimentation in practice with larger groups and/or online approaches, or a combination of both, are needed to explore the potential of scenario planning and business wargaming as tools for Open Strategy.
... Dator, 2009;Fergnani & Song, 2020) and futures games (e.g. Bontoux, Bengtsson, Rosa, & Sweeney, 2016;Hayward & Candy, 2017). Additionally, it is further corroborated by the active use of images of the futures in represented, simulated, or artifact-based form, front and center, in futures and foresight activities as explained by the above literature. ...
Wenzel’s response to Fergnani (2022) is a laudable effort to advance the study of corporate foresight practices and processes, an important yet underinvestigated area of research in management and strategy scholarship. Wenzel’s arguments encourage us to reflect not only on the arguments made by Fergnani (2022) but also on the core tenets of the futures studies and foresight literature1—tenets that could be misapprehended. Such reflection opens opportunities to clarify the construct of corporate foresight and further integrate it with existing management and strategy scholarship, which can encourage conceptual and empirical research in this domain. This rejoinder elaborates on these points in more detail as follows.
... Examples of these hybrid practices were central to our large-scale Plutopia events that were held in collaboration with SXSW from 2005 to 2013, followed by STEAM 3 in 2014 and 2015 and the design jams at the Extrapolation Factory or Situation Lab (Candy and Kornet 2019 Frederick Polak's game "The Image of the Future" has had a major influence on gaming futures (Polak and Boulding 1973), as well as The Polak Game (Hayward and Candy 2017). According to Dator (2017) games are the best way to "preexperiencing alternative futures so as to have a wider understanding of what might be viable preferred futures." ...
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Throughout 2018/2019, The Futures Lab, Inc. (TFL) was commissioned to undertake a comprehensive foresight study on the potential futures for universities in Norway. For the most part, the project followed the full, TFL comprehensive six-stage foresight process and a number of customized approaches that leveraged the specificities of the Norwegian Education System. The foresight project covered two future time horizons, namely 2025 to 2030 and 2031 to 2040. Rather than focus here on the Future of the University project itself, this paper considers five experimental foresight methods that produced an extra edge to the creative inputs to this project and delivered some unexpected and critical insights that became decisive platforms and framing cues for the ultimate seven futures scenarios that were delivered, and for which strategies and action plans were created. The term experimental foresight is interpreted as freeform thinking, testing the boundaries, incorporating unorthodox, disparate approaches, tools, artifacts and environment, and real-time improvization, it is about testing new techniques and repurposing and updating older ones. Experimental foresight is closely allied with and some would claim often indistinguishable from experiential futures, which has become prominent within foresight. We distinguish the two insomuch that experiential refers to the way the foresight is conducted, whereas experimental is what is conducted. The paper describes the five experimental foresight methods and techniques based upon theory, practice and proprietary development processes, reflecting various approaches to creative thinking. The paper outlines the design and architecture of each method as well as how it was applied to the Future of the University project, the outcomes, values and benefits. Where appropriate examples of the outcomes have been used to explain or underpin the purpose and benefits of the method under discussion. The methods selected are always harmonized with the more linear, mathematical and modeling applied in the practice of foresight.
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Najistaknutiji aspekt razvoja sadašnje generacije skriven je u percepciji slike globalne budućnosti. Brojne sociološke studije bavile su se analizama predviđanja pozitivnih i negativnih scenarija budućnosti s različitih aspekata (filozofija, teologija, psihologija, povijest i antropologija), no jako je malo istraživanja koja su se odnosila na dublje analize „pogleda u budućnost“ iz perspektive pedagogije, didaktike i metodologije. Usprkos brojnim razlikama u stajalištima, mnogi su se autori u opisivanju teorija društvene dinamike prilikom predviđanja različitih budućih scenarija suprotstavljali teoriji kontinuiranog evolucijskog napretka uz pomoć genetike, biokemije, a u novije vrijeme sve više i umjetne inteligencije. S obzirom da u većini studija koje se bave istraživanjima odgoja i obrazovanja nailazimo na već dobro poznate istraživačke tehnike, ovaj rad ima za cilj predstaviti upravo suprotno: prikazati i sistematizirati dosadašnje spoznaje o relativno novoj istraživačkoj metodi praktičarima i znanstvenicima te pokazati različite mogućnosti njene primjene u kontekstu odgoja i obrazovanja, a posebno u pedagogiji i didaktici. Navedena metoda ulazi u domenu futuroloških istraživačkih metoda i svakako je jedna od onih koja zaslužuje ravnopravan tretman u odnosu na druge istraživačke metode. Metoda je nadahnuta osnovnim idejama za koje se zalagao sociolog Fred Polak koja je po njemu i dobila ime pa ju nazivamo Polakovom igrom (engl. Polak game) ili metodom „Gdje stojiš“ (engl. Where Do You Stand?). Peter Hayward je sa svojim suradnicima prvi kreirao proces koji je olakšao postupak provođenja ove metode koja se provodi u stvarnom vremenu, a od sudionika se traži da se pozicioniraju na jednom od četiri kvadranta. Kvadranti su raspoređeni prema zamišljenoj matrici 2x2 koja predstavlja četiri dimenzije: esencijalni pesimizam, esencijalni optimizam, optimizam mogućnosti utjecaja i pesimizam mogućnosti utjecaja. Uz pomoć voditelja (moderatora) od sudionika se očekuje da iskoriste fizički prostor u kojemu se nalaze kako bi preispitali pretpostavke o budućnosti na jednostavan, moćan i generativan način te demonstrirali svoje razumijevanje budućnosti u smislu očekivanja pozitivnog odnosno negativnog ishoda, s jedne strane, i njihovog osjećaja osobnog utjecaja na postizanje željenih promjena, s druge strane. Današnje je vrijeme doba denaturacije, a upravo planski i ciljano planiranje pozitivno usmjerene budućnosti može biti panaceja za većinu današnjih izazova s kojima se susrećemo i za većinu onih s kojima ćemo se tek susretati. U tome nam od iznimne pomoći može biti Polakova igra kao jedna od novijih mogućnosti u istraživanjima tema iz pedagogije, didaktike te odgoja i obrazovanja.
Our tiny provocation is that the word “sustainability” is not sustainable. Just using it is sabotaging our efforts to build a better future for the planet. Despite decades of global sustainability discourse, the world is still going to hell. What's gone wrong? Our paper is about willful ignorance and complicity at a global scale; the benefits of small talk; and a better, more effective word than sustainability.
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The great existential challenges facing the human species can be traced, in part, to the fact that we have underdeveloped discursive practices for thinking possible worlds ‘out loud’, performatively and materially, in the register of experience. That needs to change. In this dissertation, a methodology for ‘experiential scenarios’, covering a range of interventions and media from immersive performance to stand-alone ‘artifacts from the future’, is offered as a partial corrective. The beginnings of aesthetic, political and ethical frameworks for ‘experiential futures’ are proposed, drawing on alternative futures methodology, the emerging anti- mediumist practice of ‘experience design’, and the theoretical perspective of a Rancièrian ‘politics of aesthetics’. The relationships between these three domains -- futures, design, and politics -- are explored to show how and why they are coming together, and what each has to offer the others. The upshot is that our apparent binary choice between unthinkable dystopia and unimaginable utopia is a false dilemma, because in fact, we can and should imagine ‘possibility space’ hyperdimensionally, and seek to flesh out worlds hitherto supposed unimaginable or unthinkable on a daily basis. Developed from early deployments across a range of settings in everyday life, from urban guerrilla-style activism to corporate consulting, experiential scenarios do not offer definitive answers as to how the future will look, or even how it should look, but they can contribute to a mental ecology within which these questions may be posed and discussed more effectively than ever before.
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This article introduces the 'Sarkar Game', presents case studies, and offers insights from participants in role-playing the four types of power (worker, warrior, intellectual and capitalist). The Sarkar Game is used to help individuals and organisations better understand macrohistory and the structured shape of the future(s) as well as to audit the leadership style of their own organisations or institutions.
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In an attempt to create a futures philosophy, this paper analyzes and critiques Fredrich Polak’s Image of the future, a philosophy of history that contends that the image of the future of a society or culture defines a particular era and is the key to understanding of the rise and fall of civilizations. Polak’s view is compared with J.B. Bury’s ideas expressed in The idea of progress. The paper also illustrates how Max Weber’s The protestant ethic and the Spirit of capitalism contributes to an understanding of the progressive image of the future which, along with utopian images of the future, composes the dialectic of futures images. It shows how progressive and utopian images of the future have been expressed in dialectical world history and how they are still relevant today to serve as an insight for prognosis. Finally, it examines and answers Polak’s charge that existentialism is the cause for the destruction of the modern image of the future.
Integral futures (IF) has developed over several years to a point where it has emerged as a productive way of understanding futures studies (FS) itself and re-evaluating its role in the wider world. It is not merely a new ‘take’ on FS but has brought the field to a new stage of development with many practical consequences. For example, consulting, research, publishing, the design and implementation of training programs can now draw on a broader and deeper set of intellectual, practical and methodological resources than ever before. Similarly, with its new clarity regarding the individual and collective interior domains, IF profoundly affects the way people operate and changes the way in which the advanced skills and capabilities involved in strategic and social foresight are developed and used. Some of the reasons for these developments are explored here in a review of specific effects as shown by a sample of futures methods. The paper concludes with some brief suggestions about broader implications for the field as a whole.
Among the founders of the futures studies field, the Dutch sociologist Fred Polak is one of the least known. Although he is still mentioned by several renowned futurists, very little has been written about the evolution of Polak's ideas and as far as we have been able to trace back, no retrospective work has been published. Today, Polak is mostly known for his opus magnum ‘The Image of the Future’, an impressive cultural-historic study of the relation between images of the future and the dynamics of culture. He was an original thinker, but his work was remarkably uneven: his encyclopaedic and erudite style has led to both very deep and very shallow analyses. Especially his earlier contributions in the 1950s and 1960s still prove a very valuable resource, although many of his ideas should be handled with care. However, his later works in the 1970s are out of tune with the rise of a more critical approach to the study of the future. This contribution fills in the need for a retrospective view. It describes the evolution of Fred Polak through several evolutionary steps from a normative sociology to a science of the future. With the aim to offer a reliable overview, we use a descriptive-analytical approach. In later work, this should be succeeded by a more synthetic approach in order to evaluate and assess the value of his thoughts.
The world, the flesh and the devil: An enquiry into the future of the three enemies of the rational soul
  • J D Bernal
Bernal, J. D. (1929). The world, the flesh and the devil: An enquiry into the future of the three enemies of the rational soul. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co / New York: E. P. Dutton & Co.