The Futures Wheel, conceived and designed by Future Studies pioneer Jerome Glenn in 1972, is a method of mapping the direct and indirect consequences of decisions or events. The Futures Wheel is a mental exercise that can help you visualize the effects of your choices over time.
From Glenn, Jerome C., "Futurizing Teaching vs Futures Course," Social Science Record, Syracuse University, Volume IX, No. 3 Spring 1972. Reproduced with permission from Jerome Glenn.
The Futures Wheel is a way to visually organize the concepts generated from brainstorming; it allows you to literally see the possible effects — positive, negative, or neutral — of your decisions. Actually seeing all of the possibilities may help you avoid fixating on just one result and failing to anticipate the second and third order consequences of your choice. The process of brainstorming and mapping to create your own Futures Wheel can also prevent the shortsightedness that sometimes plagues our decision making.
You can begin making your own Futures Wheel by writing down and circling the initial choice you are considering in the center of a piece of paper. From there, you can draw spokes to the primary effects of the decision, bearing in mind that these may not all happen and/or may not all be of equal likelihood.
Each of these effects will be encircled so that you can next draw spokes from these primary effects to their respective secondary consequences. If it’s helpful, you can continue by considering tertiary consequences, and more.
Here's an example dealing with the potential consequences of a budget cut:
Reproduced with permission from MindTools.com © Mind Tools Ltd, 1996-2015.
The Futures Wheel is a representation of your decision as it might play out over time, in all its potential complexity. Use it any time you need a simple and mind-expanding method to help you really think through a choice!
The Futures Wheel is one of 39 Chapters in Futures Research Methodology 3.0 available in the Global Futures Intelligence System.
Jerome C. Glenn is the co-founder (1996) and director of The Millennium Project (on global futures research) and co-author with Ted Gordon of the annual State of the Future of the Millennium Project for the past twelve years. He was the Washington, DC representative for the United Nations University as executive director of the American Council for the UNU 1988-2007.