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Mikko Dufva: In times of change, it is important to imagine our desired future outcomes together

Out of curiosity, a future's researcher also stops to investigate things that might seem insignificant at first. Their job is to challenge both their own and others’ thought patterns, and to inspire us all to imagine together.
Kuva: Mikko Dufva (kuvaaja Miikka Pirinen)
Mikko Dufva (photo: Miikka PIrinen)

1. What do you do and why?

My goal is to make it easy to understand, interpret and imagine different future scenarios . I work with trends and megatrends, weak signals, visions, utopias and the popularisation of future thinking. This is important in our current, surprise-filled times of change; it helps us to work together to imagine and fulfil desired future outcomes.

2. How did you become a leading specialist at Sitra?

After my graduation as a Master of Science in Technology, I worked at the Finnish Environment Institute in the field of multi-criteria decision analysis and interactive water restoration. In practice, my work involved interpreting the models for the water sector stakeholders. I was seeking new challenges and noticed that the VTT foresight team was looking for a doctoral researcher. I then worked at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland in several foresight projects, while at the same time, completing a PhD on producing information about the future. I have worked with themes and sectors such as the forestry industry, the mining industry, regional innovation capacity, synthetic biology and the future of work. At the same time, I have been able to understand what is happening in practical foresight projects from the systems perspective. After completing my PhD in technology, I continued to work for some time at VTT before moving on to work for Sitra as a leading specialist in foresight.

3. What have been the highlights of your career?

The latest highlight was the publication of the Megatrends 2020 report in January, which I work on all of last year. The emphasis of the report was on clear wording and easy-to-use content and the popularity of the report exceeded all expectations. It’s wonderful to follow how this megatrend information is being utilised in so many different ways and different places. When I see my work being used in such versatile ways, I feel I have really done something important.

My doctoral defence was also a highlight, as it was the culmination of many years of work. I was surprised to hear for the first time that someone had actually read my doctoral dissertation. As you go deeper into any particular subject, it is easy to become blind to the fact that thoughts and reflections that have become quite normal to you may be helpful to others as well.

4. What are the most important qualities for a future's researcher?

Curiosity, a multidisciplinary perspective, and critical thinking. You must be able to take a broad perspective on things and understand both the overall picture and the change taking place over time. Systems thinking lays a good foundation for the work, and curiosity helps one to stop and consider things that may seem insignificant at first. Critical thinking is particularly important nowadays as well as transformation, especially in identifying and challenging assumptions about the future. Because we often think too narrowly about the future, it is essential to test both our own mindsets and those of others.

5. How did studying at Aalto prepare you for working life?

The most important lessons have been certain ways of thinking and models of thinking, although I have also had to challenge and change them along the way. In the early stages of my career, I thought in a rather straightforward, engineer-like way that there were problems and then there were solutions to them. In working life, I got closer to the mess of real life and the reality of how many different ways the problem could be defined and how there could be several approaches to solving it. Fortunately, I had also picked up during my studies tools for identifying and changing my own models of thinking.

6. What advice would you give yourself if you were studying now?

I would encourage myself to get to know different people and different subjects. Multifaceted understanding of different things and different people is increasingly important these days, as is the ability to listen to others and engage in constructive discussion. I would seek a balance of analytical and artistic courses, as the artistic ones are important for opening up new ways of thinking and knowing. I would still favour my choice of learning about systems thinking, which has proven to be a pivotal choice which has brought good results. Generally speaking, I would encourage myself to enjoy my study time and prepare myself to continue learning throughout my life.

7. What are your expectations for the future?

We live in an interesting time. I expect that ecological reconstruction will start rapidly and that our society’s structures of energy production, food production, consumption, work and care services will change significantly over the next ten years. At the same time, our culture will change – our values and our goals will shift and instead of seeking continuous growth, we will aim for balance, renewal and repair. Instead of valuing material things, we will increasingly value time and being together. As a researcher of the future, I also expect the unexpected - I hope the future will be surprisingly surprising.

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