Estimated reading time 3 min

The first five minutes of the future

Imagine something really unexpected happens. What do you do in the first five minutes? This exercise brings surprises to the level of daily life and offers the opportunity to practice imagining the future.


This exercise developed by the game designer and researcher Jane McGonigal gives the participants a brief description of an unexpected event, for example:

You read the news and find out about a massive online data leak that includes all of private messages sent during the past five years as text messages and on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Teams and many other platforms. The leaked database has a search tool and it is being copied and downloaded too quickly for anyone to prevent its spread.

The participants then have five minutes to write down what they would do in the five minutes immediately after hearing about the news. The aim is to be as detailed as possible, as that develops the imagination. The participants then share their responses and discuss them to form a broader view of different reactions and interpretations.

This exercise is based on studies on the benefits of detailed recollection and imagining. Describing the future in as much detail as possible helps create more believable scenarios and plans. It also increases hope and the perception of one’s agency. Because the future often feels very vague, it is increasingly important to describe different scenarios in detail.


Prepare a short description of an unexpected event. You can use one of the pre-written stories or write your own. Your own story can be based, for example, on weak signals you have identified. The main thing is that the story must depict a sudden event so that the participants can imagine the exact situation when they hear about it.

Ask the participants to prepare to write for five minutes non-stop. Encourage them to write down their thoughts and explain that you will also provide some questions to assist them during the five-minutes.

Read the description of the unexpected event and ask the participants to write answers to the following:

  • How do you feel when you hear about the event?
    What do you do in the first five minutes after hearing about it?

Start the timer. During the five minutes, you can ask support questions, such as:

  • What explanations can you think of for why the event has happened?
  • Who or what might be behind the event and why?
  • What do you think other people will do when they hear the news?

In the final minute, ask the participants to add more detail to their answers. Who are they with when they hear the news? Where are they? What feelings do they have in the first five minutes?

When the time is up, ask the participants to think of one thing they can do today to be better prepared for the future scenario described.

Ask the participants to share their answers in the chat or post them on the wall. You can then discuss the answers briefly in the group.

If the story is based on weak signals you have identified, share them at the end.

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