Foresight Professional – A Starter Definition
Pioneering futurist Joe Coates (1929-2014), offered us a simple definition: a foresight professional is anyone who takes money for looking to and analyzing the future, for a client. Some of us may do mostly pro bono work, but as in professional sports, once we get even a small income, and serve a particular client, we belong in a different category. A future-thinker without a paying client is an amateur, a lover of the field, but not yet a professional. An incoming foresight professional looking to get paid at least occasionally for their work should thus seek answers to questions like the following:
- What are your financial needs for a foresight career?
- Who are the right clients for your talents and career goals?
- What kinds of foresight work do your clients expect? What do they need?
- How will you know your work is effective? How will you prove your value to your clients?
- Who are your colleagues, and how can they support your work?
For some clients, the foresight professional may be expected to be an independent, extroverted generalist, continually expanding the client’s horizons, and consistently delivering new learning. For others, the foresight professional may be expected to be a team player, a specialist, or an employee happy to work alone on a particular foresight method, competency, or product. We will discuss a variety of choices and types of foresight professional in Chapter 5, Career Options.
The Renaissance scholar and poet Petrarch (1304-1374) proposed that we must first master the past by understanding it, if we wish to improve upon it. This seems wise advice. Petrarch was an early founder of humanism, and coined the term “Dark Ages” when Europe was barely out of them in 1330. He may have been among the first to articulate that in order to build foresight in a strategic environment, a professional first needs good hindsight (knowledge of relevant history) and insight (knowledge of causal factors and data for the current situation).
Some foresight practitioners find that first explaining the value of hindsight and insight to their clients is the shortest path to helping them understand the value of foresight, our third great class of mental work. But having foresight alone doesn’t ensure that we will be adaptive. Adaptability requires good strategy, planning and execution ability and agility. That’s why we need strategic foresight, foresight that actually changes and improves our strategy, plans, and actions.
Peter Bishop, the recently retired Associate Professor of the U. Houston MS Foresight program and a leading light to many in our field is fond of saying, “change is hard, but stagnation is fatal”. To survive, often the only way forward is to manage strategic change. Using your foresight skills to bring success to your clients and yourself is thus a challenging, humbling, yet exciting and potentially rewarding journey. Peter’s Teach the Future initiative is a noble effort to bring foresight curricula and foresight values to academic institutions at every level. It is a great example of the steps we must take together to build a global foresight culture in coming years, and we urge you to give him your support.