Chapter 12. Peer Advice – Building a Successful Foresight Practice

Group 3. Creatives Advice

The creative (creator-producer) seems to be the most common social conception of the foresight professional: someone individually driven to find, curate, imagine, describe, create, or produce “new things that could be.” Leaders who get most of their income from public speaking, writing creatively about the future, curating ideas, or designing new things are typically members of this group.

 

Felix Bopp, Chairman at Club of Amsterdam

Felix Bopp1. History and Current Career Path: Originally I started in foresight providing trend research to ICT and multimedia companies. My main motivation starting the Club of Amsterdam, our foresight community, in 2000 was to create projects with a positive mid- to long-term impact by combining industry, science, learning, and bridging between trades – taking a holistic approach. At first, many clients didn’t understand us. Foresight often was mentioned in context of astrology (!) which was not exactly helpful. In my impression, the general perception of the value of creating preferred futures has changed. Both the wide use of global connectivity and an increasing understanding of the complexity of the world have helped people see our value.

The Club of Amsterdam focus is on preferred futures. Shaping the future is one of our main motivations. Currently the Club is changing – we now more virtual, as in The Future Now Show. Our events also happen more on an international scale. We recently had visitors in Amsterdam from more than 30 countries – several traveled specifically to attend our series of evening events. This is only possible due to our global network of more than 4,500 members. Some of our clients have been large ICT and media companies, but also private equity firms. My expertise as a conference curator is sometimes also in demand. The Club of Amsterdam also collaborates with many knowledge partners and futurist organizations – amongst them WFS, APF, Millennium Project, the RSA (Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) and several universities.

2. Key Foresight Skills: How do you create preferred futures? First, having your own visions is essential. This means – amongst other things – getting a deeper understanding of our own purpose. We are talking here about individuals, groups, communities, companies, societies, cultures, countries etc. Purpose and vision exists at every level.

Also, future strategies need some intelligence behind them. Good foresight professionals collaborate with people with diverse backgrounds and skills – including strategists, economists, policy advisors, psychologists, philosophers, artists, intelligence services etc on one side and game changers in all professions on the other side. Your most valuable experiences can come from cross-cultural dialogue.

3. Self-Description and Marketing: I like the term ‘futurist’ and also like ‘game changer’. I’m a network person and believe in collective intelligence. This means quality people of all types are essential. Very often solutions are not predictable, but nevertheless surprisingly easy to find. My approach is not linear, but covers many angles and paths. I like the comparison with water – a river searches and usually always finds its own way through ‘challenges’ – changes are natural. I see myself as someone that focuses on long waves – impact will be achieved, but might in the short run not immediately be visible.

4. Nontraditional Foresight and Continuing Education: I scan approximately 100 topics on a regular basis – I consider myself primarily a generalist with ICT and media as my two main specializations. Areas of interest include nanotechnology, media, innovation, architecture, food, anthropology, psychology, brain research, financial systems, collective intelligence etc. To help me with specialty issues, I cultivate relationships with global network of specialists.

5. Parting Advice: Learning is a continuous process – the challenges of coming years won’t get easier to deal with – we need new skills and new education methods. When seeking foresight education, it is advisable to understand the motivation of universities – do their goals match well with your needs? With the needs of this planet? Asking questions is a good start.

 

Anne Boysen, Consultant, Foresight Professional, and Founder at After the Millennials

Anne Boysen1. History and Current Career Path: I transferred to futures studies / foresight after first pursuing a different graduate degree. The field seemed intriguing and relevant. Coming from a strictly academic background, foresight seemed to be a more applied field than the other social science disciplines I was familiar with. Over my career I have learned to become more pragmatic and use foresight within jobs, gigs and ventures that go by other titles. I believe this is necessary. You will rarely stumble over a job description that strictly calls for an education in foresight, especially one which also happens to be in your own hometown. It is constantly up to yourself to search out the potential need for your services, then address this need, and explain persuasively how foresight would be useful in each case.

Since foresight is cross-disciplinary, it is applicable to many industries. The discipline’s tendency to attract generalists is also its pitfall. While nurturing an ability to view issues holistically, you run the risk of becoming a jack-of-all-trades with a fairly unrecognizable academic title to boot. Resist that, and build a specialty or two. Foresight is best accompanied with a specific area of expertise where you have, or aspire to obtain, “10,000 hours of practice”.

2. Key Foresight Skills: Key skills a good practitioner needs include divergent & critical thinking skills, the ability to draw insights from large quantities of information, statistical knowledge—especially if domain focus relies on larger datasets, and good communication skills, to have an impact with your clients.

3. Self-Description and Marketing: I hardly ever call myself a “futurist”. I think many people outside our field find the title either silly or presumptuous, and a professional title is not my hill to die for. I think foresight professionals who have established an almost guru-like status can get away with it, but most people should be wary of the negative connotations it often evokes. I find “foresight” to be more ameliorating, but people automatically think of you as a number cruncher, so this is not perfect either. Since I do mostly generational research, I mostly go by “generational insights consultant”. I am sometimes referred to as a ‘generational expert’ or ‘futurist’, but these are not designations I use to describe myself. I usually leave it to others to determine which title they think best matches my qualifications.

I use foresight in my work, but foresight as a search term by itself does not yet generate much interest. The “pain points” that lead clients to me are directly connected to my specific domain knowledge. At least 95% of the traffic I get on my website and most of the business I generate are due to the thought leadership and web presence I have built up over time. It’s precisely when my professional foresight background is not specifically called for that my clients are positively surprised when I go wider and deeper into the mechanics of social change than they expect before they hire me. This could indicate that foresight still has an image problem or that companies searching for foresight don’t realize that this is what they are really searching for. Better PR is strongly needed here.

4. Nontraditional Foresight and Continuing Education: There is lots of nontraditional and underappreciated foresight work. Even what we call foresight, they often call market research, thought leadership, white space research, innovation identification, or some other name. In my specific area it is important to keep an eye on developments within data analysis and applied statistics, as well as innovation and marketing. These areas help me do my research and also promote my practice. Very few of my clients are looking for a futurist per se. But this doesn’t mean that I don’t do foresight work for them.

5. Parting Advice: Foresight will give you a valuable mindset and ability to recognize change dynamics that most people are unaware of. It will also put you in contact with very bright people around the world. It can provide you with useful tools in many industries and is very versatile.

But don’t rely on a foresight education to provide much in terms of ROI unless you can combine it with other qualities, skill sets or exceptional marketing abilities. This is important when it comes to financial planning for your education. With hard work and patience foresight can lead you to respected thought leadership, but it won’t help much if you are looking for a regular and secure job. It really is on the vanguard at present, and the rules are being made up as we go.

 

Marcel Bullinga, Futurist & Trendwatcher at Futurecheck.com / @futurecheck

MARCEL BULLINGA

1. History and Current Career Path: When I started in foresight, 25 years ago, just after the start of the web, there were few other futurists / trendwatchers—if any at all. I wrote a book about democracy and technology which successfully predicted the impact of the Internet. I also successfully predicted the rise of the smartphone 15 years ago. I now see the rise of the robots… Today, there is a dazzling competition, and more to come. Media visibility is key, but difficult to achieve. I joined a circle of trust, a collective of other renowned and experienced trendwatchers. This acts as a benchmark of quality.

2. Key Foresight Skills: Good foresight requires the ability to combine several and contradicting resources to one coherent view of the future. Ability to deal with groups. Ability to deal with resistance to (technology or policy) changes. Ability to use humour (as stress rises, this is increasingly important).

3. Self-Description and Marketing: I use these titles: Futurist & Trendwatcher. Keynote Speaker & Chairman. Online Future Trainer. Online Future Coach. I started an online video course in futuring called Obsolete or Futureproof, hosted on a renowned elearning platform called @studytube. I also started my own coaching practice, for individuals and teams, both online and in my own house. I offer some coaching directly, and some through consultancy agencies such as @AdvantusGlobal. FutureCheck on LinkedIn and Twitter – @futurecheck

4. Nontraditional Foresight and Continuing Education: For continuing education, I am a member of several think tanks: @Trendrede/@Trendgilde (Dutch trendwatchers) @techcastglobal @academiemm @pewresearch @NMCorg. I write books and online trainings as well. I am author of Welcome to the Future Cloud – 2025 in 100 Predictions, 2012.

5. Parting Advice: Prepare for a fierce battle to prove your value. Work on a niche, a specialisation, and work on your presentation skills. Spend less time improving your knowledge than improving your interactivity and communication skills. Find or create a nice network of like minded people. Even then, competition is high and the market is tough. Good luck!

 

Jose Cordeiro, Director, Venezuela Node, The Millennium Project; Founding Faculty, Singularity University, NASA Research Park, California; Founder and President Emeritus, World Future Society, Venezuela Chapter (www.cordeiro.org)

Jose Cordeiro1. History and Current Career Path: I first learned about futures studies when I went to MIT as an undergraduate student. I remember buying the book The Limits to Growth, 1972 by the Club of Rome, and also subscribing to The Futurist magazine by the World Future Society. Jay Forrester was then a professor at MIT and one of the “fathers” of system dynamics that was used in “The Club of Rome” report. Four decades ago, computers were relatively new and their predictive power was started to be used by several professionals, including scientists, engineers and futurists.

Today, computers are ubiquitous and they are used by almost everybody for almost everything, from health to education. Additionally, everything is becoming connected to everything in what is now called the Internet of Things, and this is creating an incredible amount of Big Data that can also be used for predictive work, trend analysis and forecasting.

2. Key Foresight Skills: I consider futures studies as transdisciplinary, multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary. I studied both engineering and economics, and I try to always combine them, and any other relevant disciplines, to the work that I do. Particularly in this rapidly globalizing world, we also need to keep our minds open to other visions and different perspectives. Having an “open mind” is absolutely critical to good futures studies. In fact, I believe that bringing different views and perspectives adds a lot of value to my work. We really need to “think outside the box” to consider the unknown unknowns. If we only study the traditional views, we will miss new and unexpected developments.

3. Self-Description and Marketing: I consider myself an engineer, economist and professional futurist. I have done more traditional work on engineering areas, economic issues and certainly futures studies. I have written a dozen books, filmed several TV programs, published hundreds of articles, and given many international keynote presentations in different languages, mainly in English, Spanish and Portuguese. Based on my work and publications, I am probably the
most widely known futurist in Latin America today.

4. Nontraditional Foresight and Continuing Education: I am also heavily involved with The Millennium Project, The Club of Rome and Singularity University, which are three prominent institutions dealing with education and foresight practice. Specifically for technology forecasting, TechCast is another interesting group. Online publications, like KurzweilAI’s Accelerating Intelligence newsletter are an excellent source of information, complementing more traditional sources like The Futurist magazine.

5. Parting Advice: We are living in truly incredible times. I believe that we will see more changes in the next 20 years than in the previous 2000 years. We are moving so fast that we need to look further into the future. In fact, everybody needs to be a bit of a futurist nowadays.

Technology is democratizing knowledge and destroying geographic and linguistic barriers. Both older and younger generations need to realize that we are truly living in a global world where there are opportunities everywhere, from the Americas to Africa, from Asia to Europe, and soon also beyond our tiny planet Earth in a huge universe. As we move towards a technological singularity and civilization advances farther away from our planetary cradle, we need everybody to incorporate foresight into their thinking.

 

Barry Minkin, Futurist at Minkin Affiliates

Barry Minkin1. History and Current Career Path: Worked for an international consulting company doing scores of foresight related projects.

2. Key Foresight Skills: Trend analysis, strategic planning & market analysis, M&A (mergers & acquisitions), public speaking, writing, economic analysis and societal, government and world affairs.

3. Self-Description and Marketing: Futurist, Global management consultant, professional speaker and author are among the titles I use.

4. Nontraditional Foresight and Continuing Education: World Future Society.

5. Parting Advice: Time and Chance control more than you do. Stay close to the FEB, the forward end of the business.

 

 

 

Ramez Naam, Adjunct Faculty at Singularity University and Author of More Than Human, 2010, The Infinite Resource, 2013 and the science-fiction novels Nexus, Crux, and Apex, 2013-2015.

Ramez Naam1. History and Current Career Path: I’m not a traditional foresight professional. My entry into this field came through a fascination with specific future technologies and trends, starting with human enhancement technology, then extending into energy, climate, and environment. I’ve explored those interests by writing books – first non-fiction and more recently science fiction novels.

Writing books led to speaking, initially for free at conferences that were very future-oriented, and then as part of the faculty at Singularity University, where I lecture on environmental and resource challenges and trends in renewable energy technologies; and most recently as a general keynote speaker on a wide variety of future-oriented topics.

2. Key Foresight Skills: There are two skillsets that are necessary to excel in what I do, and that I think it can be a challenge to find together. These are:

Being Data-driven. You need an evidence- and reality-based, up-to-date, systemic view of the domain you’re talking about. You have to know your topic masterfully. What are the examples? What are the studies that have been done? What are the notable successes or failures? And, if you’re being honest, what are the numbers? What are the trends here, really? Do the anecdotes flesh them out? What are the fundamental constraints on those trends? How far can they go or will they go before they taper or reverse? Whether you’re talking about population or food or mobile devices or video games or education, all of the above holds. And the more you know this for multiple domains, the better. It will inform your view of education if you understand mobile devices and the population dynamics of Africa. Trust me. Basically, you need to be a walking encyclopedia, or at least able to become one.

Storytelling. You also have to be a master storyteller. Whether your medium is text, or speaking, or presentations, you have to deliver a compelling narrative. Narrative especially requires those anecdotes. It requires analogy. It requires a high degree of polish in slides or visuals. It requires stage presence. It requires timing. It benefits from a sense of humor. It requires practice. And when it succeeds, a story is tremendously more effective than any amount of data in persuading.

This means, by the way, that being a storyteller makes you dangerous. It’s a great responsibility. Narrative persuades. A storyteller who’s telling a story that isn’t based on data is doing a great disservice. Then again, the best data in the world, without a compelling narrative, will fall on deaf ears.

3. Self-Description and Marketing: I market myself as a “speaker” or a “futurist”. My work with Singularity University is heavily focused on energy, climate, and innovation. My other work has at times come in from clients who’ve read one of my science fiction novels.

4. Nontraditional Foresight and Continuing Education: As a futurist speaker, often my job is not to work through scenarios for the customer. It’s provoke them with some of the most revelatory things happening in the world today, and how those things fit together into a larger story of the changes happening in world culture, economy, and technology. There is a large fraction of that which applies to almost any audience, most of whom will know very little about what’s happening in, say, artificial intelligence, self-driving cars, 3D printing, the rapid changes happening in energy, and so on.

A second benefit of my work is often to provoke several leaders of a business at the same time, in the same room. As a keynote speaker, I’m often called on to speak to the senior leaders of a company or a division. In provoking them, I stimulate conversation between them, as they’ve all just heard the same content. Those follow-on conversations, whether in a structured format that I facilitate, or in an ad-hoc format, are often as valuable as any content I deliver.

5. Parting Advice: I see relatively few foresight practitioners engaging the world via social media. There’s ample opportunity these days to take broad forecasts, publish them, publicize them, and stimulate conversation about them. That kind of thought leadership enriches the world, often deepens one’s own understanding of the world, and it draws attention to you. I tweet quite a lot, simply out of personal interest on a number of topics. That social media engagement has proven tremendously rewarding to me, both professionally and personally.

 

Gray Scott, Futurist and Techno-Philosopher at GrayScott.com and SeriousWonder.com

Gray Scott1. History and Current Career Path: I attended the World Future Society conference in 2012 and took a foresight and futures writing class. I then started writing for The Futurist magazine, then radio and podcast interviews and then TV appearances. I’m a media futurist. I am creating films, writing, and speaking to the media and public about future concepts.

2. Key Foresight Skills: A broad understanding of psychology and human behavior. For example, I will often read things that are out of my personal comfort zone so that I can find hidden patterns. I love subcultures and eccentric personalities. They are usually the people that embrace experimentation and start huge social trends. Rebels and anarchists create the biggest changes. That could be in tech (Steve Jobs) or social norms (Gloria Steinem). If you understand basic human behavior and you observe these rebels, you can better understand, scan, and forecast technological shifts and trends.

3. Self-Description and Marketing: I call myself a futurist and techno-philosopher. I use new media and old media (news, TV, print) to talk to the public about the future. I use film, art and photography to show new concepts to the public. I write articles for my online magazine, SeriousWonder.com, as well as other print and online magazines. I am also advising on several sci-fi films as well. I use the term futurist because it feels anti-conventionalist. I think the younger generation can relate to that. I like the titles, futurist, futurologist and foresight expert. However, futurist has a lineage and a history that I subscribe to. People like FM-2030 who made the public take notice. He was a true futurist. He took foresight to the streets and into the living rooms of middle America. He lived like he was already in the future, and I am doing that as well. In today’s socially digitized world, you need a little logic and a little spectacle.

4. Nontraditional Foresight and Continuing Education: I speak at conferences all around the world, so I have a fantastic set of close peers in the foresight field. We often call Skype or Tweet feedback and new insights. We exchange ideas and also collaborate. I also experiment with new technologies that are emerging to scan and gather information. Online futurist / foresight groups on social media are amazing outlets for ideas and research.

5. Parting Advice: The foresight / futurology field is extremely diverse. You can be a sci-fi writer, a corporate foresight expert, a thought leader or public speaker just to name a few. It helps to understand what your passions are and how your natural talents can best serve your foresight career. Intern, experiment, and find a mentor in the field.

 

Cecily Sommers, Speaker, Author, Strategic Foresight Consultant. CEO, Wherefore Co.

Cecily Sommers1. History and Current Career Path: My background in ballet and medicine, combined with experience in brand strategy and product development, prepared me for work in Strategic Foresight and Innovation. The combination of a disciplined approach to creativity (dance) and systems thinking related to making a diagnosis and treatment plan (medicine) are essential competencies in applied foresight.

Though clients are intrigued by, and often convinced of the need for strategic foresight, justifying its value is a challenge for companies, as they are generally rewarded for short-term performance, not long-term investment. Founding the Push Institute and hosting the PUSH conference for 6 years helped to create awareness and demand. The conference offered a direct experience of futures thinking and inspired attendees to see, then think, differently. As my reputation grew, speaking and literary agents came calling. I wrote a book, Think Like A Futurist, 2012, and credibility and audience were further built through these efforts.

None of it has been easy, however. I still find that prospective clients don’t know where to put me in their process, and that the deliverables aren’t tangible or execution-focused enough. I see these challenges as interesting problems to solve and continue to play with language and with packaging services in a way that matches their process and agenda more directly. I’ve moved away from practicing foresight as a pure discipline and into more applied (and hybrid) domains, with a focus on innovation. Experiential futures are my specialty. I collaborate with designers, strategists, and leadership consultants and am happy to co-create programs that, while they may not incorporate client-facing foresight methods, are informed by the forces of change and their implications.

2. Key Foresight Skills: I consider environmental scanning, implications, and scenario development to be foundational to foresight work. Developing innovation strategies and plans that guide clients in getting from present to preferred future must answer the question “so what?”. To do this well, a practitioner must be grounded in innovation methods, branding strategy, ethnographic research, creative processes, and workshop facilitation skills.

The best foresight practitioners possess a balance of paradoxical qualities: they are imaginative yet practical; endlessly curious yet deeply analytical; and they are able to see both system and human dynamics at play in the future as well as in the current circumstances of their clients. The ability to identify growth opportunities, backed by a solid business case and engineered in bite-sized projects, is the key to delivering value to clients. Backgrounds or literacy in a range of disciplines is an advantage, including science, design, economics, history, psychology, business, and public policy. Intellectual humility and good communication skills are essential.

3. Self-Description and Marketing: It depends on the circumstances and audience. As a speaker and author, “futurist” is a useful hook that draws people in. In business settings, however, I generally translate that to a functional vocabulary: strategy and innovation which are the domains in which foresight is applied.

4. Nontraditional Foresight and Continuing Education: While I don’t participate formally in other communities, I watch, listen, and engage with people who are working directly on “wicked problems,” particularly in international policy. Since policy is fundamentally about planning for society, the thinking (among those who aren’t ideological or sentimental) interests me. Other disciplines I follow and play with are game design and organizational development.

5. Parting Advice: Cultivate partnerships with people and firms in standard business disciplines, such as marketing, strategy, design, consumer insights, etc. It gives foresight context and traction; the work is also better and more fun. Since foresight services are best matched to senior functions in an organization, such as corporate strategy and planning, it’s fairly specialized. This is another reason why collaborations—and networking with professionals in other fields—are critical in gaining access to key decision-makers.

 

Verne Wheelwright, Author, Speaker, Workshops, and Publisher at Personal Futures Network

Verne Wheelwright1. History and Current Career Path: I discovered futures classes while at UHCL and switched my major. My previous full time career was in international trade and exports and I retired in 2008. Retirement gave me time to work full time as a futurist—writing, speaking, conducting workshops, and publishing. I have not built a financially sustainable career in futures because I am well-past retirement age and am now willing to do things based on my interest rather than for profit.

2. Key Foresight Skills: You need a solid understanding of futures methods, ability to apply futures methods, ability to communicate futures concepts.

3. Self-Description and Marketing: I describe myself as a professional futurist, focusing on personal or individual futures. My book, It’s Your Future…: Make it a Good One!, 2012, and its accompanying free online workbook (PDF here) are leading texts in the field of personal futures, a specialty in which I have sought to make a unique contribution to the field.

4. Nontraditional Foresight and Continuing Education: I believe that futures workshops are a valuable tool for teaching individuals about our methods. I believe that professional futurists should offer coaching and training in futures methods, and that personal futures is a simple, effective way for individuals to understand and practice our methods. Once individuals, at any level, understand concepts on a personal basis, it is easy to transfer that knowledge to organizational futures.

I attend WFS (World Future Society) most years, attend APF (Association of Professional Futurists) events and I took a MOOC (massive open online course) course in Design Thinking recently. I enjoy learning new things!

5. Parting Advice: I strongly believe that every student of foresight and futures studies should learn to conduct personal futures workshops, a valuable tool in any area of a foresight career. I also believe that if corporations trained their employees (from the C-suites to the lowest paying job) in personal futures, they would have an organization of people who understood the value of foresight in their lives and careers.

 

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