Group 4. Entrepreneurs Advice
The entrepreneur (for-profit and nonprofit) is another major and yet commonly underappreciated role for the creative foresight professional. These individuals seek to “build the future” by leading an enterprise to commercial success in useful new projects, products and services. This category includes social entrepreneurs and many nonprofit leaders.
Simon J. Anderson, Emerging Technology and Trends Consultant at Venture Foresight, Keynote Speaker at SimonSpeaks
1. History and Current Career Path: I was working full-time in the telecom industry and finishing a double-major in finance and multinational business operations when I realized that I would soon be automated out of a job if I went into finance. I’ve always been interested in emerging technology and futurism, so I found someone who was doing exactly what I wanted to do – Jack Uldrich – and contacted him and offered to work for him if he would mentor me and help me become a foresight professional.
It’s been about 5 years since I quit my job and started working for myself and in that time I’ve experienced numerous challenges along the way. One area that often gets overlooked yet can be incredibly challenging is how to deal with day-to-day administrative issues such as creating contracts, accounting, marketing, invoicing, and many more. This takes up a huge amount of your time and focus, but it’s not something most people think about when they’re starting out. Now, I feel like I have the systems in place to make things a bit easier, but I look forward to the day that I can bring an admin in (whether AI or human) to handle all of the minutiae so I can focus on the important things.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with so many different trends, and trying to be a foresight generalist is becoming almost impossible. I’ve refocused my efforts to concentrate on helping leaders identify opportunities before they become challenges and helping them create more future-resilient organizations rather than just the specific technologies and trends that could impact them.
2. Key Foresight Skills: One skill that has served me well is the ability to fluidly “zoom-in” and “zoom-out” – basically identifying both the high level issues and possibilities while being able to recognize the more specific impacts. Being able to recognize the opportunities and challenges created by the convergence, not just emergence, of technologies and trends has also been important.
You need to be open to constant learning and unlearning and accept that nothing is permanent. You also need humility. Always remember that you don’t have all the answers. There is so much that we don’t even know that we don’t know. To be effective, you need to be able communicate the answers you believe you have in a way that will be accessible to your clients. Being right doesn’t matter if no one is listening. Learning how to position your message to each audience so that they will be responsive is critically important, but highly challenging – especially if there is a large disconnect between how you see things and how they do. Lastly, you need to be able to recognize the reality that you see the world far differently than just about everyone you come into contact with, and that what might seem blatantly obvious to you might seem absolutely crazy to them.
3. Self-Description and Marketing: For speaking engagements, I identify as a “Futurist”. For consulting and advising, I often use “Near-Futurist.” I refer to myself generally as a “Foresight Professional”. I co-wrote Foresight 20/20, 2015 with Jack Uldrich, I’ve created the websites Futur1st.com (old site, no longer updated) VentureForesight.com for my consulting work, and SimonSpeaks.com to support my speaking business. I’ve also done numerous interviews and written many articles for various media and publicaitons, and use services like BrandYourself.com to build my brand and increase my online presence. As I grow my business, I’ll continue to explore new marketing and promotion opportunities.
I’ve developed an approach to better communicate my message and present it in way that is more accessible for a general audience. First, I bring Attention to how fast the world is changing and some of the trends and technologies driving these changes. Next, I help them Anticipate the possibilities those change could create, and lastly, I provide them with Actions that they can take to create a more “future-resilient” organization. I call my approach “3A Thinking”.
4. Nontraditional Foresight and Continuing Education: My best marketing is the referrals of those that have worked with me in the past. As the world changes at an increasing pace, the value of foresights services will increase in the perception of potential clients. Online learning platforms such as Udacity, edX, Coursera, and Udemy have been great resources. Using curation services to identify important news and events, such as Shaping Tomorrow, can be helpful as well. I have also hired a speaking coach to help me improve how I communicate my message.
5. Parting Advice: For a new entrant or student, I would highly recommend finding a mentor. A good mentor can help you avoid making “rookie” mistakes and can share invaluable insights that would be difficult to get anywhere else. You can also serve as a reverse-mentor to them to help see things from a different (often younger) perspective. I can attribute a huge part of the successes that I’ve had to my excellent mentor, Jack Uldrich.
I’ve noticed that many experienced foresights professionals seem to fall victim to the very same issues that they work with their clients to help avoid. They develop a bit of the “that’s how it’s always been done” syndrome and fail to continuously innovate. This is evidenced by the almost uniformly outdated and awful web presence that most foresight professionals have. My best advice for them is to take their own advice and adapt and innovate!
Clem Bezold, Chairman and Senior Futurist at Institute for Alternative Futures
1. History and Current Career Path: While working for the University of Florida’s Center for Governmental Responsibility and doing my dissertation for my PhD in Political Science on foresight (avoiding crises through policy making) I met Alvin Toffler and Jim Dator. We were each actively promoting foresight and anticipatory democracy. We started the Institute for Alternative Futures (IAF) in 1977 as part of Antioch University. I was attracted by the promise of better, wiser futures; the fascination of learning about the future; the opportunity to facilitate better foresight and wiser futures for communities and organizations.
IAF and its for-profit subsidiary, Alternative Futures Associates have had intermittent success and growth, then pausing and downsizing. Futures and foresight inside organizations can be transitory and foresight work is particularly “recession sensitive”. Also if you can be successful in doing foresight work, particularly our “aspirational futures” type of foresight, you can typically make much more money in other jobs.
Both I and IAF have evolved since 1977 by:
1. Getting deep into specific fields, particularly health care
2. Creating our for-profit subsidiary, Alternative Futures Associates, and working for 10% of the global 500, including scenario work on six continents
3. Applying IAF’s aspirational futures archetypes (a version of Jim Dator’s archetypal futures), which are:
– Expected/most likely future
– Challenging future
– Visionary/Surprisingly Successful future
– Another image of and/or path to visionary future conditions
2. Key Foresight Skills: Key skills you will rely on in this field include: scanning, understanding change across many fields; developing and using scenarios; coaching vision development; facilitating organizations and communities in these and other activities; giving entertaining and engaging presentations on the future; writing reports, articles, and books.
You need to cultivate a broad and deep understanding of systems and forces operating in your fields of expertise, to know your areas of ignorance, and to realize that you don’t have to know everything but can work with others to develop far better forecasts and scenarios than either your client or yourself could do alone. That recognition, of your ability to create superior collaborative foresight for any application, without necessarily relying on your own subject matter expertise, is a key part of your value to your client.
3. Self-Description and Marketing: I am a futurist and describe myself as such – at IAF our senior folks get the title “Senior Futurist”. IAF has written books, reports, maintained a newsletter, and encouraged promotion/communication by satisfied clients. We give keynote presentations that often generate subsequent business. We also work with associations or other groups that have members who also become IAF’s or AFA’s clients.
4. Nontraditional Foresight and Continuing Education: Our Aspirational Futures work is the main thing that most other futurists/foresight professionals don’t routinely do, so it’s something I’d consider still a bit nontraditional in our field. Regarding continuing education, in addition to the standard futures communities (WFSF, WFS, APF), I have either co-founded or taken part in other effective foresight networks, including the International Health Futures Network, the Public Sector Foresight Network, and Police Futurists International.
5. Parting Advice: Full time jobs in foresight are still rare, and their number rises and falls with the economy and various forms of innovation. Most most functions related to knowledge work are in the process of being automated – futures definitely is knowledge work, but it will resist being automated as it is also “wisdom work”. Just as teachers will become less experts and more coaches, as various aspects of futures work are automated, foresight professionals will increasingly become coaches, helping individuals and organizations interpret and apply the increasingly automated foresight that will be available.
Finally, you should recognize that many, perhaps most futurists create their own jobs. Harlan Cleveland said, (I’m paraphrasing), “being a futurist should be everyone’s second job”. It is excellent when this happens on a team or in an organization, and it changes what professional futurists do. Also “work” is shifting from “jobs” So as you consider your future, look at range of work that you think you would enjoy and that ideally allow you to do foresight as part of your job or consulting work.
Tom Frey, Senior Futurist and Executive Director at DaVinci Institute
1. History and Current Career Path: As a serial entrepreneur, one of my main projects was coming to a close and I was looking to make a transition in my life, and hit upon the idea of opening the DaVinci Institute. I’ve always had a natural curiosity about the future. When I was a kid growing up, I was enamored by Popular Science and other magazines, shows like Star Trek, and all of the things happening at Bell Labs. I couldn’t wait for the future to happen. But I was also noticing a shift taking place. Many people were beginning to fear the future, looking forward with great trepidation. I felt it was my mission to make the future fun again, or at least, make it less fearful.
I had many challenges starting out. As a futurist, this is very much a reputation-based industry. But no one knew me. I didn’t have “attention-getting” credentials. I didn’t hang out with other futurists. I didn’t have a personal brand. As someone who wished to become a professional speaker, I wasn’t very good. I’ve shifted business models to adapt to changing conditions several times. Originally, I thought it would be more of a consulting-based business, but it has ended up as more of a speaking, writing, research, events-based business, launching a number of special projects along the way, to keep life interesting. As an entrepreneurial organization, we had to become very adept at reacting to whatever new conditions and circumstances came our way.
My focus has always been “eating, sleeping, breathing the future.” As a result, I’ve turned off the “here and now” and “tuned into” the future. I don’t watch any more TV news (bad karma), and tend to focus all of my attention on the future. This includes whatever it is that constitutes a shift, a new trend, a driving force, a change in attitude or direction, or something else. It’s hard to explain, but I tend know it when I see it. If there is a topic I need to know more about, we’ll host an event, and bring in experts to discuss the topic. As an example, we recently hosted DaVinci events on the “future of asteroid mining” and “the future of cryptocurrency.”
2. Key Foresight Skills: I recommend you become a serious student of the “human to future” relationship, how we think about the future, how we interact with it, and all the tools we can use to gain insight into it. A good foresight practitioner also needs:
Great researching skills
Great communication skills
A great understanding of history
Affinity for thinking about the future
Ability to work with other futurists
Ability to rapidly shift from big-picture to little-picture thinking and back again
Ability to see which anticipatory thinking protocols tend to work best at any moment
Ability to explain the value of prediction, even when it ends up being wrong
3. Self-Description and Marketing: I use the phrase “Architect of the Future” as a title, because it tends to be a conversation starter, and every new gig starts with a conversation. At a certain level, there is often a very fine line between making a prediction and having the prediction become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I use the title “Futurist” because it seems to convey magical properties. Each title has a different connotation, and brings up a different lens in the way people view you. The other titles tend to have more of an academic/business/consultant feel to them. As a professional speaker, there is a certain amount of showmanship that goes along with the science and research, and “Futurist” tends to capture that best, at least for my business model.
We use a number of different self-promotion tools for both the DaVinci Institute and myself:
a. I write a new column every week. This is far harder than it sounds. This becomes one of my primary customer-facing tools, usually 1,500-2,000 words, published online but promoted to a number of different publications, sites, tools, social media, etc.
b. I wrote a book in 2011 and my next one will be coming out in 2016
c. Email lists – segmented by group and interests
d. Events to inform, events to promote
e. Multiple websites, all interlinked
f. Social media campaigns, multiple campaigns framed to fit the right audiences
g. I speak to roughly 25,000-30,000 people a year
h. Our websites attract over 6 million pageviews a year
i. Press releases
j. Many radio, newspaper, television, and online media interviews
4. Nontraditional Foresight and Continuing Education: Foresight itself often requires overcoming traditions, and doing so in a way that ties into our history, but moves beyond it. We are a very backward looking society, simply because this is just human nature. We’ve all personally experienced the past. As we look around, we see evidence of the past all around us. All information that we come into contact with is essentially history. As a result, the past is very knowable, yet we will spend the rest of our lives in the future. Our jobs as futurists are to help turn people around and give them some idea of what the future holds.
So how does the future get created? People make decisions today based on their interpretation of what the future may bring. I like to use the phrase – The future creates the present. This is just the opposite of what most people think. Most believe what we’re doing today will create the future. But from a little different perspective, the images we hold in our head about the future, determine our actions today. If we change someone’s vision of the future, we change the way they make decisions today. My promise, to every member of my audiences, is that they will leave with a different vision of the future, and as a result, they will begin making different decisions right now.
5. Parting Advice: As a backward-looking society, we wish to emulate the heroes of our past, using their achievements as the symbolic gold standard for us to live up to. However, the standard-bearer for significance in the future will be a thousand-fold greater. Our backward-looking obsession with traditional problems will all but disappear, crowded out by our visions of forward-looking accomplishments we can create in the future.
The future hates complacency. It hates complacency so much so that it has built-in self-sabotaging mechanisms to continually hold our feet to the fire. It will not allow us to shift into neutral. If we are not moving forward, we are moving backwards. There is no middle ground. Remember also, that people are generally at their best when they are challenged. If we don’t challenge ourselves, the future has a way of giving us challenges anyway. There is great value in our struggles and human nature has shown us that we only tend to value the things we struggle to achieve.
Jerry Glenn, CEO at The Millennium Project
1. History and Current Career Path: I was asked to be a member of the future of education group for the State of Vermont in 1971. I applied futures research methods to the future of the Vermont’s education system, and realized these methods directly produced better decisions today. I next worked to translate the methods I’d learned into teaching techniques, doing what I called Futuristic Curriculum Development (which included the Futures Wheel) while doing my Masters in Teaching Social Science at Antioch Grad School (now Antioch New England U).
I began giving futures talks and workshops around the US, and was then recruited by Chris Dede (who got the world’s first doctorate in future studies) to work on my doctorate in the future of education at U. Massachusetts. Barbara Hubbard of the Committee for the Future asked me to be the SYNCON Coordinator in 1973, then I created my own company, the Future Options Room with Roy Mason in 1975. I was then asked to work for Partnership for Productivity. When it was bought out by CARE, I went to work on my book Future Mind, 1989. Then I was asked to be the liaison between the United Nations University and the US. Finally, I created the Millennium Project with Ted Gordon, another noted futurist and co-inventor of Delphi.
2. Key Foresight Skills: Core skills foresight professionals need include imagination, the ability to think of alternatives, and imagine how alternative futures could emerge from the present, precision of thought, multi-disciplinary orientation, multi-cultural sensitivities, computer and science literacy, and a basic competency in several futures research methods.
3. Self-Description and Marketing: I list Futurist in the space for occupation when I have to fill-out forms entering other countries. I am a general global futurist. I write books, articles, social media, and give talks.
4. Nontraditional Foresight and Continuing Education: All of my work would be considered either traditional foresight, or futures research. I coordinate 50 Millennium Project Nodes around the world, and I travel around the world about half my time. I also run the Global Futures Intelligence System at www.themp.org. These are my main form of continuing education.
5. Parting Advice: Invent something. A new concept, a method, a perception that is presently missing, to help improve the future. If it is really missing, no one else is doing it, so you will become immediately unique. Then get it out there so others can find it, and start collaborating.
Michael Jackson, Chairman and Founder at Shaping Tomorrow
1. History and Current Career Path: As an ex-CEO of major businesses in the 80’s and 90’s, I couldn’t see the future fast enough. I discovered foresight in 1999 when Unisys invited me to give my views on whether there was a practical use for foresight in business at meetings of 19 futurists. I saw how a competence in foresight would have benefited my previous organizations and every other business in the world. Shaping Tomorrow was conceived at those meetings and I’ve spent the last 15 years with my associates building our service for the benefit of our now 20,000 members and 7,000 organizations including 6 major governments.
Over those years we have overcome most of the challenges in building a systematic and web-based service to bring foresight to every organization. Our main challenge has been how to simplify a complex and multi-faceted subject so that any educated person can use it for competitive and personal advantage in real-time, without getting a Master’s degree in the subject, which few have time or freedom to do. We can now see the finish line in this regard though our features and services development list stretches several years into the future.
The pace of change, volume of foresight and need for forward looking services has accelerated dramatically in the past 15 years. Many traditional foresight companies with big overheads went out of business during the recession, but we are now seeing the arrival of digital and virtual, foresight companies using robotics and AI to do a far better job than humans can in providing future indicators, from which instant reports on possible and probable futures can be obtained by lay people to make better, faster, decisions today.
2. Key Foresight Skills: Foresight is anticipating and preparing for the future in good time; something every organization needs if it is not to become obsolescent very quickly. General qualities a good foresight professional needs include Curiosity, Analytical abilities, Forward thinking, Consciousness of bias, Systematic thinking, Strategic thinking, but also with an eye for detail. More specific skills include:
Leadership: Helping organizations to translate foresight into action, on an on-going basis.
Framing: Helping the organization identify and solve the right problems.
Scanning: Helping organizations understand relevant changes in their immediate environment and in the world at large.
Forecasting: Helping organizations consider a range of future possibilities.
Visioning: Helping organizations decide what they want in the future.
Planning: Helping people develop plans, people, skills, and processes that support the
3. Self-Description and Marketing: I don’t market myself. I help my team market Shaping Tomorrow. I do not see myself as a futurist. We do not see Shaping Tomorrow as a futurist organization: we think of ourselves as a strategic intelligence and education service that uses the future to help our clients see what is coming before it reaches them. We do not ‘sell’ our product but use word of mouth, our website and other social media to attract new clients at no cost and help them solve challenges on their terms.
I’m a practical businessman, turning futurist ideas into reality for our clients and members. If personal kudos comes from this it is secondary to building our company and helping our clients succeed. ShapingTomorrow.com is our brand and a free and open representation of all we know and do. Our targets are: planners, innovators, risk managers, marketers, consultants, change agents, researchers, portfolio managers, security advisers, educators and HR Managers.
4. Nontraditional Foresight and Continuing Education: A big, nontraditional driver of the future of foresight is AI. Shaping Tomorrow is a comprehensive collaborative foresight system that is increasingly using AI to develop instant strategic foresight for our members and clients. We are seeking to use AI to make foresight an instant, ultra-low cost service that automatically scans the horizon for any significant change, produces real-time forecasts and creates scenarios that our members can use to develop their responses in less than one day. We are now about to embark on creating knowledge graphs and using AI to offer immediate answers to the questions posed by our work.
For continuing education, we do not belong to professional organizations. We get our ideas from our clients, contributors, partners and by voraciously reading everything that is added to Shaping Tomorrow, and looking for more improvements we can make.
5. Parting Advice: Read, read, read all you can about foresight, and look where you can use it to your advantage. You can find a lot of free resources on Shaping Tomorrow to get you started: Try our Practical Foresight Guide (Free PDF) which explains foresight and gives many references to the best books. We also list many events, courses, other guides and associations on our website.
John Mahaffie, Principal and Futurist at Leading Futurists LLC
1. History and Current Career Path: I was a full-time graduate student in International Affairs at George Washington University, when a friend urged me to consider part-time research work for a DC think tank. It was early 1987. I knew nothing about futures studies. I’d heard of Future Shock but had not read it. And I went to the interview having made up my mind to not take any job just then, to concentrate full time on my studies. But I went and talked to the president of the company, Joe Coates, and fell under the spell of futures, right then and there. What I liked, and what I saw that seemed to fit me so well, was the exploratory, open-ended, and cross-disciplinary nature of the work.
Futures work has evolved and changed for me. The business remains difficult, in terms of finding organizations that are ready and savvy enough to want our kind of help. But as the web has risen, the work has slowly changed from a game of acquiring and analyzing information: data collection and trend spotting, to a game of storytelling, communicating, and changing minds. My approaches and skill sets have evolved along with this change. I still like to wallow in data, but more often I am writing and telling stories, setting characters in the future, and showing how their world (our world) could be. The challenge has always been to know enough about the reality my clients presently face; their sectors, business life, the problems of organizations, and so on, to be as effective as I can. But I like that challenge, and the great variety of things it sets me up to learn and experience.
2. Key Foresight Skills: There is a set of skills and characteristics that are essential to good foresight work. The most important are: An open, enquiring, dilatory mind, always craving and absorbing ideas and information. An ability and comfort in and enjoyment of, conjecture, which is still a rare practice in organizations. A strong ability to synthesize, to find patterns and meaning, and to think in systems. You also need superior people skills, particularly communications skills.
The real work of this profession, not always recognized, is to change thinking, to open it up, to allow the complexities of the many systems we are a part of to be made as clear as they can be, so that people can understand better how they might act to make change they want. Explaining change to people, no matter whether it is about the present, the recent past, or the future, is at the foundation of our field.
3. Self-Description and Marketing: I call myself a futurist and tell anyone whose ear I can bend all about what I do. I say my goal is to help people understand change and what it might mean to them. I sometimes call my work foresight, and like that term, for its embrace of the methods and purposes of the field. I try to build my brand and reputation, and that of my work, through writing, speaking, and participating in activities, some of which are philanthropic. I see out engagements where my skills can make a difference. Word of mouth is most often how I get new work, along with simply being a name that pops up when people search for futurists online. Most people know at most one futurist. If it’s me, they tell their friends, and I sometimes that leads to new work.
4. Nontraditional Foresight and Continuing Education: As for nontraditional foresight, I have given strong efforts to learning more about storytelling and fiction writing. I read extensively on history to try to understand the processes by which human systems change. My fiction writing, which has most often been set in the past, helps me reflect and learn about the great inflection points in history, the passing from age to age, the arrival of new technologies and profound social change, and the clash of generational values.
I rely on my colleagues to help me discover new tools, new ways of thinking, and to challenge my ideas about the world and about change. The APF is a particularly powerful community for that, and I value it most for the permanent conversation about futures it offers me.
5. Parting Advice: If you come to me and ask about becoming a futurist, I will likely say, “don’t do it.” But I will also know that by the time you found your way to me to ask, it’s too late, and I will tell you so. If you’ve become captivated by futures, you were likely born to do it, or have been so consumed with a passion for it you have no real choice. So onwards you must go. So begin somewhere, anywhere, and go deep, do it for free or for a fee, but do a big “future of” effort. It may be in the work you already do that you’ll find a door open to explore a deeper future. Build then, on what you know, and then build onwards from that. Welcome to futures!
Emily Medley, Foresight Conference Director at FERN, Dovetail Mind + Body, LLC and Deuxology Publishing, LLC
1. History and Current Career Path: I’ve always been a far-sighted thinker and a connector. I didn’t realize this was something to play up until I found FERN and a community of futurists. In my early career, my way of thinking sometimes got in the way of my “job” because I always assumed my superiors wanted me to think long term and with an eye toward improving things. But often they did not want me to think this way. They wanted me to accept the status quo and not challenge it—they resisted change and anyone who questioned the way things had always been done. This drove me crazy. I decided from that point on that whatever work I did, had to have a strong element of desired change or methodical improvement to something, and that change should feed into improving the world at large.
Once I realized this, I was kind of pigeon holed but I didn’t yet have the vocabulary to call myself a “futurist” or “foresight professional” and I didn’t know it was a field unto itself. So I didn’t know where to look for employers who valued that. Some years passed and I took work involving mainly research and writing—skills I enjoy and that come easily to me. But all along something bigger was brewing and I was gathering pieces that have ultimately led me to starting my own businesses, both devoted to bringing about improvements in people’s lives through healthy living and self expression.
If I were to give advice to students today, it wouldn’t be to the ones in the foresight programs. It would be to everyone else. I would go to colleges and talk to the general student body about what foresight is and invite them to self-identify with the professional foresight crowd. It might be the first exposure they get to knowing there are people out there who are “like them”, not because they think the same things but because they are also future-oriented. I wish I had realized that earlier. “Come see what we’re about, network with this crowd, learn the vocabulary, learn the tools, see the diversity of work we’re doing, you are already one of us…” is the message I now spread. If you are future oriented and you don’t know who you can reach out to, it can be extremely isolating until you find a crowd to plug into that shares your passion.
2. Key Foresight Skills: Key skills I use and recommend include workshop coordination for foresight groups (strategy), private coaching (personal foresight), writing/research/editing services for self publishers (systems thinking, connecting dots, strategic content, branding experiences for readers). Find what you’re good at and build from there.
3. Self-Description and Marketing: In my coaching practice I’m working to reconnect better human and planetary health over the long run. The way I’ve chosen to go about this is to create a business that does this from the ground up, one person at a time. The work we do together feeds into my bigger “futurist” mission. I guide clients into a holistic self-awareness where they value the way things fit together systemically, for long-term improvement of their health. As they adopt healthier lifestyles, they are more inclined to form habits that take into account more than “how does this make me feel right now,” I hope the ripple effect of this foresight thinking carries over into other areas of their lives. I’m teaching my clients to be strategic about something they usually haven’t ever been strategic about. I guess that makes me a sneaky futurist?? Can I put that on my LinkedIn profile? 🙂
I don’t really use the “futurist” or foresight terms in my business titles because I’m not sure they are relevant to my target market. My futurist identity is more a means to an end as far as my target market is concerned. It doesn’t qualify me in their eyes, but because I work with them using futuring concepts, they sense a valuable difference between me and most of my competitors. In that way, I think my futurist leanings give me a competitive advantage. People come to me because the status quo of the personal health field hasn’t worked for them and they want to try new things to feel and look better—long term.
My affiliation with FERN as Conference Director is the clearest claim I lay down in the world of “futurists” and I do this with a mission to connect people to each other and to their life’s work, much as I do in my own businesses. As a self-anointed futurist without formal academic training in foresight, I am on the periphery of the core field. But I find this is not a problem because in general futurists seem to be inclusive and into connecting things, and people, on the fringe. I’m happy being in the foresight fringe for now, and enjoy this community.
4. Nontraditional Foresight and Continuing Education: My health coaching clients aren’t looking for foresight solutions per se, but are tired of trying the same old things and not getting results. The personal foresight tools I offer them are appealing, because they offer a greater sense of empowerment and understanding of their health picture. This is what they are looking for, as they have often become demoralized and disempowered by everything the status quo health world has to offer.
I’m a futurist in a gray zone—with tons of opportunity to bring personal foresight tools to a new audience through a coaching model that doesn’t solve problems for people but rather trains them to think in different/new ways about their problems, and come to their own conclusions about how to solve them. I point this out to say that I think foresight really shines in fringe areas like this because it offers concrete tools that make sense of gray zones we all live in but don’t know how to think about quite yet. I “sell” the value of my work to my clients by promising them three simple things: “less stress, better health, personal empowerment.” These are broad promises, and they exist in a gray zone that my small foresight toolbox helps them demystify. I guide my clients through personal foresight exercises like scenario planning, backcasting, and long-term thinking about their lives and the consequences of their present actions, exercises that allow them to be more empowered about their health than they ever were before.
5. Parting Advice: Foresight is the future (literally) and it belongs everywhere to everyone. The field is all inclusive and not intimidating, even for the novice. If you dip your toe in it and are not having a good experience, come check out FERN, where we are doing everything we can to connect people’s strengths to the foresight community and find new ways to connect and make great work happen in the world. (shameless FERN plug… can’t help myself. I’m a fan.) 🙂
Ruben Nelson, Executive Director at Foresight Canada
1. History and Current Career Path: I fell into futures work as an undergraduate before there was a field of futures work. I stuck around because its convex fits my concave. I hung around because I was able to meet, be with and work with truly remarkable persons.
The core challenge was to learn to be true to the work (intellectually, emotionally and spiritually) when most clients wanted, and still want, advice that pleases them. This essential tension still remains. This is why I worry about talk of “one’s career path” for foresight folks. How would the conversation be different if we talked of “finding and authentically living one’s vocation” as a foresighted person? It seems to me, this is a difference that makes a difference.
My advice would be to get into another field if one has entered futures as a “good” career move. My experience is that such folks simply do not do good work. For good and ill, foresight is one of the fields in which one’s inner life and motivations and one’s performance map to each other pretty closely.
2. Key Foresight Skills: Important skills include:
An inclination and developed capacity for reflexive insight and thought at every level, from one’s self to one’s group to one’s culture and civilization.
A developed capacity to see, think, and act in terms of whole systems.
A developed capacity to understand the long evolution of human consciousness, cultures, and forms of civilization.
Well-developed mental models of the main elements of one’s world and how they interact as complex adaptive systems.
A well-trained mind.
A well-formed character, especially a truthfulness, integrity, and empathy.
A non-trivial understanding of the multiple dimensions of one’s own inherited formation and one’s own character and motivations.
Without the above, one may become a futures technician, analogous to a lab tech, but one will never become a contributing first-class futures researcher. In MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) personality terms, I think it helps if one is an introvert and an intuitive. At least for the kind of work I do. It also helps if one has a passion to make a difference in the world. All of the necessary tools and techniques can be learned on the job. Without a sound and deep formal training, one’s contribution to the field will not likely amount to much, so keep learning.
3. Self-Description and Marketing: I now use the language of strategic foresight in public, as it has more initial traction with folks. When asked what I can do for an organization I say something like: I can help you make reliable enough sense of the world to enable you to envision and co-create a deeply desirable future. Sense-making for world shaping. My organization, Foresight Canada, uses the following tag line: Courageous and loving strategic societal leadership. Over the years, our message to clients has shifted from doing futures work to shaping a relevant and effective future by acting wisely in the present.
I don’t try to “sell” the value of this work. Rather, I connect with and attempt to nurture folks at every organizational level who already have an inkling that something profound is going on that has not yet been well-named. I also work with colleagues who have a feel for this new work, to nurture new organizations dedicated to finding and working with such folks. The dominant heading of such work is “whole-of-society civilizational leadership” not futures.
4. Nontraditional Foresight and Continuing Education: Foresight work that is presently undervalued includes work at a “whole-of-society” and “form of civilization” level. Today, almost all futures work is undertaken within the frame of reference of the futurist’s inherited form of civilization. The work of seeing ours as a rare time of civilizational-level evolution and transformation is not yet seriously on our agenda as a field, let alone as a culture. This is also true of almost all sustainability work.
5. Parting Advice: I encourage new folks to expose themselves to two or more serious learning experiences every year—workshops, seminars, conferences, etc. One must constantly be a learner and ordinary participant, not just a group leader. Form and stick with informal groups of like-hearted colleagues who regularly engage in learning together. I am part of a small group (20) from the USA, Canada and Europe who have met two to three times a year for a weekend, for almost twenty years now.
I also encourage folks to participate in and learn with communities that are not formally futures groups, but that explore, understand and value the life of the mind and heart in life as lived, e.g. Association for Humanistic Psychology, Noetics, Institute on Religion in an Age of Science, the Whidbey Island community. Participate in more than one futures/foresight group, e.g APF, WFSF, various European futures groups and projects. And of course, monitor a host of blogs and news aggregators.
I worry about making foresight a profession and treating it as such. One reason is that almost all our images and knowledge of professionals comes from the form of civilization that is dying, not from the one now struggling to be born. It would be ironic for futures and foresight folks to arrive as a profession, just as the cultural context for such animals disintegrates. Remember also that all professions have boundaries that are jealously guarded to keep out interlopers. This protectionism is 180 degrees away from the open, inclusive stance that enables good foresight work. So, be wary of professionalization, and understand its drawbacks. Amateurs will always have a big place in our field.
Amy Zalman, (Past) CEO & President, World Future Society, Owner, Strategic Narrative Institute
1. History and Current Career Path: In a former position, I taught strategy to senior military and civilian leaders at the U.S. National War College. I learned there that both institutions and people suffer in efforts to develop strategy when they cannot reflect meaningfully on their own position; when they cannot contextualize themselves. I am also owner of the Strategic Narrative Institute, which leverages the power of narrative to accelerate transformative change in public and private sector institutions. The Strategic Narrative Institute is an advocate for futurists’ techniques as critical tools in the complex problem solving toolbox. We want to see these techniques brought to bear as governments, corporations, and other public institutions seek to make good decisions about their potential futures.
2. Key Foresight Skills: I think good foresight begins with Self-Reflection as a vital supplement to area knowledge, particular tools or skills, and a general analytic capacity. Self-reflection in a strategic context means grasping how your own moves may inflect or alter the context in which you intend to act. The ability to deeply understand the Present is another critical skill in foresight work. With this understanding in hand, the foresight professional is well-armed to begin exploring what may happen and what ought to happen in the future. I sometimes say that when people can articulate with great precision what is happening in the complex and dynamic present, they are often half-way to knowing what is likely to unfold next.
Good foresight also needs strong analytic and interpretive skills, subject matter knowledge, and what I might call literary or artistic talents – the capacity to grasp connections between things that often lie beneath the surface, and the ability to imagine and create narratives that inspire and motivate positive change.
3. Self-Description and Marketing: In my last job as the head of the World Future Society (2014-2016) I found ways to empower and nurture futurists and foresight professionals around the world. I promoted the sensibility that foresight thinking brings to large scale institutional challenges. Futurists are people who dive into the unknown with great humanity and an appreciation for the particular ways that humans approach the inevitably ambiguous future. Such sensitivity to the human scale of things is important as we seek solutions to immense and complex global challenges, and face change on a large scale.
4. Nontraditional Communities and Continuing Education: Continuing education is a never ending challenge. Keep working on your personal practice and and ask respected colleagues what they do.
5. Parting Advice: Narratives produce our social realities. Gaining a holistic view of your own stories, those of others, and those that drive public events and perceptions will help you understand where people are. Learning how to bridge divergent narratives will help you understand how to help people get somewhere useful, together.