Chapter 12. Peer Advice – Building a Successful Foresight Practice

Group 5. Organizational Foresighters Advice 

Individuals who lead (have social influence) or manage within an organization and who also must look to and analyze the future for that organization are our largest common class of foresight professional. We could usefully split this class into business, institutional, and governance foresight leaders, but that level of detail will be avoided at this time. Members of the other four classes who also lead or manage in their organizations are all potential members of this fifth class. Working to shape the preferred future of an organization, or of a department, group, or team within an organization, and taking a leadership role to do so, either explicit or implicit, is of primary importance to organizational foresight leaders.

 

Steven Fisher, Managing Director at The Revolution Institute, COO of The Revolution Factory, Author, The Startup Equation, 2016

Steven Fisher1. History and Current Career Path: My path to foresight has been organic. As a kid I was obsessed with Popular Science and reading books from people like Alvin Toffler. I was fascinated with people’s ideas of what the future might be and how they sometimes got it right but mostly how spectacularly they got it wrong. I also studied architecture and industrial design because they had the biggest impact on how we experience the world. As a designer and a strategist I led many teams and charted the strategy for products and business transformation. I leveraged many of the foresight skills to inform my work and organically produce designs and recommendations. This lead to my passion for innovation processes and its impact on organizations.

I now write a lot about the future of cities and business trends impacting global venture creation. Most recently, I co-authored The Startup Equation, 2016, a visual guide for entrepreneurs that leverages research of mega trends (The Six Forces) and 200+ global startup economies that provides a framework to build and grow a company. I also completed a dual MBA at Brown University (USA) and IE Business School (Spain).

2. Key Foresight Skills: It starts with building out your analytic and interpretation skills. You have to know what to look for and to see how things connect. Beyond that base, key skills I find useful include: Design Thinking, Systems Thinking, Process and Cultural Audits, Scenario planning, Forecasting, Horizon Scanning, Trendwatching, Generational Theory, Ethnographic Research, Journey Mapping, UX Design, Service Design, and Infographic Design. And above all keep an open mind to the possibilities but listen to yourself to make a decision.

3. Self-Description and Marketing: I think the term Futurist is a bit of challenging term. Strategist is better way to and what people understand and I position myself as Futures Strategist or Foresight Strategist as part of my broader role. In my role at The Revolution Institute we are engaged in leveraging foresight strategy to create and promote initiatives that have exponential positive social impact. At The Revolution Factory we provide three core offerings around our IMPACT framework—Innovation, Growth and Experience—to help companies to transform their businesses and products/services and we use foresight as a core part of our offerings.

4. Nontraditional Foresight and Continuing Education: First would be organizations (APF, WFS, WFSF, FERN, and IFTF) and then great resource sites like The Futurist magazine, The Millennium Project, ARUP, IDEO, PSFK, to keep up with future trends, new techniques and models to leverage. We have to consider what is likely 5, 10, even 15 years out, in order to effectively innovate and develop great solutions. I also belong to a number of LinkedIn groups. There is a real opportunity to create more community around these topics.

5. Parting Advice: Read as many books as you can on the subject, both generally and within your specialty. Start to map out trends you see and create ways to validate your research. Take some online courses and most of all, find a mentor or two that run a foresight company. If you can afford it and really want to learn, offer to be an unpaid intern with clear guidelines to your role and what you will get from them in return.

 

Cindy Frewen, President at Founder of Frewen Architects Inc; Adjunct Professor at University of Houston; Chairperson of the Board, Association of Professional Futurists

 

1. History and Current Career Path: After 25 years in architecture and urban planning, I thought we were failing at designing cities for people. Our cities seemed to alienate people and damage health more than cultivate well-being and a sense of belonging. Many decisions seemed arbitrary and short-sighted. My business was thriving yet I could see that it would always require intensive daily engagement. We were designing and planning significant public projects and its value was at a peak, pre-9/11. All signs said, make a move now. So I began reorganizing for a merger to free me to explore my root concerns about the future of cities.

During the transition, I visited the graduate program in Futures Studies at University of Houston – Clear Lake, directed by Dr. Peter Bishop. I was hooked. The following two summers, I took the Intensive Summer Program which was a lot like summer camp for mid-career professionals. We had a blast, a mind-blowing experience. Coupled with a doctorate in communication studies and rhetoric from the University of Kansas, I began to gain the perspective of thinking long term, across domains, and into assumptions, what I now call thinking longer, wider, and more deeply about the future.

Since 2001, the field and the world have taken significant turns. We have new tools like integral futures, causal layered analysis, and the foresight maturity model. My particular contributions have been in design futures and urban futures. At the same time, society and business have tuned into foresight, although widespread futures literacy is a long way off. Many corporations now employ futurists and other related types of foresight-oriented roles. Technology and sustainability have both made strides. Still, we are far from living sustainably, leaving us with historic challenges ahead.

The growth of the Association of Professional Futurists (APF) has paralleled my foresight career. Founded while I was in the Houston graduate program, the APF gives foresight professionals an international community. Through an increasingly robust network, we are hashing out the mission and practices of foresight. In 2011, I became the Board Chair, an unplanned move. When I joined the board, the APF was losing its way after the founders’ initial surge. We reorganized in a more entrepreneurial model and focused on building the community’s capacity and cultivating members as thought leaders. Each year, we are taking on more difficult challenges such as professionalization and publications. Plus we are creating a network for aiding new professionals and inculcating them into the community.

2. Key Foresight Skills: Professional futurists help people be more intentional about their current actions by thinking long-term. Some do that through keynote speaking, workshops, and publishing. Others do it through foresight projects. We work for public and private organizations and individuals and we also develop knowledge for public use. Applied foresight combines research, analysis, and interpretation (e.g., imagining alternative futures) with communications skills. Foresight practitioners work both individually and in teams which means we are self-directed and adaptive to other people’s work habits. The most essential skill is synthesizing and relating multiple dimensions and dynamic parts into a whole picture. That requires the ability to imagine various futures and compare them in useful ways. Professional futurists, especially consultants, also need empathy in order to sense others’ capacity for change and alternative futures. We are teachers as well as guides to using the future.

In terms of specialties, some futurists are excellent presenters, facilitators, leaders, or team managers. While useful skills, they are advanced and optional, in some cases, exceptional even. The futurist’s core skills are research, analysis, and interpretation. Other futurists combine knowledge from other fields with foresight. For example, I work at the intersections of design, planning, and futures methods. Illustrating and story writing can be an integral part of foresight done by others or by futurists. Again, these are all advanced specialties, not core competencies.

Foresight does not mean predicting the future and or knowing the future with total certainty. In fact, predicting or presenting just one future as the only possible future does not pass professional practice standards. Some futurists do not think that change management is part of applied foresight. Articulating possible implications is part of foresight work, but for real change to emerge, others have to adopt the ideas and see them through.

3. Self-Description and Marketing: I use the terms professional futurist and urban futurist. I believe that professional futurists use rigorous methods and standards to meet or exceed accepted levels of competency. People who do not match those standards still call themselves futurists so I try to qualify my work as professional foresight or professional futures and as a specialist in urban futures. My work is strategic as well as creative and analytical. Some futurists believe as soon as we talk about strategy, we are outside of foresight, and I am sympathetic to that. Strategy is a far larger and more generic term than foresight. Foresight deliverables frequently lay out strategic development timelines built from foresight tools such as backcasting and Three Horizons. I often say my specialty is long-term futures, beyond master planning.

I have found the term “futurist” useful because it differentiates me and also challenges people’s assumptions. They want to know what a professional futurist does. Once they learn there are rigorous methods and academic degrees, they want to know specifics. What do we think about? Who uses futurists? Plus there’s an element of surprise and novelty. Who ever heard of an urban futurist? Increasingly corporations and government are creating roles for futurists both inside and on the periphery of their organizations. I would hate to abandon that term to others. I use the term “foresight professional” in a more general sense to relate to others who are in the foresight area like data collection or trend hunting but who are not futurists.

My marketing is almost exclusively word of mouth. However, if I wanted to grow a business instead of a personal career, I’d certainly develop more marketing tools, and recommend that futurists invest in high quality marketing packages which double as educational tools. Much of my network has been built either through my earlier career as an architect or through the APF, WFS, and the University of Houston. Some of my architectural colleagues are puzzled by the futurist label and unsure whether to embrace, ignore, or reject it. Does my added credential imply that architects lack foresight? Certainly not. However, having greater understanding about the future may inform design and construction solutions and may enable clients to embrace more visionary alternatives.

4. Nontraditional Foresight and Continuing Education: Many (most?) people just do not know that there is a field of futures studies. The term “futurist” has thousands of years of visionaries and charlatans, some worthy, some not. Now in four decades, we are trying to turn that around, especially in the last fifteen years. We are developing better tools and practices, and cultivating applied foresight in terms of specific competencies and practice standards. It will take continued diligence and strategic efforts.

My best insights seem to come from a mixture of intense work on projects, the slow grind of daily scanning, curiosity in diverse reading and experiences, and serendipitous moments that happen when things slow down. Formal conferences, projects and workshops with fellow futurists, and teaching keep me connected. I miss being part of a local community of professionals as I had with architecture but the global community of futurists makes the effort to stay connected and share the latest innovations. My work, clients, colleagues, and students excite me every day. My challenge is balancing life and goals in this amorphous set of roles. Besides APF, WFS, FERN, and WFSF, I am a Fellow in the American Institute of Architects and am on the Boards of the Kansas City Design Center and the School of Architecture and Urban Design at the University of Kansas. Staying current means being deeply engaged in these communities, the universities, and research both through daily sources and deeper dives on particular topics.

5. Parting Advice: Many corporations especially in technology now employ professional futurists. They are also building the reputation and visibility of our field, perhaps even more than consulting, published, or academic futurists. The future for futurists gets brighter every year.

 

Deb Ganderton, Executive Manager Comms and Customer Experience at City of Boroondara

Deb Ganderton1. History and Current Career Path: I was a senior executive, wishing to more deeply explore organisational dynamics and systems thinking. The MS course in Foresight came to my attention at a careers expo, and I was hooked. I am insatiably curious, and have no fear in asking questions. I am also up front at interviews that part of my role will be to challenge the status quo and if that is not a good culture fit then they should not employ me. This takes confidence, but it saves everyone a lot of time and is fundamental to my being and practice. Fingers crossed this type of authenticity has served me well in the past and I hope will endure into the future. I enjoy working at an executive/board level and contributing to brave outcomes.

2. Key Foresight Skills: Key skills I use and recommend include: Strategic planning, Research, Innovation, Collaboration, Project Management, Facilitation, and Communication.

3. Self-Description and Marketing: Foresight for me is a way of being. My brand is to be a very good C-suite executive. Foresight training and praxis is listed as one of my skills—it sets me apart from other candidates in organisations that will be up for what I have to offer. Outline the difference/contribution you think you can make rather than list your skills. Lead by example—try to employ staff with foresight training. Establish a scholarship program for your staff to undertake foresight studies—invest in your profession.

4. Nontraditional Foresight and Continuing Education: My organisation and the boards I serve on are petri dishes for my foresight praxis and provide the fora for continuous education. I also have a cohort of colleagues and communities of practice that keep my thinking up to date. It’s kind of like the learning starts after the course as you have the toolkit of foresight theories and your work provides the education.

5. Parting Advice: Be the best you can be, don’t look too hard for a foresight career as the jobs generally aren’t there and it is not widely understood. Choose a job that interests you and use foresight within that job. Think carefully about being a pure foresight practitioner and the size of the market for this service before hanging up your shingle. Publish in mainstream media. Use the language of foresight in your everyday work to normalise the professional offering.

 

Tom Harrington, Associate Director (Urban & Regional Strategic Planner) at Meinhardt Pty Ltd

Tom Harrington1. History and Current Career Path: I was a strategic planner in local government and was looking to further my education with postgraduate studies. I commenced an MBA but wasn’t enthused by the subject matter. I shopped around and found the Masters in Strategic Foresight. I was the first person from my organisation to undertake the qualification. Others have since completed the course as a fuller appreciation of its benefits has been realised.

I use foresight as an adjunct and value-add to my existing profession. I have done strategic foresight within traditional urban and regional planning projects. The use of foresight techniques has aided me to work with government and local communities to prepare planning strategies over 10-year to 50-year time horizons. I have found this a low-risk way of “getting into the industry”, and I know others who have done the same. Longer term, I hope there to be more opportunities for strategic foresight as a stand-alone profession. The key is to work for an organisation whose leadership appreciates the benefits that foresight brings. This allows you to work, study, and practice in the one place.

Fortunately, there are a growing number of large multinationals, government, and not-for-profits who “get foresight” and are using it. But there are still plenty that don’t. My advice to graduates or prospective students is to “shop around” prospective employers, do some pro-bono work to build skills, and gauge their interest in foresight, and network in the relevant professional circles.

2. Key Foresight Skills: I see foresight as a close partner to strategy and planning. In my time in the planning profession, I have found three common flaws in strategic plans. 1. They are often limited by current worldviews. 2. They assume a projection of past trends gives a reliable picture of the future. 3. They focus too much on economic data, drivers and outcomes, neglecting other (eg, STEEP) drivers.

Strategic foresight has tremendous value to strategic planners. It can be used to critically examine data, and engage with a broader range of perspectives prior to strategy development. The value to the client is a more comprehensive picture of existing and future conditions, and a strategy which is more appropriately tailored to this context. A further value-add is a product which has currency over a longer time horizon – reducing the need for costly re-writes at a later stage. But preventing or correcting common flaws is necessary to deliver this value takes skill and courage from the practitioner, and it can take extra time and money. A good practitioner needs to be able to sell the ROI in taking time to improve the process.

3. Self-Description and Marketing: I use the term futurist selectively. It gets laughed at more often than not. I talk about what I do as strategic foresight and strategic planning in corporate circles. There are varying levels of understanding of our profession / field. There is however some respect of the Masters qualification, and it has assisted in advancing my career.

4. Nontraditional Foresight and Continuing Education: Nontraditional skills include client consultation and engagement skills. To keep up my reading, I use a variety of RSS feeds, and attend many industry events.

5. Parting Advice: Most important practice is taking the time to consciously engage your colleagues in discussions about the future. I should take my own advice and do more of that!

 

Annalie Killian, Founder, Curator and Executive Producer: Amplify Festival of Innovation & Thought Leadership.

Annalie Killian1. History and Current Career Path: My first “awakening” about the power of future scenarios for organizations came in 1987 whilst living in Zululand, South Africa in the Apartheid era. I attended a talk by Clem Sunter, Chairman of the Anglo-American Corporation. The talk was titled ‘The World and South Africa in the 1990s’ and it took a 10-20 year view on the future of South Africa. I witnessed minds opening and reality dawning in the audience during that talk, through the narratives and visualizations crafted in scenarios (civil war and bloodshed or peace and prosperity), depending on the decision paths chosen in the present. I was smitten with this technique and began to read up on foresight and scenario-planning, and their applications.

As a young South African leader, I was forwarded by my employer at that time, BHP Billiton, to help with the first Democratic Elections in South Africa in 1994 to end the era of Apartheid and be midwife at the birth of the new democratic South Africa—a career highlight. During that chaotic period I helped create the Zululand Foundation, a coalition of grassroots communities, philanthropic organizations, not-for-profit delivery agencies, SMEs, corporations, local and provincial government and international donor agencies to mastermind and co-ordinate needs analysis, project design, project delivery and infrastructure development. Our purpose was to rapidly deliver on the hopes raised by the new democratic government for education, economic growth jobs and a better life for all – promises that the new government was stumbling over and which would undermine a peaceful transition to a better future for South Africans. The work of the Zululand Foundation continues to this day which I credit partly to good design-thinking at the outset, which enabled a sustainable business model.

In 2000, I joined the IT division of AMP, an Australian Financial Services and Wealth Management company. Whilst not a technologist, I was by now well-versed in seeking the way the future might unfold and interpreting what action should be taken in the present to shape the company to best serve the customers and meet the future demands of a changing business environment. Having successfully driven the digital transformation of work and enterprise 2.0 adoption in the business, I was appointed Director of Innovation in 2003 with the initial goal of creating an innovation culture in the IT division.

I found it difficult to be a foresight practitioner on my own, and thought about creating a platform for shared learning through various scenarios with the help of recognized and highly credentialed thought leaders from a range of disciplines. In 2005 I launched the first Amplify Festival as a one-day experiment, and it was a raving success. Our first speaker was David Vaskevitch, CTO of Microsoft who spoke about how Microsoft had “missed” the internet revolution and had to rapidly catch up to that. In the 10 years since then, Amplify Festival has grown into Southeast Asia’s most prominent platform for business-focused foresight and edge-thinking. My own corporate role has grown alongside Amplify’s impact, and apart from being Chief Growth Hacker and Producer of Amplify, I serve as an advisor to start-ups, boards and also advised on the creation of Australia’s first Bachelor of Innovation and Creative Intelligence degree at the University of Technology, Sydney—where I also lecture as Adjunct Professor.

2. Key Foresight Skills: I believe that every useful foresight practitioner possesses natural curiosity, openness, optimism and courage. Whilst these are personal attributes rather than skills, I believe they are essential for creating followership, influence and change. Other essential skills include active listening, emotional intelligence, superb networking and interpersonal skills, and a strong working knowledge of “how stuff works” and “how people think” in corporations so that you can effectively bridge the future and the present, and lead people on a journey they want to go on rather than be paralyzed by fear of annihilation by the future.

3. Self-Description and Marketing: I don’t describe myself as foresight practitioner, I describe myself as a catalyst for thinking differently. My business title is “Catalyst for Magic”, because I believe in the magic of human imagination over the functionality of machines.

I don’t do much self-promotion—I am too busy growing Amplify into a global foresight platform and catalyzing change, but I am frequently invited as an advisor to boards, a speaker, and in recent career highlight, I was selected as 1 of 36 women for a book and documentary on Global Women Leaders in 2014—a study on how female leaders create and lead change.

4. Nontraditional Foresight and Continuing Education: On maintaining my edge- I obviously read a lot. I go to start-up pitches, and particularly university PhD pitch nights. I founded BrightSparks in Australia and Ignite in New Zealand for the brightest PhD researchers. I use Twitter to effectively follow innovators and edge thinkers across a range of disciplines, and to spot weak ties between them. I attend conferences across industries and travel a lot with eyes open. I also find tuning in to my teenage children and their friends’ habits, values and social channels/ chat to be very valuable and think that if they ever moved out of the house, that could become a blind spot for me—I may have to move to a place where I will be constantly surrounded by young people. My current foresight focus is on the innovation opportunities in the Longevity Economy and aging Population, so at age 53, I am perfectly poised to tune into this demographic. Visiting developing countries is a favourite way to see the distributed future.

5. Parting Advice: Join a storytelling club or public speaking club and practice the art of metaphor and story as much as you can. Learn to cultivate a desire for change.

 

Noah Raford, Advisor at UAE Prime Minister’s Office and CEO and Co-Founder, Futurescaper.com

Noah Raford1. History and Current Career Path: I began as an urban planner and designer, working on computation models of the urban environment. I practiced around the world as a design strategist, and I found myself working on many projects where the key assumptions about the future were already outdated by the time the designers were hired. I saw private developers and policymakers making long-term investments—yet at the same time turning away from the changes already happening around them. The cognitive lock-in at this level was a lesson for me, particularly for big ticket, politically sensitive items. I thought there had to be a way to help decision-makers be more realistic about change and uncertainty.

I’d read Peter Schwartz’ foresight classic, The Art of the Long View, 1996 and had followed Stewart Brand’s work for a long time, which brought me to scenario planning and foresight. I also found a set of designers and academics who were interested in futures methods from their point of view, particularly from a cognitive and behavioral bias standpoint. So I started exploring these connections and practices, and was just very lucky to meet and befriended a lot of amazing colleagues and mentors who trained me in different approaches to futures work. It all just flowed naturally from there.

2. Key Foresight Skills: The number one job of a foresight professional should be to understand the psycho-emotional landscapes of the communities they work in, then translate changes in the outside world in a way that connects with this internal landscape. Otherwise you’re just selling snake oil. The most important part of foresight work is allocentricity; the ability to see the world through another’s eyes. You might have access to the best information and the best understanding, but if you don’t understand who you are dealing with and what they care about, your work will be worthless. It’s important to stay up to date on the latest trends, research, and development. But having interesting things to say is most effective if you know what others are interested in. This is particularly true when working internally to an organization.

3. Self-Description and Marketing: I have never described myself exclusively as a futurist and I don’t recommend new practitioners do so, either. It is far more useful to develop a core set of skills and expertise in a wider discipline, to which you can bring a futures perspective. This builds your credibility, understanding, and effectiveness. Ideally, you should make a name for yourself as a dynamic and competent practitioner in your core field, building your reputation along the way. You can always have a forward-looking, innovative approach, but pitching yourself as a general futurist too early is a mark of inexperience.

I’d recommend getting good at a given field for 3 to 5 years before diving straight into futures work, with the sole caveat being if you get hired directly as a junior analyst on a foresight team embedded in a larger organization. This helps you build both your industry understanding (the domain of the larger organization who hired you) and your foresight skills. Other than this, I’d recommend becoming good at what you do first, then becoming a foresight specialist later.

4. Nontraditional Foresight and Continuing Education: This relates to my previous point. Having domain expertise or specialized skills is essential to being a good generalist. Doing anything that helps build your external knowledge and credibility will always translate positively to a career in foresight. Even if this is something like SCUBA diving , race car driving, or animal husbandry.

Aside from this kind of external expertise, the most important skills are not foresight methods, but rather social and interpersonal understanding. You need to know how to listen to people, how to talk to them, how to get them to open up to you, how to actually care and understand what they care about. And you need to be a good “citizen”, in the sense that you should give as much or more than you get from the communities you participate in. These are all soft skills – interpersonal skills – that have nothing to do with foresight method. You can be a fantastic foresight professional with excellent people skills and a minimum of foresight training. But unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately!), it doesn’t work the other way around.

5. Parting Advice: Move to Asia or the Middle East, where the future is really being made. Sticking around North America will only leave you as a spectator. Surround yourself by people who care about the future and are creating new visions and prototypes for it. Be a maker; create experiments and pilot projects, don’t just study them. Be a good person, pay attention to what people care about, read and listen widely, and have an active imagination.

Practice reflecting other people’s worldviews and values back to them so that they know you know what they mean. Then become excellent at connecting external drivers of change to their cares and concerns, communicating this in compelling, entertaining and engaging ways, and you will become a wonderful futurist.

 

Hamed Ben Rebah, GM, DIVA, Tunisia Telecom; VP, Proves Tunisia, Ministry of Industry & Energy, Tunisia

Hamed Ben Rebah1. History and Current Career Path: I am the general manager of corporate development and value-added innovation (DIVA), at Tunisia Telecom. I first encountered foresight as a teacher of business strategy in the Polytechnic School of Tunis. I am now applying it as VP of Proves Tunisia, the Tunisian Association of Forecasting and Strategic Intelligence, with the Ministry of Industry and Education in my country (Tunisia)

2. Key Foresight Skills: Good foresight begins with a good definition of the system being studied (scope, KPIs, horizon). One also needs to know the likely variables behind system changes, and an influence hierarchy of the variables. Also an understanding of relevant trends, weak signals, and likely disruptors. The ability to administer a foresight workshop, do scenario planning, and basic market and financial analysis are also quite valuable.

3. Self-Description and Marketing: Strategist describes myself best. Offering a variety of desirable, realizable scenarios is the best light you can give to others, to help end the darkness.

4. Nontraditional Foresight and Continuing Education: Strategy is the best partner to foresight. I use foresight to see future trends beyond the strategy horizon. Educational resources include: Global Foresight, Future Trends, and FORESIGHT on LinkedIn. The accelerating changes we are all living continuously today are the best kind of continuing education someone can face in his day to day job.

5. Parting Advice: We have to clarify and make more visible who we are and what we want, because our world is moving faster and faster.

 

Steve Smith, Legal Counsel and Field Editor for TechCast Global and Merrill Environmental, Inc.

Steve Smith1. History and Current Career Path: I have noticed over a period of 30 years, and colleagues have also pointed it out to me that I have a knack for accurate emerging technology predictions, their problems and the changes they create. So foresight is a passion of mine. My first career was as an environmental lawyer; my second career is analyzing the economic and environmental effects of emerging technologies.

I joined the World Future Society (WFS) to change my career path to foresight work. One issue of the WFS’s The Futurist featured a list of all the foresight professionals in the Metropolitan Washington DC area. So I voluntarily spent the next year doing informational interviews with professional futurists all over the National Capital Area. All my interviewees pointed me to TechCast. I looked up TechCast and realized that it started at the very school where I got my Masters in Environmental Law, George Washington University (GWU). So I asked Dr. William Halal of GWU for an informational interview. He graciously accepted and I was lucky enough to quickly become involved in the transformation of his successful academic research project into a new business, TechCast Global.

2. Key Foresight Skills: Skills and expertise I consider key to good foresight work:

1. Possessing the passion to change the future. Only the thrill of the knowledge that you can change the future will drive you to automatically do the overwhelming work of keeping up with the ever-increasing rate of change.
2. Thriving on constant learning. Enjoying an usually keen interest in science, technology and social trend news, or what some foresight professionals call “environmental scanning,” is key. Environmental scanning, as described by Jennifer Jarratt and John Mahaffie of Leading Futurists LLC, means “being able to integrate information about driving forces and future expectations into today’s thinking/action.” But one must first have the quality of being curious.
3. Persistence in acting on your curiosities. Not only must one be interested and aware of what is happening in physics, nanotech, robotics, AI, 3D printing, genetic engineering and future medicine, one must persist in finding answers. Say you are running errands, and suddenly you wonder about the definition of AI or some topic in nanotech. If you stop what you are doing to look it up on your smartphone, tablet or laptop, you’re a good fit for the foresight business.
4. Effectively and enthusiastically communicating what you know to others. You must be a good writer, speaker and advocate for your vision. Be able to communicate your ideas about the future and get others excited about it.
5. Listening and engaging in genuine dialogue. You must be open to being persuaded by someone else’s vision. Be willing to impartially dialogue with someone whose view is seemingly antithetical to your own view. If you can do this, you will find pathways that others will not see and you will succeed in the foresight business.
6. Commitment to constant physical and mental improvement. If you’re the type that likes to do brain exercises on sites for memory improvement on the web and if you have a health coach, personal trainer, or workout partner that pushes you to greater fitness, you’ll probably also live long enough to see your foresight work make a difference in the world. Wouldn’t that be nice? 🙂

3. Self-Description and Marketing: I am a proud futurist. However when getting clients or when addressing general population, I have found that futurist can sometimes be off-putting. In those cases, I describe myself as an emerging technology expert, and those people then listen. On LinkedIn, I self-describe as an environmental law and policy professional who analyzes emerging technology for its environmental, economic and societal impacts.

4. Nontraditional Foresight and Continuing Education: For continuing education, besides TechCast Global, I am a member of SingularityHub, of the Singularity University. This also helps me to keep up.

5. Parting Advice: To quote a famous line from one of the Terminator movies, remember that “The future is not set.” You can make it what you envision.

 

Melanie Starr, Digital Community Relations Advisor at City of Boroondara

Melanie Starr1. History and Current Career Path: I was working as a public servant in public transportation and was frustrated with the lack of vision and strategy in our organization. Even though I had not heard of strategic foresight, I could see not having a vision and not mitigating against uncertainty (e.g. predictable elections and their change in political direction etc…) was very detrimental to the long term resilience of the transport system, and the health and well-being of the community. One day a group of futurists came in and ran a workshop. By sheer luck the facilitator at my table was studying the Masters of Strategic Foresight. After being really excited about the format of the workshop I was convinced that studying to be a futurist was my calling and I immediately applied to do the Masters.

The advice I’d give to a student starting their career is that it’s probably a good idea to get qualified in something else first, and bring foresight into how you deliver that role. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be a futurist in your own right, it just helps to be able to speak the language of another field. Foresight is disruptive in nature, it often instigates considerable change. Not just in the sense of business process and structure, but in the individuals in the organization themselves. This change usually meets a lot of resistance, and I’ve found it helps to have another ‘hat’ to use in this process, to help make change more manageable for more people.

2. Key Foresight Skills: Ask the right questions—there’s a real art to asking questions. Each one takes time to answer, and they can build on each other. Master how to connect to people—one of my lecturers said “organisations don’t have futures, people do”. If you take this approach, you can make positive change. Cultivate personal resilience—Foresight is disruptive and you often find yourself in the firing line. Grow your self awareness—understand yourself. Always reflect and be open to change and grow. Practice what you preach.

3. Self-Description and Marketing: I’m very upfront about being a futurist. I know it doesn’t always work in my favour but foresight will never be accepted as a field if it’s hidden away from view. I don’t care if people ridicule it. It says more about them than it does about me and helps me to understand who I’m working with. At uni, in my MS in Strategic Foresight, we were told that we should try and create an ‘elevator pitch’ because foresight is not very well understood in the mainstream. My elevator pitch is: “I help people figure out the future they want to create (vision) and help them figure out what they need to do get there (practice).”

4. Nontraditional Foresight and Continuing Education: One nontraditional area of foresight that deserves greater attention is Community Engagement. Like foresight, the principles of engagement offer opportunities to integrate knowledge and create a shared appreciation of problems and challenges. I work in community engagement for a local council. I engage with people which provides me with an understanding of how they think and what drives them. Unfortunately, like foresight, community engagement is not always enthusiastically embraced by other areas of government even though it builds acceptance for change in the community and avoids problems later down the track. In community projects, there is also often a lot of resistance to involving people considered to be ‘outside’ of the scope of projects. This resistance is mainly a fear of making things too complex and sometimes this may be the case.

As for continuing education, the only regular interaction I have is with a foresight meetup alumni at my university. These occur on a monthly basis and I find these extremely rewarding. I am also lucky enough now to be working in an organisation with twelve other futurists. While none of us have ‘futurist’ in out title or officially work as futurists, we all speak the same language and can regularly bounce ideas off one and other and turn to each other for support. So we have formed our own internal culture of foresight. (The reason there are so many futurists where I work is because the Local Government I work for supported staff to undertake the Masters of Strategic Foresight as continuing education—a great policy I’d recommend to any large organization!).

5. Parting Advice: Be brave. Say what needs to be said. One of my dear lecturers told us “If you don’t say it, nobody will ever hear it”. Be patient. Be the change you wish to see. Don’t be afraid to be who you are.

 

Lina YangLina Yang, Director, Futurist at Advanced Technology Lab for The Hershey Company
Disclaimer: The answers and thoughts below are my own only and not those of The Hershey Company.

1. History and Current Career Path: In 2010, I was traveling globally, doing international innovation for Hershey’s, when my VP called me into his office. He proceeded to talk me through the reorganization of the team and pointed out a new headcount – Director of Trends. I remember thinking, what a cool sounding job. I’m totally going to be jealous of whoever gets that. He said he knew the world was changing, that we needed to keep track of it and that he had made a few attempts at it for a few years prior without success. Then he said, “I think you should do that job.” Instead of graciously accepting the position, I said, “Why in the world would you put me in that job? I have absolutely no experience in doing something like that. Wouldn’t you rather have someone who is trained in that field?” Thankfully he answered, “You’ll be fine! What’s the worst that can happen?” And I retorted, “Well, with a bar that low, how can I refuse?” So began my futurist career and now, I can’t imagine ever doing a job that didn’t include some kind of futures work.

2. Key Foresight Skills: The number one quality I look for in a foresight partner or when I’m hiring is Curiosity. If someone isn’t broadly curious about how something works or how it became that way, I have a hard time believing they’ll be curious about the future and how all these forces come together to affect it. The second quality is Sense-making. So all these things are going on at the same time, can you synthesize the information and make sense of it all? Why does it make sense? How do they all interact with one another? Thirdly, I look for T-Shaped people. Folks who have a deep expertise in some given topic, which is the vertical part of the T, but have enough broad knowledge that they can tie many things together, which is the horizontal part of the T. I sometimes refer to being T-Shaped as being a Specialist and a Generalist at the same time.

3. Self-Description and Marketing: My previous title was Director of Strategic Foresight. It’s probably a more accurate description of the actual job, but I found that it’s completely unintuitive to someone outside the Foresight field and I ended up having to explain the title. It’s way easier, and frankly, sexier and fun, to say I’m a Futurist. Everyone inherently understands what this means and the ensuing conversation is about the future vs. the terminology of “Foresight.” I find that way more interesting, in my role.

4. Nontraditional Foresight and Continuing Education: First my job was supposed to be about tracking trends. Okay, fine, I was tracking what was happening, but so what? What are the implications and what should we be doing about it? That seemed far more impactful, and that’s when I changed my title from Director of Trends to Director of Strategic Foresight. In my work that followed, I was acutely aware that there were parts of the world that seemed to be changing with such speed that anticipation of the future and its implications didn’t seem to be enough. It seemed that in order to get ahead of it all, you had to create a preferred future vs. letting it all happen to you and then reacting. So our Advanced Technology Lab started with the intention to build out and prototype these preferred futures.

5. Parting Advice: I believe we’re entering into a very interesting time for foresight practice. Corporations are starting to realize that in order to gain a competitive edge, they need to be more than just incrementally better at what they do. They need to start anticipating, preparing, and creating the future they want to see. It’s going to be a bumpy ride at the beginning, because it’s still an idea, not necessarily put into practice with commitment or certainty, but eventually they’ll get there and they’ll lean into this discipline. And because you, dear student, had the foresight to see it, and the courage to get into this field, you’ll be ready.

 

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