What Do We Call Ourselves?
Google’s Ngram Viewer is a tool that shows word frequencies as a proportion of all books published between 1500 and 2008 that have been digitized for public access. In the 30 million digitized books to date (already representing 23% of an estimated 130 million extant books), we find the following trends with respect to future-related terms:
- “futurology” peaked in the late 1970s and has lost 80% of its former relative use since. It holds out only in a few places in Europe.
- “futures studies” peaked in the early 1980s and is roughly half as popular (a 50% drop) today.
- “futurist” grew rapidly from the early 1900s to 2000, but has seen a 20% drop since.
- “foresight” peaked in the late 1500s, again in 1650 and the early 1800s, became half as popular since, and grew 23% in popularity from 2000 to 2008 (and likely more since).
- “future” is the only word that has shown steady, but very slow growth since the 1550s. Today it is roughly twice as popular as it was in 1650, at the start of the European Enlightenment.
The data support our advice that unless you are a public speaker and others call you a futurist in that role, it is most useful for most of us, in organizational contexts to self-describe with terms like “foresight strategist,” “foresight analyst,” “long-term analyst,” “forecaster”, “intelligence analyst”, “strategic planner”, “risk manager”, “trend researcher”, and other specialty practice phrases to self-describe.
“Foresighter” is our recommended single word for professional self-description, though it will remain little-known and little-used for some time to come. Just claim it, own it, and explain it when folks ask you to elaborate on what it means: the practice of strategic foresight.
While your self-title and career focus are important, and will be considered in coming chapters, just as important is recognizing the full variety of practitioners who work today to improve organizational foresight. Learning from and being able to work with all of them will maximize your effectiveness and professional development potential.