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  • So, You Want to Be a Futurist?

    Where do you start?

    How do you know when you’re done?

    This second question is supposed to be funny. I hope you at least smiled.

    I think the best way to start is by reading and watching what known and renowned futurists in your industry are doing. Also, by diving deep into areas where you have an interest. I know this sounds quite obvious, but it’s the way we can learn what others are doing, seeing, and predicting. I do have a few recommendations though.

    Tips for future futurists:

    1. Write down what you’re thinking today
    2. Write down what you’re thinking tomorrow will look like
    3. Most Important – Grade Yourself. Take the time to go back to what you have previously written and give yourself a grade.

    History is bound to repeat itself.

    Or, perhaps a better way to say this is …

    Don’t ignore history

    While it is true that technology advances impact the way the future will be realized the fact remains many of the things we’ve seen have already happened in one way, shape, or form.

    Are there new things developed? Sure. But, quite often the way humans interpret those innovations follow a pattern.

    Will this change as more AI and robots take over? That’s hard to say.

    Perhaps you have a prediction about that. Share them in the comments if you are so inclined.

    So, what’s your definition of a futurist?

    The good news is… you get to define who is a futurist. In a sense everyone is a futurist. However, some people are much better at predicting things farther out in the future than others. By “better” I mean they have a demonstrable track record of success in predicting the future. See the first 3 points in the beginning of this post.

    If you live in the technology arena you probably have several people that you have observed over the years as being “good“ and “predictable” futurists.

    Some are more generic than others, but they have spotted trends and documented them. And, quite often they have turned out to be true.

    For example, Gordon Moore of Intel came up with… what else… Moore’s Law.

    Moore’s Law is the observation that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years.

    This has held true for several decades. There were and are physical and technological factors that influenced each iteration. It’s likely this will compress in the coming years with the rise of quantum computing and continued improvements in design, manufacturing, and other factors.

    What does it mean to be a futurist?

    Does being a futurist mean accurately predicting the future any specific time and place? I think the answer is no. I’d certainly like to hear your opinion in the comments. Futurists are especially good at making predictions 10, 20, even 50 years out. Yes, many of these are educated guesses. But, the education and thinking behind those “guesses” can be years in the making. To me a futurist is anyone that is willing to take the time to make bold predictions and to write them down or put them on video. As noted in point 3 above the definition of a good futurist

    Can a futurist be a sci-fi writer?

    Absolutely. Science-fiction writers, or as they are sometimes called speculative fiction writers a.k.a. Spec fiction, often have a fanciful and somewhat precognition vision of what the future could be. Does what they say and show always come through? Absolutely not. They are writing a story. Not necessarily trying to be futurists.

    A few great writers that come to mind include HG Wells, Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. There are many, many others. I only use these as an example. But, each of them created amazing worlds and people with equally amazing skills that seem

    What about actual Futurists? Here are some of my favorites:

    You may disagree with my list and I encourage you to add yours to the comments

    • Tech and Publishing – Tim O’Reilly
    • Tech and Society – Buckminster Fuller
    • Economist – Milton Friedman – A thinker with futurist oriented economic thinking
    • Government – Amy Webb and the need for The Department of the Future
    • Philanthropy – Bill Gates and Warren Buffett

    I am also a fan of Seth Godin, Malcolm Gladwell, and the Freakonomics guys.

    What about Reverse Futurists?

    There are people out there that just want to tell it like it is and I would argue that they aren’t necessarily what I would call a futurist by definition. But, they are for lack of a better terms a”reverse futurist“

    People like Tom Peters who wrote the seminal book “In Search of Excellence“ and regularly talks about what’s really going on in the workplace. So, by definition he’s not describing the future he’s describing the present. But, quite often the present he is describing is what could and should be envisioned as the future of the corporation. , quite often the present he is describing is what could and should be envisioned as the Corporation of the Future.

    Others that fit this category W. Edwards Deming, Alfred Sloan, Thomas Watson Senior, and many others that defined what their vision was and most importantly put it into practice and build businesses around their vision. By applying their special skills for reducing defects, automation, technology adoption, respectively they created a framework to create the future of the companies they worked with and/or built from the ground up.

    Back to being a futurist. I think the future will continue to hold a lot of promise and allow those that are willing to make bold predictions to continue to make those predictions. For those that try and those that end up having a modicum of success they will find that they stand out in your career. If you try and find that you aren’t great at it … don’t give up. Try again and remember the first three points above. The more you try the better you’ll get.

    So, you want to be a futurist?

    It’s never been easier to try. Perhaps you won’t change the world, but I don’t think that is the most critical part of being a futurist. Unless, you expect to be paid for your vision. And, there’s nothing wrong with being paid for your vision. But, there’s also nothing wrong with making predictions, backing them up with facts, writing them down, and giving yourself a grade on how you did on your predictions

    As Tim O’Reilly said in his book WTF … “I was named future just because of one paper I wrote where I ended up getting a lot of things right.”

    The essay was “What is Web 2.0

    He said it much more modestly. He said “I didn’t invent the future… I drew a map of the present technology… that is shifting the business landscape“ and in a sense this is what being a futurist is all about. Thinking of maps, finding missing pieces, aligning your thoughts, and seeking to fill gaps. It’s not easy and perhaps it can take a special kind of creative thinking, but I do believe almost anyone can put their mind to work and “become” a futurist. Even if only for a small point in time out there in the future. You’ll never know until you try. So, just try.

    Some of the modern futurists I’ve been following include:

    Yes, they are all women. Hint: The Future is Female. At least in the way I’m thinking of futurists. One where we tap into a vastly underutilized resource. Females have been and continue to be vastly underrepresented. Imagine … engaging the “other” 50% of the world’s population.  Females have been and continue to be vastly under-represented in STEM and every other field. We can fix that. I’ve been working on that for several years and will continue to advocate for more women in technology (and every other field).

    So, you still want to be a futurist?

    Read about and learn from some of the people I mention here. Follow the first three points and especially the 3rd point. See how you do. Perhaps you’ll have a knack for predicting the future and be able to confidently call yourself a futurist. I hope so.

    Jeff is an expert in the Enterprise Content Management industry. He brings over 20 years of Channel Sales, Partner Marketing and Alliance expertise to audiences around the world in speaking engagements and via his writing. He has worked for Microsoft, Kodak, and K2. He is currently consulting with Microsoft and partners to drive Community Engagement and Alliances. Follow him on Twitter @jshuey or on LinkedIn: in/JeffShuey

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