What is a Futurist and What do They do?
This is the
…to help you Connect the Dots Correctly…and the Dots You May Have Missed
Q. Lewis, I have a friend who takes classes with you. She says your ability to describe the future is uncanny. She has seen things happen that you predicted, and that happened as you said was likely. How do you do that? It has to be more than luck. Are you a psychic?
A. No, I and not a psychic. I am a Professional Futurist. When I tell people I am a skilled futurist they often think I am presenting myself as some kind of psychic or some esoteric seer. This is an unfortunate, and incorrect assumption.
What a skilled futurist actually does is systematically explore predictions, possibilities, and probabilities about the future. They also can see patterns that help them describe how future events are likely to be influenced by the present, whether that of human society in particular or of life on Earth in general. This is not done through guesswork or by making superficial assumptions. Rather, these thinkers have a deep ability to engage in trend analysis, risk-benefit analysis, pattern language, and other predictive techniques
Futurists have a profound understanding of Murphy’s Law, Black Swan Effect, The Butterfly Effect, Tipping points, Critical Mass, Pattern language, and interdisciplinary and systems thinking. In this way, they can see the pathways diverse global trends are likely to take, possible scenarios, and emerging market opportunities.
There is no singular profession called Futurist?” Generally, the label includes such disparate lay, professional, and academic groups as visionaries, foresight consultants, corporate strategists, policy analysts, cultural critics, planners, marketers, forecasters, prediction market developers, road mappers, operations researchers, investment managers, actuaries, and other risk analyzers, and future-oriented individuals educated in every academic discipline imaginable including anthropology, complexity studies, computer science, economics, engineering, urban design, evolutionary biolog, history, management, mathematics, philosophy, physical sciences, political science, psychology, sociology, systems theory, technology studies, trend analysis, gamer psychology, game theory, strategy studies, and other disciplines.
In my process of futures research, and foresight I am generally concerned with “three P’s and a W”, i.e. “possible, probable, and preferable” futures, plus “wildcards”. Wildcards, also known as Black Swan Events are low-probability, high-impact events, . Even with high-profile, probable events, such as the fall of telecommunications costs, the growth of the internet, or the aging demographics of particular countries, there is often significant uncertainty in the rate or continuation of a trend. Thus, a key part of futures analysis is the managing of uncertainty and risk. Having been a shaman’s apprentice for 15 years I do have respect for religious futurists, astrologers, occultists, New Age diviners, and others who use methodologies that include personal revelation or belief-based work. These beliefs and practices almost never come into play within my work unless the available data is so poor and muddied that I need to bring my intuition into play.
Ultimately, what I do every day is research trends, particularly in technology, and write my observations, conclusions, and predictions. Then I call one or more of my peers and pass my prediction around for them to pick apart, or isolate flaws in my thinking. Of course, I do the same for them. Combined we have most of the tools needed to make strong estimates.
Are my predictions ever wrong? Of course, the answer is “Yes”. Still I can usually predict where the likelihood of a Black Swan or Murphy’s Law is likely to have the greatest impact, or where some cognitive bias or logical fallacy is likely to misguide my initial premise concerning a question or pattern,
A survey of 108 futurists published as The Views of Futurists. Vol 4, The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies. Brisbane, Foresight International, 2001. Sohail Inayatullah, ed., found the following shared assumptions:
- We are in the midst of a historical transformation. Current times are not just part of normal history.
- Multiple perspectives are at the heart of futures studies, including unconventional thinking, internal critique, and cross-cultural comparison.
- Consideration of alternatives. Futurists do not see themselves as value-free forecasters, but instead aware of multiple possibilities.
- Participatory futures. Futurists generally see their role as liberating the future in each person, and creating enhanced public ownership of the future. This is true worldwide.[clarification needed]
- Long-term policy transformation. While some are more policy-oriented than others, almost all believe that the work of futures studies is to shape public policy, so it consciously and explicitly takes into account the long term.
- Part of the process of creating alternative futures and of influencing public (corporate, or international) policy is internal transformation. At international meetings, structural and individual factors are considered equally important.
- Futurists believe that a simple one-dimensional or single-discipline orientation is not satisfactory. Trans-disciplinary approaches that take complexity seriously are necessary. Systems thinking, particularly in its evolutionary dimension, is also crucial.
- Futurists are motivated by change. They are not content merely to describe or forecast. They desire an active role in world transformation.
- They are hopeful for a better future as a “strange attractor“.
- Most believe they are pragmatists in this world, even as they imagine and work for another. Futurists have a long term perspective.
- Sustainable futures, understood as making decisions that do not reduce future options, that include policies on nature, gender, and other accepted paradigms. This applies to corporate futurists and other non-governmental organizations. Environmental sustainability is reconciled with the technological, spiritual, and post-structural ideals. Sustainability is not a “back to nature” ideal, but rather inclusive of technology and culture. Below is an article on how futurists collaborate to prepare for disaster.
Speaking of predicting the future, many futurists I know use sports analytics to predict winners and losers in Fantasy sports. Here is a link to a free video and information about Sports Betting and FIFA Fantasy Football. This is an introduction to one of my favorite systems. If your want to use predictive skills to explore this Complete Analytics-Driven Sports Fantasy Football and Sports Betting System. It’s based on the ideas presented in the book and movie Moneyball. Press on the play button below.
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