Alireza Hejazi shares his thoughts with us about “Professional Futurists” in this blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Talking to a student of Futures Studies about developments made in the foresight profession in recent months and years, our discussion led my student friend to ask me how futurists differ professionally. He was interested in knowing if there was any ranking system by which the futurists might be rated. In the absence of such a system, I provided him a simple response. This motivated me to add another post to the series of posts published in our blog in relation to futurists’ professionalization.
In my view, futurists differ by their depth of vision, strategic focus and creativity. I owe this categorization to Joe Coates (2004). I don’t intend to limit futurists’ differences just to these three factors, but this was the best categorization I could remember to offer to my student friend in a quick and orderly fashion. There are still a few miles to a standardized ranking system for professional futurists, but to that end these three qualifications may serve this purpose.
Depth of Vision
Futurists are different by their depth of vision. They set up the big picture, inspire others and empower them to achieve it. In my view, a futurist’s depth of vision can be determined by the extent to which it enables individuals and organizations to pursue their preferred futures independently. Personally, I hate controlling and being controlled all the time. Therefore, I do not prefer to exercise tight control over others to check if they are moving on the right path. If a vision is developed skillfully and communicated appropriately to clients, it can empower them to follow what is desirable without tight control. When people pursue distant future goals, they are typically under the pressures of current moment. Being occupied with present situation leaves little room for addressing long-range visionary goals. The art of a visionary futurist is to consume people’s concern for existing problems in favor of attaining visions. A futurist’s ideas may be different from his/her clients’ prevailing beliefs, but he/she can persuade them to follow their desirable visions by creating a mind setting that allows individuals to hunt the vision.
Clarifying the strategic focus is critical for the professional success of a futurist. People who pursue future-oriented goals generally experience irritations and lose their way. They sometimes end up with losing strategic focus. Therefore, in addition to a well-established vision, they need a well-informed strategic focus. Professional futurists help people and organizations get focused on what they are seeking. Foresight clients are typically preoccupied with the short term. They always find themselves thinking about here and now. Skillful futurists can switch their clients’ minds to the long term and grant them a higher degree of focus to take the value of time and space more consciously. Creating such a level of awareness requires continuous scanning so that their confusion might be removed by providing them valuable information. In this way, they will be able to filter out the noises that prevent them from attaining their desired goals. At a higher level, potent futurists enable their clients to get out of their organization and go beyond their industry to see what is going on at the global level. Thus, strategic focus makes it possible for futurists to do a high quality job of developing their profession, services and exploiting current and emerging foresight markets.
Futurists are also different by their level of creativity. As Rick Slaughter (2005) says,” creative futurists are offering possibilities to people and to cultures. We’re not saying that there’s a blueprint that has to be followed – such a thing does not exist. Instead, we’re offering options, interpretative possibilities, practical possibilities, tools of understanding which represent a vast, extended tool kit for reinventing culture.” Beyond Slaughter’s reference to culture, the futurists’ creativity works in foresight profession at large. Standing on the shoulders of many giants, the futurists examine the ways by which they might be able to activate their own creativity and shape the foundation of new knowledge and ideas targeting the future. In fact, creative futurists apply their sense of curiosity in favor of motivating individuals to explore new areas of foresight and cope with unanswered questions.
Earlier, I reviewed a number of questions on ranking the futurists. I recall that ranking is a means of qualification in terms of knowledge, skill and the quality of service that professional futurists provide for their clients. Any ranking initiative or system should serve the ultimate goal of futurists’ professional recognition.
Coates, J. (November-December 2004). Looking ahead: Futurists are different. Research Technology Management. Retrieved from http://www.josephcoates.com/pdf_files/275_Futurists_Are_Different.pdf
Slaughter, R. (2005). Towards a wise culture: four classic futures texts. Australia: Foresight International.