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Futurists as Leaders

Posted By Administration, Saturday, August 1, 2015
Updated: Saturday, February 23, 2019

Alireza Hejazi reflects his thoughts about the role of futurists as leaders 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.

Referring to one of my previous posts in which I mentioned six roles that futurists may take, I would like to focus on three roles in this post by which a futurist may appear as a leader. The leadership skills strataplex (Mumford, Campion & Morgeson, 2007) suggests that leadership skill requirements are conceptualized as being layered (strata) and segmented (plex). In this sense, categories of leadership skill requirements (cognitive, interpersonal, business, and strategic skills) correspond to three levels of junior, mid and senior managers. I review what I explained earlier and then extend my thoughts to the purpose of this post: futurists as leaders.

A futurist analyst (junior manager) is the person who applies foresight tools and methodologies in his/ her activities, someone who is competent in scanning, trend analysis, and basic forecasting. As analysts, futurists are not laboring under the influence of others’ ideas. Instead, they study those ideas and propose the best way of applying them in favor of individual, national and international benefits. The futurist analysts produce information for the second role, the manager .

A futurist manager (mid manager) is usually a foresight project manager who supervises the foresight processes at the corporate level. He/she facilitates projects and generates intelligence from foresight methods and outputs. A futurist manager is a self-disciplined individual capable of creating change, managing uncertainty, coordinating a range of foresight activities, applying alternative futures and transforming to better futures .

A futurist consultant (senior manager) is a strategic leader who works with executives to facilitate change based initiatives on the base of insights resulted from foresight processes. He/she may be known as a senior executive, a director, or creator of foresight initiatives. A futurist consultant possesses good teaming and collaboration competencies, practices problem-solving foresight and welcomes transformational challenges.

All these three roles remind that futurists are capable of functioning as leaders at different echelons. When I shifted my field of study from strategic foresight to organizational leadership at PhD level, I wanted to find out what makes a futurist to become a leader, and whether multiple leadership roles can be practiced simultaneously. My studies to this point show me that leadership is an evolved form of foresight leading both the leader and the led toward better futures.

In my view, the wide variety of complex changes that we witness in our world today places a large load of responsibilities on futurists’ shoulders. To play their leadership role effectively, futurists can no longer depend on their foresight knowledge and skills alone. They need to transcend their foresight capabilities and enter the leadership territory to cope with changing complex demands. Finding the honor of cooperating with futurist leaders in recent years, I can comprehend that well-informed foresight requires multiple competences to deal adequately with the diverse and sometimes contradicting demands.

By this I do not mean that futurists should adopt a reactive approach toward environmental uncertainties. Instead, I intend that futurists as leaders are expected to be able to provide effective responses to novel forces arising in a volatile world. Scharmer’s (2007) Theory U reminds that futurists must be able to develop open mind, heart, and will. In this way, they sense the changes occurring in the external world as futurists and communicate them as leaders to other leaders in the internal context to create something different.

As Cartwright (2015) identified five crucial characteristics of foresight profession in one of her posts, futurists are expected to be able to help people think for themselves through an inspiring leadership. They need to be risk taking in order to transcend boundaries as brave individuals to provoke new ways of thinking. In her point of view, a true futurist aims to encourage leadership at all levels. Referring to a keynote speech delivered by Dawson (2015) on the role of futurists as leaders before the Dutch Future Society, she mentions that futurists “need to help others to think forward and in turn to act better today.” In this sense, “we are at a critical juncture in human history, when actions we take—or do not take—today will shape our collective future to an extraordinary degree.”

Together with Cartwright and Dawson, I believe that futurists are expected to function for higher purposes beyond foresight. In my view, the most effective futurists are the ones who can fulfill several leadership roles simultaneously. With respect to the changes being made in foresight as a dynamic growing profession, it is of course a relevant question if and how futurists contribute to the performance and outcomes of organizations they serve by their leadership. The expanded complexity of futurists’ roles requires us to redefine our profession not just as futurists but also as leaders who are faced with complex decisions and problems more than ever. Professional futurists are the best candidates for expanding leadership to the roads less traveled.

References

Cartwright, V. (2015). The future is bright for futurists: 5 crucial characteristics of their craft, retrieved from http://rossdawson.com/articles/the-future-is-bright-for-futurists-5-crucial-characteristics-of-their-craft/

Dawson, R. (2015). The role of the futurist as a leader, retrieved from http://rossdawson.com/articles/role-of-futurist/

Mumford, T. V., Campion, M. A., & Morgeson, F. P. (2007). The leadership skills strataplex: Leadership skill requirements across organizational levels. Leadership Quarterly, 18(2), 154-166.

Scharmer, C. O. (2007). Theory U: Leading from the future as it emerges. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

Tags:  foresight  futurist  leadership 

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How futurists differ professionally?

Posted By Administration, Sunday, July 5, 2015
Updated: Saturday, February 23, 2019

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.

Strategic Focus

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.

Creativity

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.



References

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.

Tags:  foresight  futurist  professionalization 

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Creating the Future

Posted By Administration, Monday, June 22, 2015
Updated: Saturday, February 23, 2019

Jason Swanson shares his thoughts with us about the possibility of “Creating the Future” 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.

I can’t believe it has been a year! For my last post in my tenure as an Emerging Fellow, I want to explore the idea of creating and influencing the future. Before I do, I want to take a moment to thank the APF, my fellow Emerging Fellows, and you, the reader, for allowing me to explore the many questions I hold about the field and the practice of foresight.

During one of my first classes at the University of Houston’s Foresight program, we were taught that Futurists engage in two main activities; we describe images of the future, and we work to influence the future. Ever since those early classes I have wondered to what extent the act of describing the future actually works to influence how the future might unfold, rather than the act of describing the future actually being separate than the act of influencing the future?

The act of forecasting or describing the future can be said to have an effect on influencing the future. Forecasts can act as provocations, leading to action. They can uncover new markets, uncover bias, and help stakeholders ask more critical questions about what they may or may not want in the future. Of course these are just a few examples of how forecasting might influence the future and in truth we may never know the true influence the images of the future we create actually have. Even without the ability to truly measure the level of influence in our forecasts, perhaps we can speculate as to the level of potential influence that the images of the future we create hold?

One example we might consider is Berger and Luckmann’s Social Construction of Reality. Berger and Luckmann proposed that people create society, as we do so we create social facts, and in turn those social facts influence us as people, in turn making people a social product. An alternate explanation for the Social Construction of Reality might best be summed up in reply to why something is a particular way with the answer, “I don’t know it just is”. This to me brings home the point that as we create social facts, such as the 8 hour work day, they become such an ingrained idea in society after a period of time that we accept them as part of reality.

Berger and Luckmann’s work might provide some measure as to the level of influence our forecasts have on creating or influencing the future. Like social constructs that become social fact, certain images of the future might move from novel images and ideas to seemingly more plausible, almost expected futures. Andy Hines recently explored this idea with the Singularity, noting that while the Singularity itself may not be here, the idea has seeped into popular consciousness. I find myself wondering that as the Singularity concept gains more traction that if in some way this particular image of the future has become a sort of social fact, possibly enough so that Singularity might feel almost unavoidable?

Quantum physics might offer another example of forecasts themselves acting to influence the future, specifically the thought experiment of Schrödinger’s cat. In this thought experiment, physicist Erwin Schrödinger proposed putting a cat in a box or steel chamber with a vial poison gas though if you prefer Einstein’s version it is gunpowder. There is a 50/50 chance that either the gas or the gunpowder, again depending on whose version you prefer, has killed the cat, and we won’t know until we look in the box. When we finally bring ourselves to look, the cat is either dead or alive. Before we look, the cat is in a superposition where it is both dead and alive, and it is our act of looking that forces nature’s decision. From the cat’s perspective, it either sees the powder explode or the gas leak or it does not. In this way, the cat’s reality becomes entangled with the outcome of the experiment, and it is our act of observation that forces nature to choose one option or another. Does our observation of change and forecasts of the future act in some similar fashion? Does describing the future act in some way to create it beyond simply influencing mental models in the same way we might observe whether the cat in the box might be living or dead? Does the future exist in some manner of superposition?

So, do we create the future simply by describing it? I like to think so, and I think the works of Berger, Luckmann, and Schrödinger provide some interesting ideas as to how. As to what extent? Well, much like the future, that remains uncertain.



Notes:

https://en.wikipedia.org/?title=Schr%C3%B6dinger%27s_cat

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Social_Construction_of_Reality

http://www.andyhinesight.com/media/the-idea-of-the-singularity-is-here/

Tags:  forecast  foresight  futurist 

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Hopes for professionalization are still alive

Posted By Administration, Monday, June 1, 2015
Updated: Saturday, February 23, 2019

Alireza Hejazi shares his thoughts with us about the “professionalization” of 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.

Futurists’ professional development has been of growing notice, and several efforts have been made in this line of research in recent months. Among these efforts, the findings of a global Delphi study in press indicate that professionalization is still an achievable goal for futurists. The study supports foresight professionalization which is under construction and might be completed in the coming months and years thankfully to the precious efforts of our dear colleagues at the APF and elsewhere. This blog post offers a synopsis of this Delphi study.

To see how futurists compare their work to get recognized as a profession, Gary and von der Gracht (2015, in press) developed and ran a real-time Delphi (RTD) study. Their study established a framework that weighs the pros and cons of formalizing a foresight profession. The authors conducted the survey with 14 projections among 142 experts from 29 countries. The participants were asked to discuss the driving forces that might diminish or enhance the foresight profession. The RTD succeeded to locate authors’ targets where there were dissent and consensus on professionalization, its impact and desirability, and the likelihood of professionalization in practice.

The study was accomplished by developing a scale that used factor analysis based on the theory of competitive advantage. A three factor scenario model was generated composed of three market forces: assimilation, academicization, and certification. While the assimilation of professional futurists into other professions seemed most likely, the professional certification appeared least likely and less desirable by 2030. The study also indicated that the academicization of professional futurists could be moderately possible due to the rise of academic foresight programs in recent years.

It is clear that no scenario can guarantee futurists’ achievement of a formalized professionalization. However, it is worthy enough to check the possibility of attaining professionalization in those areas of foresight which require foresight practitioners’ qualification such as policy making, which determines nations’ social, political and economic destinations. Besides, any effort that would be made in this line, should consider foresight market contingencies according to the requirements of various regions and sectors, which need foresight and forethought differently.

Further studies are needed to identify other factors, which are missed in this study but constitute futurists’ professional reputation such as moral development and cross-cultural similarities and discrepancies that might affect their qualification. It seems that the demand for professionalization will go beyond futurists and in the coming years. Many other consultants and managers who are not necessarily futurist but apply foresight in their own areas of research and work will need to attain some sort of professional recognition to practice foresight in authentic ways.

My personal hope and prediction is that foresight will finally win a deserved universal recognition as an established profession and will gain a competitive advantage over other professions due to its comprehensive view of society, technology, economy, environment, policy, and values. In my view, all the professional futurists have a vested interest in realizing this dream that seems achievable more than ever. Let’s do our best to realize this great dream through our joint efforts.

Reference

Gary, J. E., von der Gracht, H. A. (2015, in press). The future of foresight professionals: Results from a global Delphi study. Futures, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.futures.2015.03.005

Tags:  foresight  futurist  professionalization 

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Future Shock for Futurists

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Updated: Thursday, March 28, 2019

Jason Swanson

Jason Swanson shares his thoughts about Future Shock for 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.

 

Roughly this time last year, Ben Wittes of the Brookings Institute wrote about what he called the “Intelligence Legitimacy Paradox. ” Wittes argued, “…the threat environment America faces is growing ever more complicated and multifaceted, and the ability to meet it is growing ever-more-deeply dependent on first-rate intelligence. Yet at precisely the same time, the public has grown deeply anxious about our intelligence authorities and our intelligence community is facing a profound crisis of legitimacy over its basic authorities to collect.”

 

Witte’s explanation for this paradox is technology. Technology has allowed for weak nations and non-state actors to play “in the big leagues of if international power politics”.  As technology is helping to contribute to the USA’s threat matrix, “…technological change is also the fundamental reason for the intelligence legitimacy crisis. The more ubiquitously communications technology spreads and the more integrated it all becomes globally, after all, the more that surveillance of the bad guys—in all their complexity—requires the intelligence community to surveil systems that we all use every day too. In other words, the same technologies that are making the threat picture more complicated, more diverse, and more bewildering are also bringing the intelligence process into closer day-to-day contact with people living their daily lives. These technologies also require intelligence agencies, to be effective, to touch giant volumes of material, most of which is utterly anodyne. The more the community does these things, as it must, the more people it offends and the more legitimacy problems it creates for itself.”

 

As a Futurist, I find the “Intelligence Legitimacy Paradox” fascinating.  Technological advances have made for an increasingly complicated threat matrix, yet at the same time gives our security agencies the tools to mine for first-rate intelligence. Leaving aside the issues surrounding the authority to collect data and information, I wonder if technological acceleration might one day create a paradox or dilemma for the futures field?

 

As mentioned above, Witte’s explanation for the paradox was technology, but to be more accurate the core of Wittes’ idea might be better defined as technological acceleration. With more and more data being generated and shared, agencies must sift through vast piles of information to find first-rate intelligence, scanning more broadly, probing more deeply, and coming closer in contact with those creating and sharing the data than ever before. As technological change continues to accelerate, the amount of data we generate will continue to grow. In 2015, we are expected to create and share eight zettabytes of information. How much is a zettabyte? 1 zettabyte = 1 trillion gigabytes. And that amount will rise, along with the ease of sharing the data that we create. As technology accelerates, Witte’s “Intelligence Legitimacy Paradox” might be even more pressing in the future, with more and more data being generated, an ever more complicated and evolving threat window,  closer touch points with data creators, and a greater need for quality data in the ever-expanding sea of information.

 

So where might this leave the futures field? To be clear, the majority of us are not dealing with a security risks or impending violence, rather we see more complex and rapid changes to the present, a more complicated and multifaceted threat matrix to present or current reality by way of rapidly approaching futures. Much like the intelligence community, our field must also contend with technology acceleration. As researchers, we put a premium on quality information, or what Witte calls “first-rate intelligence.”  If the information we use for our work is less that quality, we can assume the output also to be less than quality, or to borrow a phrase,” garbage in, garbage out”.

 

As more and more data is created and shared there is an issue of quantity versus quality that any researcher must contend with. For Futurists, in particular, this has the potential to be a blessing and a curse. With the acceleration of data generation, we are able to use increasingly rich streams of information to gain insights and generate images of the future. Beyond trends and drivers of change, these data streams also put us in touch with novel ideas and other signals. With more data being generated and shared over time, we might expect to come in contact with greater numbers of novel ideas and signals. This is where I see a potential issue. While not quite a paradox such as the “Intelligence Legitimacy Paradox”, the issue I see arising might be called something to the effect of “Future Shock for Futurists”. This is where the accelerating change of technology, specifically the increase in the amount of data being generated and shared exponentially increases over time, combined with accelerating social change, create an issue in which novel ideas and signals are no longer novel but commonplace, or in instances where they are novel, the shelf life of these ideas are extremely short, creating the potential for an echo chamber of sorts within the field.  What happens to our signals and signposts if they move from novel to accepted idea in a matter of weeks rather than years? Would that affect your practice?

 

Longer term the issue of increased data creation may be solved as data analytics such as R become easier to use so that we might make sense of  this growing sea of information. It stands to reason that web analytics will also provide increased brokering and curation services for information delivery in the form of a stronger filter bubble. Nearer term we might continue to use primary research, social networks (being mindful of our own filter bubbles there!) and other tools to ride the growing wave of data, being mindful of the rate at which ideas move from the seemingly crazy person rambling to accepted social fact.

 

How has increased data generation affected your practice? Do you see a downside to the increased creation and sharing of data? How might the hyper acceleration of ideas, where an idea might move from novel conception to mainstream inception affect the filed?

http://www.lawfareblog.com/2014/05/the-intelligence-legitimacy-paradox/

http://www.informationlifecyclemanagement.net/collateral/analyst-reports/idc-extracting-value-from-chaos-ar.pdf

http://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2015-pace-of-social-change/

http://www.r-project.org/

 

© Jason Swanson 2015

Tags:  futurist  technology  the US 

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What roles does a futurist serve?

Posted By Administration, Monday, April 20, 2015
Updated: Thursday, March 28, 2019

Alireza Hejazi

Alireza Hejazi shares his thoughts about the roles that futurists may serve 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.

 

Reviewing a number of published works, I concluded that the futurists’ roles can be generally defined based on a continuum that stretches from a point of leadership to a point of innovation. Many functions, competencies and responsibilities might be considered on this continuum, but there are six key roles that can be attributed to futurists. First, three roles are described from the point of leadership and then three other roles are reviewed from the point of innovation in this post.

 

In my view, the futurists are primarily leaders. This is why I changed the direction of my studies down the road of strategic foresight at MA level in 2012 and took up the leadership road at PhD level in 2013. I look at foresight from a leadership perspective, and this convinces me to consider Mumford, Campion and Morgeson’s (2007) strataplex of leadership skills as a good basis for classifying futurists’ roles. Therefore, I can regard a futurist as an analyst, a manager, or a consultant in the first place. 

 

Second, I think that foresight is aimed at serving the objective of facilitating or improving innovation at the corporate level. Consequently, Rohrbeck’s (2011) taxonomy of initiator, strategist, and opponent can be considered as one of the best classifications that have been proposed to this date. I will make an attempt to describe each role briefly in this post based on two of the above mentioned resources.

 

Futurist as analyst

An analyst is the person who applies foresight tools and methodologies in his or her activities, someone who is competent in scanning, trend analysis, and basic forecasting. An analyst is not laboring under the influence of others’ ideas. Instead, he or she studies those ideas and proposed the best way of applying them in favor of individual, national and international benefits. The analyst produces information for the second role, the manager.

 

Futurist as manager

A futurist manager is usually a foresight project manager who supervises the foresight processes at the corporate level. He or she facilitates projects and generates intelligence from foresight methods and outputs. A futurist manager is a self-disciplined individual capable of creating change, managing uncertainty, coordinating a range of foresight activities, applying alternative futures and transforming to better futures.

 

Futurist as consultant

A futurist consultant is a strategic leader who works with executives to facilitate change based initiatives on the base of insights resulted from foresight processes. He or she may be known as a senior executive, a director, or creator of foresight initiatives. A futurist consultant possesses good teaming and collaboration competencies, practices problem-solving foresight and welcomes transformational challenges.

 

Futurist as initiator

Foresight activates innovation by identifying new customer needs, technologies, and product concepts of competitors at the corporate level. A futurist initiator analyzes cultural shifts and collects the needs of lead customers. He or she scans the science and technology environment to identify new emerging technologies. At a higher level, a futurist initiator identifies new competitors’ concepts by monitoring the activities of the competitors.

 

Futurist as strategist 

Foresight directs innovation activities by creating a vision, providing strategic guidance, consolidating opinions, assessing and repositioning innovation portfolios, and identifying the new business models of competitors. A futurist strategist develops well-informed future-oriented strategies that lead innovation on desirable effective paths.

 

Futurists as opponent 

Foresight challenges the innovators to create better and more successful innovations by challenging basic assumptions, challenging the state-of-the-art of current R & D projects, and scanning for disruptions that could endanger current and future innovations. A futurist opponent not only challenges innovative ideas and assumptions, but proposes tweaks and re-adjustments that can improve innovation in various ways. 

 

It should be noted that foresight is a cross-functional profession, and a futurist may play two or some of these roles simultaneously based on the nature of enterprise he or she serves. Another consideration is that new future-oriented jobs have been created or conceived in recent years such as: future-guide, global system architect, global sourcing manager, grassroots researcher, organizational quartermaster, monitor/analyst, and talent aggregator (Wagner, 2010). It is possible to include all these jobs and professions into the proposed taxonomy or perhaps something better.

 

References

Mumford, T. V., Campion, M. A., & Morgeson, F. P. (2007). The leadership skills strataplex: Leadership skill requirements across organizational levels. Leadership Quarterly, 18(2), 154-166.

Rohrbeck, R. (2011). Corporate foresight: Towards a maturity model for the future orientation of a firm. Berlin: Springer-Verlag.

Wagner, C. G. (2010). 70 jobs for 2030. The Futurist, 45(1), 30-33.

 

© Alireza Hejazi 2015

Tags:  foresight  futurist  professionalization 

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Fear is the mind-killer

Posted By Administration, Monday, April 6, 2015
Updated: Saturday, February 23, 2019

Jason Swanson shares his thoughts with us about “fear” 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.

In my last post, I pondered about what might make a futurist a good futurist. With the help of some great input from Maree Conway, rather than asking what might make a futurist good, perhaps we ought to ask what makes a futurist effective.

In the month that has passed since writing that blog post, the thoughts about what makes for an effective futurist have still been top of mind. During those four weeks, I have had a number of conversations where I was asked what attributes might be needed to be a good (or effective) futurist?

To be sure, there is an endless list of attributes that one might associate with a good or effective futurist. In fact, if you were to administer a Myers-Briggs type test to the futures community you may even generate some sort of archetype, but for me, as a professional early in his career there are two attributes I feel are particularly relevant; fearlessness and obsession.

Anyone involved in futures must be fearless. Foresight is about change, and change makes many people uncomfortable. You will constantly be walking an edge, talking about images that might be, sometimes playing the role of provocateur, pushing your audience to think differently, to question their current reality, and to hopefully change their mental models. You will be challenged, occasionally be called crazy, and deal with territory where there are no data points. There is also a very public learning curve to this field. You will blog, you will write, and you will speak about the future, all the while honing your craft as you go. It is not for the faint of heart, and as a beginner this may feel incredibly daunting. It did for me. It still does.

The fearlessness one develops is joined by a second attribute I feel is just as important; obsession. I am not condoning a horrible life balance, but rather a passion about the future, and a drive to perfect a craft that cannot be perfected. Foresight is something I refer to as “the gift and the curse”. It frames my view of reality, and for better or worse I cannot turn it off. I recall an email exchange between two gentlemen I consider mentors. During the exchange, one of them remarked that choosing this line of work was more a lifestyle choice than a choice of profession. I couldn’t agree more. It is that obsession about the future; the endless drive to see what might be next, the bottomless curiosity that makes us question our current reality that separates this field from so many.

For those that may be considering entering the field, or have just begun their careers and are wondering what attributes make for a good or effective futurist, develop your fearlessness and turn your passion and curiosity to obsession. On the days where you feel fear creeping in, let your obsession and passion guide you. For those who have spent time in the field, may your fearlessness never runs out nor you obsession wane.

Tags:  fear  foresight  futurist 

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To be continued – Benefits of Big Data – from predictions to foresight

Posted By Administration, Monday, March 30, 2015
Updated: Saturday, February 23, 2019

Julian Valkieser  shares his thoughts with us about “Benefits of Big Data” 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.

In my previous articles, I have already mentioned some examples where large amounts of data are used to create future predictions. Mostly, these are very specific and limited to a certain range. After all, worldly influences are very complex. If there is too much variety of influences, the predictions using big data are less accurate.

Next I want to mention other examples, in which big data is used for creation of short- and medium-term forecasts. Of course, at first this has little to do with Futurists and Foresight and long-term forecasts. But in my opinion, it represents a baseline for future practice for Futurists and Foresights. I will explain at the end of the article. Now I want to mention two examples of big data forecasting.

The Berlin-based start-up SO1 claims to be able to predict your behavior very accurately based on customer data in supermarkets. With certain offers and discounts they can move you to change your favorite brand. This works on the principle that we already know from Amazon: “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought”. Of course, the concern of SO1 is a frightening scenario. After all, each customer may be offered different prices for a specific product. I think no one wants this. Presumed that SO1 maintain its algorithm, this is a good indication of how well you can predict human behavior already.

Another example from German Technology Review: Thomas Chadefaux from Trinity College in Dublin, analyzed social media channels and the Google News Archive from 1900 to 2011 by specific signal words, to find out if weak signals in the media advance to crises and violent confrontations. With a probability of 85% he could predict crises, like those in Armenia, Iran or Iraq up to one year in advance. The problem here is currently: He is looking back. How his algorithm will be developed in the future, must be observed. Nevertheless, one should be alert of his name.

In summary, I would like to explain why I see these examples of predictions using big data so important for the area of Futurists and foresight. Of course, classical foresight methods are used for a company to be prepared for future influences and circumstances. For example, this is also the theme of the so-called HRO (High Reliability Organizations).

Many companies base their strategic decisions in the short and medium term now on Big Data. For long-term and accompanied much more complex decisions Big Data itself is not complex enough. Here the classical Futurist jumps in. On the basis of Big Data evaluated scenarios and trigger events it can record creative eventualities that have not been enumerated by Big Data Analytics. The future of Futurists is essentially asking to set its basis for discussion with big data and finally, base eventualities on classical methods to which a company besides the main focus should also prepare. An HRO works similarly. There are eventualities outlined and for each one with a given weighting a process is defined, e.g. how to react. HRO examples are hospitals, fire stations or on an aircraft carrier.

Tags:  big data  foresight  futurist 

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How much should the stakeholders budget for the unknown?

Posted By Administration, Monday, March 9, 2015
Updated: Saturday, February 23, 2019

Alireza Hejazi shares his thoughts with us about “budget for the unknown” 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.

Attending a summit on the investment in R&D, I found the majority of R&D outputs discussed in the summit were professionally polished secondary research. A panel of experts was tasked to evaluate a strategic framework documenting a baseline, as well as alternative futures for a number of stakeholders active in the construction industry. An interesting debate was ignited in the panel when I suggested three points to be considered in their appraisal: originality, quality and timeliness. Coming back home from the summit, I asked myself how much the stakeholders should really budget for the unknown—the future. To answer that question I wrote this post and I assume those three points may make general criteria in budgeting foresight projects.

Primary or Secondary?

How much should the stakeholders pay for insights offered by futurists? In my view, a criterion can be made based on the primary or secondary nature of research. Secondary research means using other researchers’ data rather than generating one’s own statistics. Using data produced by well-known institutes such as ILO, WTO, UNESCO, Gallup, and etc. a futurist can conduct secondary research. Futurists do more secondary research than primary explorations and most of scanning jobs are based on secondary sources of information.

While secondary research can be precious in the right place, like many other researchers, futurists are expected to create their own data. Normally, primary research offers a better taste of trustworthiness to stakeholders. Governments and NGOs collect and publish statistics, researchers and authors write books and articles based on their observations, speakers write speeches according to their ideas and information, but what do futurists produce? Generally speaking, futurists find, interpret and represent the results of all that data for their clients, books and articles and also their speeches.

The missing point in judging research outputs produced by futurists is that primary data does not interpret itself. A dexterous interpreter is needed to make sense of that data. The collection of the data from various sources can be done by every researcher, but futurists enliven the collected data by suggesting alternative futures. Collecting and interpreting are both necessary, but what is the best data in foresight profession?

According to Gordon (2009), “The best data is primary data—data researched and presented by the original researcher—and the best use is primary use” (p. 14). Results from scientific research which are based on primary data are usually published in top research journals and are sometimes delayed for publishing due to the sensitivity of issues for investors who sponsored the research project and perhaps never published.

The value of primary data can be also revealed in the light of inherent limitations of using secondary data. Those limitations are identified by Burnett (2008) in this manner: “First, the information is frequently dated. Second, seldom are secondary data collected for precisely the same reasons that the information is sought to solve the current marketing problem” (p. 61). The stakeholders want fidelity and they prefer the primary source. The futurists can lead that sense of preference skillfully towards original authentic foresight outputs produced by their own reliable and valid research.

Quantitative or Qualitative?

Potent futurists are expected to organize and conduct both quantitative and qualitative researches. A noteworthy foresight output is expected to open up a window through which readers may peer into the world of foresight to learn more from the findings. Strong foresight works engage the audience by displaying and discussing correlations, values, and other details both quantitatively and qualitatively.

The choice of using a qualitative or quantitative design (or both), for a given research problem is mainly related to the nature of problem. Basically, quantitative methods are appropriate when: “(1) measurement can offer a useful description of whatever you are studying, (2) when you may wish to make certain descriptive generalizations about the measures, and (3) when you wish to calculate probabilities that certain generalizations are beyond simple, chance occurrences” (Williams & Monge, 2001, p. 5).

While most quantitative researches create generalizations that transcend the immediate situation or particular setting, qualitative researches often do not try to generalize beyond the particular situation, but may leave it to the reader to assess applicability (Fraenkel, 2009, p. 15). The history of futures research shows that the majority of studies have been conducted through qualitative approaches. The main reason is that the future is unknown and less quantitative data are normally available compared to other fields of study.

The research perspective, approach, and method should be determined as a consequence of deciding upon the objectives of the investigation. Thus, one particular perspective, approach, or method is neither better nor worse than another, just simply more or less appropriate within the specific circumstances and objectives of a foresight project. What matters for a fair payment are time, fund, knowledge, skill and energy that are devoted by a futurist or a team of futurists to a foresight project through both quantitative and qualitative approaches.

On time or Late?

The importance of each foresight output at any given time depends on aspects of the situation, such as the type of industry and the amount of volatility in the external environment. The consequent is the timeliness of a foresight report that is set up for submission to related stakeholders. The futurists are not the only ones who need time to accomplish research; the stakeholders also need enough time to devise their companies with foresight insights or new strategies proposed by the futurists.

The amount of budget that investors offer to know the unknown is tightly related to available time for decision making or change management. Firms that consistently establish a management reserve for foresight projects can tell us how much time is needed and how valuable a foresight output will be over time. Certainly a specific percentage of the performance budget should emerge as the right amount, but it is directly related to timeliness, potential risks, and the degree of predictability of the industry. As observed by Verzuh (2005, p. 106), “high-risk industries such as software development may add as much as 30 percent to the budget. More predictable projects will use an amount closer to 5 percent of the performance budget.”

The factor of time determines how much should be paid for a foresight output. Over multiple foresight projects, a normal range will appear for both futurist and client. Imagine an alternative scenario like this: A construction company is interested in a particular topic and the CEO decides to hire a futurist to research the topic for them, but time is a determining factor in the success of company. The futurist spends six months researching the issue, and six months doing and writing up the research. How much do you think the futurist could charge for this report? If the CEO needs the final report six months earlier, then how quickly should the job get done? How about the quality of research and how about the payment? Many clients pay considerable outlays for private research reports. They pay not just because of the worthiness of information, but because of its timeliness. Quick and qualified futurists are brilliant gems in every company.

In my view, the budgetary value of a foresight output depends on its originality, quality and timeliness, but its intellectual value and the contribution that it will make to building better corporate futures may not be determined by such means of assessment easily.



References

Burnett, J. (2008). Core concepts of marketing. Zurich: Jacobs Foundation.

Fraenkel, J. R. (2009). How to design and evaluate research in education. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Gordon, A. (2009). Future savvy: Identifying trends to make better decisions, manage uncertainty, and profit from change. New York: American Management Association.

Verzuh, E. (2005). The fast forward MBA in project management. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.

Williams, F., & Monge, P. (2001). Reasoning with statistics: How to read quantitative research (5th ed.). Fort Worth: Harcourt College.

Tags:  budget  foresight  futurist 

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What Makes a Futurist “Good”?

Posted By Administration, Monday, February 23, 2015
Updated: Saturday, February 23, 2019

Jason Swanson  shares his thoughts with us about “What Makes a Futurist Good?” 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.

A few weeks ago I had the good pleasure of hosting my friend Jacob for a visit. Jacob is a quantum physicist and research group leader at the Quantum Network, making him one of the few people whose job might take more explaining than mine when asked what I do.

Over the course of his visit, he asked me a question that has stuck with me. The question was a simple one; what makes a futurist “good”? The question, while on the surface seemed straight forward, however the more I sought an answer, the more lost I became.

We might judge a good futurist by credentials and training. Have they learned methods for looking at the future from an academic institution? Did they take a seminar or some manner of formal training? This training might have some manner of correlation with a “good” futurist, but the credentials themselves are third party verification of certain competencies in methods that a futurist might employ. Even more problematic is that many enter the field from other industries, with years of outside knowledge and expertise and little or no formal training or “futures” credentials, yet put out well-regarded work.

With the idea of credentials and training no longer an option for figuring out who might be good, I started to think about output. Is it possible to objectively judge a forecast? Could one be a poor futurist but an excellent writer and create vivid images of the future? Sure. Could one be great at mastering the methods in a futurist’s tool box but not articulate the images of the future? Certainly. There is also the issue of bias; we may favor a particular writing style, or image, or method, thus gravitating towards a piece of work over others based more so on style than on content.

Ultimately my line of thinking has led me to this; a good futurist is one that creates good forecasts, in whichever form they are presented. A good forecast is one in which action is taken. Thus, a good forecast could potentially be created by anyone, with any form of credentials. It could be articulated in any way. As long as a stakeholder takes action, it may be considered good. Admittedly this is a very simplistic view. As the field continues to work towards professionalizing, there may be a time when there will have to be some criteria for what makes a futurist “good”. There is no easy answer to this. That is the rub with trying to rate a futurist. At best we create a standard for what we view to be good work. At worst we risk narrowing the field and creating a status quo, creating groups that are “in” and “out”, good and bad. If we base being “good” on forecasts that produce action, how do we define action? Is it creating actionable strategies? What about simply asking better questions about the future?

What makes a futurist “good” to you? Is it even possible to objectively call someone a good futurist?

Tags:  futurist  good  work 

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