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Have we had enough of experts?

Posted By Robin Jourdan, Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Robin Jourdan examines the issue of expertise in our world today through her sixth 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.

 

Sage advice; knowledge is power; Plato's Noble Lie; the 10,000 hours’ goal. Such phrases describe experts and expertise since the 1300s. Often citizens reject experts as an objection to power that has become centralized in government or among distant leaders. Over decades there has been an idea that the people in charge, whether they're railroad barons or the government, ignore ordinary folks. Additionally, some further confuse rejecting expertise for showing their independence of thought. Is this a pre-emptive rejection of anything that implies their own opinion may be flawed?

 

Certain societies have romanticized grassroots efforts or the plain nerve to get the job done. Thus, the confidence of the dumb. This aspect of human nature is called Dunning-Kruger. When taken to the extreme, it can show itself through demonizing experts who disagree with our ideological views. Who is the expert? What gives him/her the right to speak on this matter? Is the expert using wiggle-words? These are words that skirt the truth by bending language against the listener. As we hear them, we feel twinges. Learned heuristics can cause even the most open minded to shut down. This lays the foundation of why political discourse is currently so distasteful.

 

This is different from skepticism. Skeptical but level-headed people are why nations achieve great heights in science, diplomacy, the arts and more. They never displace ordinary voters as the deciding voice in affairs of state. Skepticism does not rely on continual assurance that popular views, no matter how nutty, are virtuous and right.

 

These aspects combat today's "Expert Revolution" with economic value correlating to expertise. The democratization of knowledge and broader spheres of open conversations muddle the thinking. Expertise is further complicated by the myth that every opinion is equal. Regardless, it's essential that open discussions continue, as an ingredient for stable governance.

 

What happens when expertise is politicized? Use of leaded gasoline, IQ tests, smoking tobacco, and others show links between experts and political decisions. Such fuel counter-expertise controversies. It's essential in democratic decision making for the people to understand the issues of the day. What's needed is especially deep understanding to address approaching wicked and complex problems. As such, counselors rely on the evidence of expert analysis. Biased experts undermine public confidence in technocratic evidence. When trust in expert advice is damaged, decisions made are less optimal.

 

Experts in any government model must remain servants not masters to the system. Such distinction is needed as non-biological entities are becoming containers for expertise. Machine expertise, AI, and deep learning will increasingly factor in our decision making. Some say the rise of artificial intelligence will make most people better off toward the end of this century. Still, many have concerns about how AI will affect what it means to be human, to be productive and more.

 

Going forward we will struggle with ever more complex wicked problems never seen before needing more intelligence than ever. Today, innovation success tends to come from generalists, not only from specialized experts. What if we look at experts by the relative strength of their expertise? A proposed range of possibilities follows, each critical in light of the world's challenges.

 

First up, "Armchair Experts" can be convincing, but conversational. This jack of all trades is a master of none, but generalists have a role. The ability to cross-boundaries is often an ingredient for economic innovation. Next in the continuum: "Appliers" meet their curiosities by tinkering with new ideas, technologies, and other skills. Shortages of these educated workers result in higher demand. "Authorities" add experience to the equation and carry responsibility for the growth of an idea, technology, or other skill. Inclusion and innovation spur economic growth, including new jobs for this persona. Such people are held responsible for long-term systemic solutions. The final level adds accountability, real subject depth is met by the "Ace."  The Ace is a master of independence, capability, and invention.  They have the longest-view of approaching issues and are the fewest in the population.

 

Have we had enough of experts in the world? The simple answer is no. While the use of experts can be exploited and admonished, there is a role for experts that cannot be denied. Inclusion and diversity often make for successful enterprises throughout human history. What's needed is a greater understanding of the degrees of expertise, accountability, and the value of each. Wicked problems march forward whether experts are available or not. All things considered, the best approach to solve wicked problems is to create equally wicked but wise solutions.

 

© Robin Jourdan 2019

Tags:  expertise  professionalism  professionalization 

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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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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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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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Is a Ranking System Feasible for Futurists?

Posted By Administration, Monday, January 26, 2015
Updated: Saturday, February 23, 2019

Alireza Hejazi shares his thoughts with us about the feasibility of establishing a "Ranking System” 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.

Attending an international exhibition on a marketing mission recently, I was asked to score service and product providers there and nominate my preferred candidate at that expo. After reviewing many pavilions, I made up my top ten list and scored them according to my checklist. I voted for a European company that met most of my desired factors of presenting their services in a client-friendly manner. On the final day, my nominee won the cup not just because of my vote, but due to many other votes that other evaluators had given in favor of them. What looked nice in my eyes was also fine in the eyes of others. I asked myself whether such scorings and rankings could be also made for professional futurists. The idea made me write this blog post.

I think that ranking the futurists can be a challenging task due to a number of reasons. First of all, there is no universally agreed system of scoring for futurists. Secondly, futurists normally come from different fields of expertise and they cannot be ranked similarly. And thirdly, ranking the futurists may be done validly by institutions that might be authorized for such rankings. I would like to share some of my assumptions and questions about the feasibility of such a scoring system in this post. I should remind that the goal of ranking is not to drive low scores away but to claim them as candidates of high rank through professional development.

The first question that comes to mind is this: “What is the benefit of ranking?” or “Why should the futurists be ranked?” In my view, futurists can benefit easily from their own personal branding without ranking; but if they are going to be entitled to the merits of professional recognition, they should be identified by the degree of excellence they provide with their services. In other words, ranking is a means of qualification in terms of knowledge, skill and the quality of service that professional futurists provide for their clients. In my view, professional recognition and related merits logically belong to those who provide high-quality foresight outputs. Fortunately, the APF’s Most Significant Futures Works program has been serving this idea since 2013.

Another question that will arise concerning a ranking system is this: “Can the futurists be ranked according to their academic degrees, the number of their published or referenced works, the number of their students, the efficiency of methods and techniques they have developed or the number of their daily Tweets?” or “Should they be judged according to the values they bring to their own nations and the entire humanity?” Conventional methods of ranking may sound useful for scoring the futurists who live in societies where thinking and acting about the future is respectful, but how about futurists who live in regions where futurism is nonsense in the eyes of local decision-makers who are positioned based on aristocracy, not a meritocracy?

Any conceivable scoring system for futurists should recognize the fact that futurists are various in their talents and capabilities. While many of them are competent in applying qualitative methods of research, there are some who are brilliant in using quantitative methods of inquiry. Many futurists are good communicators and some of them are skillful in communicating what is ahead in innovative ways. Most of them are open-minded and lifelong learners, but what makes them valuable for themselves and the societies they serve? What are the social impacts of futurists and how can a ranking system measure them in national and international scales?

The first step that should be taken in this line is to provide a clear and detailed description of the knowledge, skills and attributes expected of a competent futurist or foresight practitioner. A competency framework like what is developed by the International Manipulative Physical Therapy Federation (Rushton, 2013) can be also made for professional futurists based on these components:

(1) Dimensions: The dimensions are the major functions for foresight performance at postgraduate level. The functioning of strategic foresight and futures studies graduates should be evaluated after their graduation in practice.

(2) Competencies: The competencies are the components of each dimension stated as a performance outcome. The competencies linked to a dimension indicate the standardized requirements to enable a professional futurist to demonstrate each major function for performance at postgraduate level.

Competencies can be divided into competencies related to knowledge, skills, and attributes.

(a) Knowledge: Encompasses the theoretical and practical understanding, use of evidence, principles, and procedures.

(b) Skills: Encompasses the cognitive, psychomotor and social skills needed to carry out pre-determined actions.

(c) Attributes: Encompasses the personal qualities, characteristics, and behavior in relation to the environment.

There are other concerns in the workplace that should be addressed. Research shows that ranking systems are often viewed negatively by people. However, many major corporations such as General Electric (GE), Intel, and Yahoo! use relative rankings and believe in their advantages. For example, Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, instituted a forced ranking system at GE in which 20% of employees would be in the top category, 70% would be in the middle, and 10% would be at the bottom rank. Employees who were repeatedly ranked at the lowest rank would be terminated (Ryan, 2007). Corporate futurists or foresight practitioners might be ranked internally within the corporations they work, but how should they be ranked externally in a larger scale within the global community of futurists?

Relative rankings may create a culture of performance at corporation level by making it clear that low performance is not tolerated, but how about rankings that might be made by scoring futurists at a professional level? Should a low scorer be expelled out of international futurist communities? Or should he/she be prohibited from practicing the foresight profession without receiving required certifications? More importantly, what are the potential downsides to such rankings? Should a ranking encourage the futurists to upgrade their academic education in foresight and develop their professional skills, or conversely discourage them and deprive them from professional recognition?

There are many other questions and assumptions like what are mentioned above that make a long list. They highlight a special attention that should be paid to all the details of any effort that would be likely made towards ranking the futurists. Until the completion of a standardized ranking system, conducting self-other rating agreement surveys can be the easiest way to capture a better understanding of futurists’ standing in companies and organizations they serve.



References

Rushton, A. (2013). Educational Standards in Orthopaedic Manipulative Therapy, Part A: Educational Standards. International Manipulative Physical Therapy Federation.

Ryan, L. (2007, January 17). Coping with performance-review anxiety. Business Week Online, 6.

Tags:  foresight  futurist  professionalization 

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