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Jennifer Jarratt Answers Questions about Futurists on Quora

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, January 2, 2018
Updated: Saturday, March 9, 2019

Jennifer Jarratt is a founding member of the APF and one of our most prominent members. This post is a collection of 3 answers she posted to Quora with links in the headings. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of the APF or its members.

How do futurists predict the future?


Thanks for asking your question, because it’s a classic one for us professional futurists to answer. We can get all huffy and say “we DON’T predict the future!” What that means really is that there isn’t one future, there are many. As you move out ahead, the level of uncertainty increases and so do the number of possible futures. You can say that there are a group of futures that are relatively probable and then on either side are a widening group of possibilities that are less and less likely. Even so, the one you decide on as the most likely is almost certainly wrong.

Being a futurist means bringing people’s attention to the (possible, alternative) futures ahead of them and encouraging them to create strategies that will be robust in most of the possibilities.

What we try to do is to create a workspace among the possible futures that people can walk around in (mentally) and begin to rethink the decisions they are making today. Scenarios are good for this.

In this process you have to keep in mind a few things, for example, most technology forecasts are overly optimistic in their assessment of time to widespread use. Social change moves relatively slowly, sometimes over generations–even in our era of social media. Also, you may need to adjust your futures work to the language people speak–some people and organizations “see” their future in numbers, some prefer stories and images.

So no, we don’t find predicting the future to be useful.

What is the most futurist thing or idea you can think about?

My answer may disappoint you, whoever you are. It’s not a brilliant new technology, the discovery of life on other planets, or the development of a drive fast enough to get us there. Although those are exciting, I must admit

As a professional futurist, the most futurist thing I can, and must, think about are the implications of change. Not just the ordinary ones, either, such as the new convenience mobile phones brought us. I think about the long-term, unanticipated consequences of change. As no doubt you can see, the mobility we gain from our mobile phones is changing our lives in small and large ways. We can’t quite see yet how this technology and associated technologies such as the Internet are changing our institutions, our political structure, the way we think, how our families function, relationships, risks in the world, and so on. To me, that’s what you need futurists for, to remind you that you ain’t seen nothing yet!

Long term, can you say we’ll still have countries and nations in the future? Or will we be virtual collections of shared, and temporary, interests? What will overcome us when or if the Internet collapses, or falters? That’s a wildcard thought, which is another aspect of the future that futurists spend time on.

You may want to ask yourself, what’s next? And will it be totally different from everything you’ve seen before?

What things predicted by futurists have proved totally wrong or been completely unforeseen?

Futurists have been wrong about lots of things, no question. A couple of things you learn when studying to be a professional futurist, however, is that you don’t make predictions and that everything you say about the future is likely to be wrong.

Your usefulness as a futurist tends to be your ability to scope out the possibilities of the future and to help people figure out the best strategic approach to the opportunities or challenges ahead of them.

As we know there are lots of people out there who make predictions about the future that turn out to be wrong. You perhaps, or they themselves, call them futurists. I wouldn’t.

Have said all that in defense of the futures studies field, I note some areas where, if you are a futurist, it is good to be careful. One is technology forecasting. It’s our experience that predictions, or forecasts of a technology’s likelihood of widespread adoption, are often overly optimistic. One example might be flying cars, which were often predicted—and indeed some have been built. But the problems of widespread adoption and popular appeal have been too big.

So timing is often a problem. Gerard K. O’Neill’s beliefs about colonizing space are years ahead of our actually being able to do it. Yet his long-term views are among those visions helping to drive people’s hopes, imagination, and discovery towards new space ventures.

You can find lots of lists online of future predictions that were wrong, mostly because those people making the predictions didn’t want to see these happen.

Sadly, we warned back in the 1980s (and based on the work of reputable scientists) that climate change was happening and was a big issue that would require new governmental, business and social macro strategies to either slow or manage its effects. We believed there would be some substantial work done on the problem and some effective global strategies in effect by today, which hasn’t really happened. We were wrong about that.

Tags:  futurist  prediction  professionalization 

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Jobbing or Doing?

Posted By Administration, Friday, November 17, 2017
Updated: Saturday, March 9, 2019

The following is a member post by Andy Hines which is cross-posted from Hines’ own blog, Hinesight. The views in the article belong to the author and do not necessarily represent the APF or its other members.

A frequently asked question I get as an educator is “can I get a job as a futurist? I tackled this important and relevant question previously. I’d like to suggest a different question, or perhaps a different approach, here. I’ll answer that question here with a question: “well, what do want to do, or accomplish?” Thus, getting a job (jobbing) versus wanting to do or accomplish (doing).

In foresight, if the answer to “doing” is money, I might point one many other fields. In other words, there are probably lots of easier ways to make money than as a futurist. But I actually encounter very little of this. More often, it’s along the lines of, “I like foresight, but I also need to make a living.” It is a quite reasonable expectation, to want to be able to support oneself and/or one’s my family.  My experience, though, is that those who become futurists are to some degree slightly unreasonable people. I mean that in a good way. That is, we are often compelled to follow our vision, even when it’s not the most reasonable thing to do. There are probably easier ways to support oneself and one’s family.

Thus, when a prospective student comes to me with lots of analysis on the potential job market or asks about starting salaries, I’m thinking, “too reasonable.” They probably won’t take the leap, and are likely to be unhappy if they do. That is, they’ll spend a good deal of their educational experience obsessing about their future job – jobbing – instead of search for what they really want to do – doing.

Of course, we get some who are just on fire for foresight and they just have to do it. I would put myself in that camp – I bought at $200 Plymouth Galaxy with no reverse gear, piled in some trash bags full of clothes, and drove south to the Houston program. I know some of you readers are nodding your heads. Probably most of our students are somewhere between this “what are the starting salaries?” (jobbing) and “hair on fire/have to do this” (doing).

“What do you want to accomplish?” is a really, really big question. Probably most prospective students aren’t quite sure what is is they want to do — I sure wasn’t — so, we go on the educational quest in large part to find that out!

In our big study for Lumina on the future of student needs, one of our conclusions was that higher education may be doing a disservice to students in being maniacally focused on job market preparation (jobbing). The alignment to the job market makes is again quite reasonable today, perhaps moreso in the recent past. Our findings suggest it will be less reasonable in the future. If we believe our findings about the future of student needs, it is more about finding purpose. The real challenge will be to find out what you want to do, and then look for the ways to do it. It will be less and less about “jobs” in the classic full-time sense and more about the work we want to accomplish. Perhaps, as has been said in other contexts, the future will be more aligned to the unreasonable, and thus more friendly to futurists.

But let me encourage you to read more in the next issue of MISC. —  Andy  Hines

Tags:  futurist  job  professionalization 

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A day in the life of a futurist Part II

Posted By Administration, Thursday, May 11, 2017
Updated: Saturday, March 9, 2019

At least two of our members have written and reflected on a day in their life. You can view Part 1 here. This post is written by Bryan Alexander for his own blogThe views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of the APF or its members.

People often ask what I do as an educational futurist.  As one answer I thought I’d share a kind of diary, to give a sense of the practical work and life.

6:30 am – rise later than usual, due to a cold and the insistence of two cats.  Check the weather outside by walking around a bit and consulting Wunderground (around 40 F; cloudy).  One of the cats charges outside for morning patrol.  Then I head back inside to start my morning news routine.

That means working through Google News, HackerNews, Inside Higher Ed, Twitter, Facebook, plus a quick scan of overnight emails for newsletters and stories forwarded by loyal readers.  I save several tabs for later rereading and possible actions.  I also note some potential details for trends: Microsoft might be aiming a light, cloud-based laptop for the K-12 market (mobile; web office; cloud computing); controversy over a sociologist visiting a liberal arts college (campus race politics; student activism); critical article about Blackboard’s strategy and reputation (LMS changes);

7:45 – 8:30 am – make coffee for Ceredwyn and bring it to her.  Make myself breakfast and eat while reading RSS feeds.

8:30 – 9:00 am – revise some presentation materials for this week.  Note some arguments among friends on Facebook.

9:00 – 9:30 am – pack for this week’s trips.  My wife talks with me about her very cool new novel project.  Our son staggers awake (he’s on vacation), and I keep one eye on him as he successfully makes himself breakfast.

9:30 – 9:45 am – share one interesting and potentially future-oriented news story across social media:

My goal in doing this is to elicit feedback; that use of social media is something I’ve been doing for years.  This morning, my own assessment of this particular project is too tentative.

9:45 – 10:00 am – Ceredwyn and I invoice two clients for this week’s operations, and discuss other financial issues.

10:00 – 10:30 – drive to nearby town in search of decent bandwidth.  No, business class Fairpoint service is neither fast nor reliable enough for me to run a webinar with assurance.

10:30 – 11:00 – set up for webinar in local public library.  Check in with organizers and make sure the tech is running. Answer emails from people concerning presentations tomorrow and Thursday.  Reply to interview query.  Discuss one professional futurists’ organization by email.

11:00 – 12:00 noon – conduct webinar for one new client.  Internet connection is solid.

Noon – 12:30 pm – grab this book from the library’s ILL service, then head off to our bank for a deposit, and then to the post office up the mountain.

12:30 pm – 5:00 pm – drive from Vermont to Boston.  At best this can take less than four hours, but I get clobbered by the city’s traffic, as ever:

90 minutes to cross 2/3rds of this cursed town.

Along the way I listen to a variety of podcasts.  Once, in New Hampshire, I stop for a phone interview.  Several times I stop to check email and social media.  Throughout the drive I meditate on virtual reality for education, the subject of Thursday’s workshop.

5:00 – 6:30 pm – check in at Logan, then get online to do some work, including this blog post.

7:00 – 9:00 pm – I’m scheduled to fly from Boston to Washington, DC.  Hopefully I’ll have room to do some writing.  If not, I’ll read about American populism and higher education.

Once in DC I’ll Metro to the hotel for tomorrow’s conference, get some work done, then fall asleep.

The most futuristic bit of today: weaving several ideas about the future of education and technology across multiple technologies, time zones, media, and nations.

The least futuristic bit: moving some pieces of wood onto another stack.  Or maybe it was holding Hunter, our biggest and fluffiest cat, very close before I left.  He hates when I leave.

Tags:  futurist  professionalization  work 

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A Day in the Life of a Futurist, Part 1

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, May 2, 2017
Updated: Saturday, March 9, 2019

At least two of our members have written and reflected on a day in their life. Adam Jorlen wrote his reflection for his blog in 2013 when he was just beginning his futurist career. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of the APF or its members. Please stay tuned for more from A Day in the Life of a Futurist.

Many people ask me what a futurist does and I answer differently every time. Partly because I don’t know what sort of futurist I am yet, and partly because what I do varies so much from day to day.

Yesterday looked something like this:

08.30
Reflecting on a communications strategy for an open foresight workshop I’m running for Hub Melbourne.

10.30 
Uploading a slideshare presentation for the information session held the day before.

12.50
Tweeting and reading

14.00
Driving out to Footscray with my friends and fellow foresight practitioners Gregor and Kieran to check out Centre for Transformative Creativity – an upcoming hackerspace and makerlab in the the Western surburbs.

15.00
Watching a dog.

16.30
Dropping off the book A Theory of Fun at Hub Melbourne.

18.00
Riding my bike out to Swinburne university to explore the essence of foresight with the Melbourne Strategic Foresight Meetup.

21.00
Drinking a beer at The Fox hotel in Collingwood.

So, that is what this futurist does.

UPDATE:

After posting the above I thought it might be interesting to complement what a futurist does, with what a futurist thinks and feels during a day. Here goes…

_______________

Yesterday looked something like this:

08.30
Doing: Reflecting on a communications strategy for an open foresight workshop I’m running for Hub Melbourne.

Thinking: How can I communicate the output of this foresight process to different layers of an organisation with free/cheap on and offline tools and platforms?

Feeling: Excitement. Frameworks and models are cool…

10.30 
Doing: Uploading a slideshare presentation for the information session held the day before.

Thinking: Will anyone ever look at this? It doesn’t matter. If they do they do. If they don’t they don’t.

Feeling: Boredom after a while. Powerpoint is not fun

12.50
Doing: Tweeting and reading

Thinking: About all the possibilities and pathways we can take for the future

Feeling: Happy and hopeful

14.00
Doing: Driving out to Footscray with my friends and fellow foresight practitioners Gregor and Kieran to check out Centre for Transformative Creativity – an upcoming hackerspace and makerlab in the the Western surburbs.

Thinking: Networked creation spaces might be the way to start a true peer-to-peer revolution, which are combined drone labs, social enterprise incubators, learning cafés and places to build social capital for immigrants.

Feeling: Overwhelmed and excited

15.00
Doing: Watching a dog.

Thinking: Nothing

Feeling: Relaxed

16.30
Doing: Dropping off the book A Theory of Fun at Hub Melbourne.

Thinking: More people (including me) should probably read this book.

Feeling: Good

18.00
Doing: Riding my bike out to Swinburne university to explore the essence of foresight with the Melbourne Strategic Foresight Meetup.

Thinking: About the future and what I will do as a futurist

Feeling: Content, challenged

21.00
Doing:Drinking a beer at The Fox hotel in Collingwood.

Thinking: How will all this make sense in hindsight?

Feeling: Hungry, tired, inspired.

So, that is what this futurist does, thinks and feels.

Tags:  foresight  futurist  professionalization 

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