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Careers in Futures: Disrupting Futures

With this issue, we are welcoming Tracey Follows as a contributing columnist who will write about career questions and issues particular to professional futurists. If you have a career question that you’d like Tracey to explore in a future column, please email her at

I was discussing the topic of the future of identity, and what comes next, with a futurist friend of mine when he had the bright idea to ask Chat GPT that question. Not only did the system produce an illuminating review of my book, it identified new areas that I could explore, suggested additional chapter headings and key takeaway lessons that I could develop, and even highlighted some practical exercises and tools for readers.

Essentially, it had outlined some alternative possible futures for my futures project.

And it got me thinking about how our role as strategic foresight professionals and futurists will now have to fundamentally evolve if we are to collaborate, or compete, with technology in the future.

There are some big trends affecting the work of futurists. We might name the following as just some of the many forces impacting how and what we do, and even who we do it for.

Work as Network

We’re moving towards a more hybrid way of working. Not everywhere, but in enough sectors for this to have an effect on the organizational structures and environments in which we are working now. Whether it is flexible working hours, or remote working or choosing which projects one wants to work on, the power dynamic is shifting away from the employer towards the employee.

Of course, that is not the case everywhere, but the more jobs that become digitized, the more we will see those jobs shift from being “positions” in a company, toward being “roles” in a team -- roles that can be carried out at anytime, anywhere, and paid by the day or hour rather than salaried. A four-day working week seems to be on the horizon in the west with many companies reporting that employees are using the Friday for scheduling all their appointments -- whether doctors, dentists, or home improvements, people now have a day for their personal to-do list, thereby attending to their work on the other four days of the week in a more focused manner.

Predictive Performance

Many people are still unaware of the sheer amount of surveillance that is now in place among companies wishing to surveil their employees’ performance, and so it is very hard for them to accept that organizations are already in an advanced state of monitoring their staff’s brain wave data. Brainwave monitoring is being integrated into hard hats and train conductor caps in order to study the wearers for fatigue levels, orattentiondeficit, manywearers being scored from one to five for drowsiness. In China, train conductors already wear sensors embedded in their hats, and it is becoming clear that truck drivers, pilots and miners are already subject to this new technology even in the West. Many questions remain about what happens to the raw brain data being collected, how it is shared or where it is stored.

Intergenerational Discord

A third aspect is demography, which will drive some very particular tensions in the workplace of the future. Most regions are now heading for increasingly ageing populations and everywhere apart from Africa is looking at fertility rates that are well below the replacement level. Not only does this beg the question about how the workforce will manage with a top-heavy older society being held up by a smaller working population, but it also will challenge us to rethink industry polarization.

There is polarization between workplaces that are young and for the young as opposed to the workplaces that are old and for the old -- these have become almost heuristics, these generational stereotypes, habitual ways of perceiving these industries. There is actually no reason at all that, for example, advertising should not be seen as a dynamic and creative industry that employs as many older people as younger people but of course it is not. Likewise, a professor who is very young would perhaps not be taken quite as seriously in academia but there really is no reason why that should be the case. These stereotypes are now rather entrenched, but they will have to change.

Perhaps in the networked environment of the future, which is a flatter, non-hierarchical, and more autonomous working environment, it will facilitate the de-coupling of the notions of progression and of age so that policy can be approached in a way that assumes that everyone can progress in more fulfilling and varied ways, any of the time, rather than the only goal being to ‘climb the ladder’ over time.

I mention these three forces of change in particular because I think they could affect the field of foresight and futurology.

We are seeing a shift away from offering futures advisory purely to organizations and more to individuals. As more and more people are working in portfolio-careers, or in a project capacity, or are evolving and retraining from career to career, we need to offer foresight capabilities that they can apply to themselves, not purely to the organizations where they are for a short time employed.

We are seeing brain wave data being used not merely to analyze but to predict behavior. We may be moving towards using neurotechnology to monitor children in class, or employees at work, to better understand what is going to happen next. Who is searching hate terms, or asking Siri about issues of sexuality, or delving even deeper into whatever subjects might feel taboo at the time, listening in on personal thoughts with a view to foreseeing any security issues that lie ahead?

And finally, we can no longer have older generations preparing for the future without fully engaging younger generations.

Intergenerational relationships will be the currency of the future, they will be the hallmark of successful organizations. In 2015, Mercedes-Benz launched a demography initiative called YES -- Young, Experienced, together Successful

-- with the aim of encouraging intergenerational exchange. The company identified the loss of institutional knowledge and experience as older colleagues retired and they put into place a long-term knowledge transfer initiative primarily composed of a video platform to record and preserve experiences and create tutorials, run workshops, and offer more than 100 different courses.

As it pertains to professional futurists, consider: How will the foresight and futurist community continue to engage all generations? How many of you are on Discord channels and are part of communities not of your own age? How are we transferring knowledge of professional futurists who are nearing retirement to younger generations?

Exploring Career Issues

These are some off the issues that I’ll be looking at in my column here in Compass, as I explore the ways in which technology will be replacing some of the tasks associated with tools of foresight, how each of us can learn new models and mindsets from generations that are different to our own, and how the shift from institutional to entrepreneurial careers will create new avenues of opportunity for foresight professionals to ‘teach the future' to a broader constituency. I’ll look at futuring as a secondcareer,transitioning into different aspects of foresight, what skills one needs for speculative futures compared to strategic foresight, and what’s next for futurists who are retiring.

To start me off, I asked Chat GPT what it thought the future of futures and foresight might hold and to give me some predictions based on trends:

  • The professional futurist community is likely to become more diverse, as younger generations become more involved in the field and bring new perspectives and approaches.

  • The industry will become more networked and collaborative, with futurists working together in teams to address complex challenges.

  • Data analytics and machine learning will increasingly be used to predict human behavior, allowing futurists to make more accurate predictions and identify emerging trends.

  • The importance of foresight in decision-making will continue to grow, as organizations and governments recognize the need to anticipate and prepare for the future.

  • The role of futurists will shift from being purely prognosticators to becoming strategic advisors, helping organizations and individuals navigate the rapidly changing landscape of the future.

  • Futurists will need to continue to adapt and evolve their skillsets to keep pace with technological advancements, shifting societal values, and emerging global trends.

Not bad. But if you have an issue or a question you would like me to explore, with or without the help of AI, then please feel free to email myself at and I will do my best to address the topic in this column and elsewhere.


Tracey Follows

Tracey Follows is the founder CEO of Futuremade, the futures consultancy, and Visiting Professor in Digital Futures and Identity at Staffordshire University. She is the author of the book, The Future of You, and host of the podcast of the same name.

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