Futurist Mina McBride Shares Insight about Foresight from within a Fortune 500 Corporation
Do you love what you do with a passion? Did you know instantly, from the time you were very young what you were meant to do, or did it take a winding, twisting journey to reveal that work which brings you joy?
For one foresight professional, her career journey was one where she trusted her instincts, put her dreams to the test and in the end, discovered a path that is allowing her to have real impact on one of the most well-known Fortune 500 companies in the world.
“I was listening to a Tim McGraw song this morning and it was about living and doing what I love and that really resonated with me. It’s so true,” said Mina McBride, a foresight manager.
Like many folks who enter the foresight field, McBride describes her career journey like floating down a strange, winding river where you wind up here, more than heading.
It was at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard University where she was working on sustainability issues that her journey toward foresight really began. McBride was working on a team that was exploring how innovation for sustainability initiatives move through large complex systems and it led to interactions with for-profit organizations, nonprofits, NGOs and the like.
“I began to wonder about how these organizations were responding to changes that were happening outside their organization, because of course, we’re all deeply steeped within our own systems,” McBride said. “I started to realize, as I was talking with people at these different organizations, they really didn’t have anyone who was responsible for addressing these external factors.”
That’s when McBride turned to a trusted source, The Futurist magazine, which she used to read as a child growing up in Michigan.
While both of McBride’s parents were educators, she doesn’t exactly remember where she came across The Futurist, or American Demographics, another magazine that grabbed her attention. But she did realize early on that there was something out there that she loved to read about but for which there was no career track – like a doctor or a lawyer – for which she could aim.
Years later, she realized what that thing she was searching for was called -- foresight.
Mountain People or River People
“I have the opportunity to do career sessions with college students,” said McBride, “One of the things I like to talk about is a concept that I heard another speaker, Dr. Cullen Buie, talk about – mountain people and river people.
“Mountain people,” she continued, “are people who start out in life and know exactly what they want to be. So, they start at the base of that mountain and start working through the challenges to reach the top.
“On the other hand,” said McBride, “are river people. More like river meanderers. They don’t have a clear direction, so they have to just go with the flow trying to figure out where they’ll land. I think it’s difficult to be a river person because you’re really not sure where you fit in.”
Realizing she was the latter, McBride, having moved to Florida, made a list one day of all the things she thought she might want to do in life.
“My goal in creating that list was to run an experiment,” she said. “I would try out these different career options to see which one made the most sense for me. So, on this list, I wrote, ‘own a vineyard.’”
Before McBride jumped in headfirst, she took a step toward that dream by enrolling in a 16-week master gardener class. The experience would prove to be life changing
“I learned that I didn’t like spending all that time outdoors with bugs biting me, weeding, and mulching. At the end of the class, I drew a line through that dream, and fortunately for me, it was a quick and inexpensive way to learn what I did not want to do.”
Another item on McBride’s list was become a lawyer specializing in art. And while she took a class and did very well, this career dream, like the vineyard dream, also was taken off the list.
Entering the World of Foresight
While at Harvard, McBride discovered the master’s degree program in foresight offered through the University of Houston. As part of the UH program, McBride was able to participate in an internship at a Fortune 500 corporation specializing in media entertainment and theme parks. The internship, scheduled to last six months, was extended another six months, and another until finally a position opened up for McBride to become a full-time employee.
While McBride works within the organization’s corporate or enterprise level, her foresight work actually takes on a more localized approach, where she is supporting specific businesses or specific locations within the overall organization.
Since joining the organization nearly six years ago, McBride has found that leaders at both the enterprise and segments levels value the role of foresight, and believe that it’s worth investing in. Over the course of her time with the organization, she has had to build trust in her work, which meant creating projects with specific goals. This has given her the leverage to communicate the value of foresight within the organization.
“For foresight to be most effective, it must have buy-in. I liken it to coming up with a new health product and trying to sell it either to those who wish they could become healthier or to those who are already gym members, go regularly and are inclined to use the product,” McBride said.
While there may be a number of ways to judge the success of foresight work within an organization, McBride focuses on three key elements: Persuading a business leader to embark on a new line of inquiry or create something new that either increases opportunity or avoids risk, persuading a leader to monitor an issue that they were not aware of and to continue monitoring that issue for a longer time, or persuading a leader to bring in a new internal or external partner that expands capability.
“I think it’s important to slow the foresight process down within an organization,” said McBride. “If they see you cranking out a report, issuing a news flash or alerting them about the latest trend, they will think the future happens fast, that decisions need to be made fast and that foresight work is fast.”
“If I’m doing things right, my work should have a shelf life,” she said. “If I did something three or four years ago, it should still be very relevant today. The work I do should have a tail. I feel that helping leaders understand the pacing is important.”
In a Sea of Experts
Working in a sea of experts, whom McBride describes as “some of the people who are the best in the world at what they do,” McBride believes the core purpose of her job is to help them see things they are not seeing.
“I don’t necessarily approach it from the point of view that I’m a subject matter expert, because I feel that puts me at a disadvantage, and does a disservice hem,” she said. Instead, McBride explains her role as a futurist and looks for “cracks” that the company’s subject matter experts may not be seeing. To her, it’s a careful dance of figuring out where she can provide support and how to add value. McBride says the process is very client focused, describing it more as a push process versus a pull.
For example, if one of her internal clients is thinking about a new product, that client probably already has a good idea of the lay of the land. What she strives to bring to the conversation is foresight that the client has not thought of yet.
The dance goes two ways. McBride, as the futurist, is bringing insights that may not be on the subject matter expert’s radar. On the other hand, McBride is one who values the leaders’ time and feels it’s important to ask her internal clients at various stages if they want her to continue to scan and monitor specific issues or areas. At the end of the day, it all boils down to the trust that McBride builds with her clients, and vice versa.
Trusting in Herself
Finding what you were meant to do often comes down to trusting oneself. For a River person, trusting that the winding river will bring you to place where you can trust your instincts intuitively.
McBride likens her path into foresight like a musician who comes to realize that they are naturally talented in that area. But in order to actually be good, it still requires taking the time to gain knowledge and expertise. Similarly, McBride looks at her time studying foresight at the University of Houston and learning various foresight methods and gaining experience with different foresight tools as a necessary process that she needed to go through to bring out her natural talent in foresight.
While McBride feels that she has a natural system of being able to connect things that is to some degree intuitive, she needed to learn foresight methods to take her to the next level in her thinking and understanding. Having that understanding has freed her up to go back to her more instinctive talent and explore issues because now she can trust herself and her intuition.
This is not to say that McBride relies entirely on her intuition. In a large corporation, whatever she presents must be backed up by plenty of evidence. “If you’re going to do this work, you need to be thorough about it.”
Considering One’s Impact
For River people like McBride, the goal is not about being goal driven, but doing excellent work in the present and allowing opportunities to present themselves. “I’m focused on being excellent and if I do that, I’ll find my way,” she said.
Considering the reach of the organization for which she works and its connection with consumers of all ages around the world, McBride doesn’t let that define success nor the impact that she’s making as a foresight professional.
Instead, McBride believes that any organization of any size could benefit from foresight. She likens it to an airplane and guiding its path from one point to another.
“As futurists, we have a role in influencing where that plane winds up,” said McBride, which is why, in working with others, it’s important that your client understands your views on the work, and that you understand their views as well. Building trust with a client is making sure that you’re clear on your personal values and understand where that might impact the work.”
It All Comes Down to Curiosity
What connects the McBride of today -- the experienced foresight practitioner working for a major corporation -- with the young girl who used to page through printed editions of The Futurist and American Demographics? In a word, curiosity.
While she takes her work very seriously and leverages her knowledge and tools of her trade, what’s most important to McBride is her ability to lean into her natural curiosity and have fun.
“There are always connections to be made. There are new sources of information,” she said. “I make that a deliberate part of my practice – to go outside of my area of interest and maybe just do something that I haven’t done before. I think being willing to move outside of my particular areas of comfort is valuable. It just comes with natural curiosity.”
So, if you happen to run into McBride at an auction for heavy construction equipment one day, which is something she did recently just because she saw an announcement online, don’t be surprised. It’s just Mina McBride, foresight professional, exploring another bend in the river.
Stephen Dupont, APR, Fellow PRSA, serves as the editor of Compass, a quarterly magazine published by the Association of Professional Futurists (APF). In addition, Dupont is vice president of public relations for the Minneapolis creative firm Pocket Hercules and is a frequent writer and speaker focusing on the intersection of foresight and communications. He is seeking his master’s degree in foresight from the University of Houston.