What the Heck is a Futurist?

Futurist is a term that has been thrown around a lot lately. However, do you actually know what a futurist is? No, they aren’t fortunetellers and they aren’t alchemists either. Futurists are actually a lot like journalists. Rather than reporting on what has already happens, they report on what is only beginning to happen. Then, they analyze that information among various environments. Basically, futurists find what is just on the edge of society – they can identify the trends and technologies that are just on the periphery, but will become the center very soon.


What about the history of futurism? It all started in the 1940s actually. Ossip Flechtheim, a German professor started to speak and write about the need for “futurology” courses at universities. However, then the two world wars happened and this idea was put off. In the 1960s, a second wave of futurist stepped up to the plate and developed statistical models. They used computers to determine how society would look like in the future. Different from today, futurists at this time were primarily concerned with the far-future ramifications of things such as space travel, the Pill, artificial intelligence, overpopulation and other things of this sort. While people like Arthur Clarke, Theo Gordon and Eric Jantsch imagined what would be possible with science; Daniel Bell, Bertrand de Jouvenel and Yujiro Hayashi wondered what these things would mean for government policy, democracy, journalism, economic welfare and academic independence.

So, as you may have guessed – we are now in the third wave of futurists. The work done in the 1960s has provided a substantial backdrop for what is done today. Taking that and developing it, futurists connect the dots that seem to be unrelated at first. They accurately identify trends and understanding of how they will shape tomorrow. It kind of sounds more like a science experiment – gathering research, then looking for explicit and implicit patterns. Next, futurists will apply those patterns to the consumer to determine whether the consumer and the marketplace is ready for the change. The last step is pressure-testing the trends to see what could possibly occur. That’s right, we’re talking probabilities, not prophecies. In the very end, futurists develop strategies and explain what to do about it. There are specialties as well. Some futurists stick to computing and biotech or future of the cosmos or future of aging.

It definitely sounds a lot more complicated than both you and I probably previously thought, but it does sound like an intriguing career, doesn’t it?


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