Futurology or future studies has its formalised origins in the 1500s. It is the systematic, interdisciplinary and holistic study of economic, political, environmental, social and technological advancements and trends – for the sole purpose of discovering and determining how people will live and work in the future.
Futurists attempt to explore and predict future possibilities and opportunities. Think of them as individuals who help companies straddle the past and the future by using various tools, practices as well as well-refined intuition to chart the way forward. Some might call them strategic thinkers, change-makers or observers, but for this piece, we would like you to imagine them as watchmen on the walls of a medieval city, looking over the horizon at foreseeable and unforeseeable future scenarios (also known as blind spots, black swans and wild cards). This brings us to the next point which speaks to a question that hangs over the head of any individual or institution that would like to get the services of a futurist:
“Why and how can a futurist assist them?
And is there any evidence, outside of their present and past predictions that supports inviting one to work with their team or company?
An article titled: “An organizational futurist role for integrating foresight into corporations” by Andy Hines and Jeff Gold, highlights the benefits of having a futurist within any organisation however, the article also reveals that the longevity of a foresight department is compromised or dies when the progenitor of the department leaves the company, albeit without an adequately trained successor. Then there is an alternative approach which is to outsource the foresight service but the downside of this is that continuity is compromised because the futurist is not on-site to ensure that whichever project needs to be done is completed.
A third approach is one offered by a South African trends analysis company. The service is the “Futurist in Residence” created by Flux Trends Analysis. Their approach to integrating foresight into your company’s strategy combines both the approaches listed above by having a futurist who is brought in, to assist the company as a resource that can be used by their various teams and departments. Where this service is different is that the futurist is brought in on retainer which allows them to stay in touch with the trends happening in the world while also joining the company on their unique foresight journey.
Futurists bring the following attributes to the table:
- They are agents of change who use signals and patterns to uncover what the future might be.
- They marry fresh thinking with the company’s internal thinking so that they can benefit from the zeitgeist (harness the company’s future competitive advantage).
- They help companies reframe problems as opportunities and assist them with doing the groundwork before they need to determine their strategic plan of action.
- They help businesses determine and create the future – also known as taking control of change, instead of allowing change to control them.
The points listed above speak to preparedness. The pandemic has shown what can happen to companies, individuals or institutions that are not prepared for a sudden change. The pandemic was the proverbial wild card of our time.
What is your business doing right now to ensure that they are not caught crippled by another wave of the pandemic or even worse by what the post-pandemic world would look like?
Does your company have a futurist or even a foresight department?
French novelist Marcel Proust once said, “The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes.” Maybe all your company needs is the help of a pair of new eyes and a curious mind to chart the way forward.
Remember, “We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims.” – Richard Buckminster Fuller