Developing Virtual Skills12th Jun 2019
Everyone is a futurist.
If we use the most fundamental definition of the word, a futurist is “a person who studies the future and makes predictions about it based on current trends”, (Merriam-Webster) then there can hardly be a person who anticipates their holiday, plans for retirement, moves house, changes jobs or stresses about their children’s education, who isn’t approaching their lives like a futurist: making predictions based on current trends.
Like everything in life, there are levels of skill and different degrees of success or failure in these attempts. There are really good amateur futurists, as well as professionally trained, academically qualified futurists, and people who can never interpret the simplest signs correctly.
The tools and skills to become a better futurist are available to anyone who needs them. We should not only embrace the concept of being futurists, but we should also learn the skills so that we become futures literate.
What a futurist is and is not
It is only in recent years that the term ‘futurist’ has entered popular conversation, so many people are not sure what it means.
A futurist cannot tell the future. We do not have crystal balls and claim that we can see what is coming. We are reluctant to make predictions because we know how many variables are involved in the creation of any situation.
A futurist pays attention to multiple sources of information, including but not at all limited to trends, applies models to the information, and then creates scenarios about what the future could like. Using those scenarios we consider how we could respond, to either press into potential advantages or to mitigate potential threats. We consider how we could make choices now or influence the situation to get to a future that we are hoping for.
Why do we refer to the future as a multiple instead of a single?
There are multiple potential futures, not one, pre-determined future (unless you are watching a hectic time-travel movie where attempts to change a situation are in fact the cause of the situation, but this is not the place for wild conversations like that!).
The future that I am planning and creating, is different from the future that you are planning and creating. The evaluation of a ‘good’ future is different for different interest groups.
Your desire for the future of, say our home city, may be different for my desire for the future of our city. So we are focussed on the future, but there are two of them. Which one 'wins'? If we collaborate and hear each other, and co-create we will most likely create a third option, one that is better and more nuanced. So now we have 3 futures. And that is literally at the heart of the futures conversation.
Can there be amateur futurists?
Yes, most definitely. You can enjoy a live music performance from your favourite artist and appreciate the experience. If you know a little about music, you may have a deeper appreciation of their skill, technique and nuances that someone with less insight will probably miss. Then you can go home and play your musical instruments, and enjoy the experience all the while acknowledging that there is someone who has put in more hours, more practice, more dedication to the same craft, than you would ever be able to afford.
There are professional musicians and amateur musicians. There are professional tax practitioners but you can still do your own tax return. We wouldn’t trust an amateur brain surgeon, but yes, you can learn the skills and models for futures thinking and apply them to your own circle of influence.
Your first step is to become futures literate.
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