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Anyone Can Call Themselves a Futurist: 6 Ways to Test Yours

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Anyone Can Call themselves a Futurist: 6 Ways to Test Yours

The world’s first futurist, Marinetti, wrote the futurism manifesto in 1909. In it, he passionately described futurists as rebels. A lot has changed since then. In role and in numbers.

My colleagues and I sometimes joke halfheartedly: “Everyone who can Google, can call him/herself a futurist”. In the last decade, we have seen an incredible rise in the number of trend watchers, forecasters, foresight specialists, and futurists. Many of them lost their jobs in the recession and are now self-employed future specialists. They all share the passion, they all put in the hours but is that enough?

Yes.

And no.

As the majority futurists, I too am self-appointed. I didn’t study future studies either. I feel the passion, put in the hours. So what’s the difference?

Quality is the difference. Not just generic abstract quality, but verifiable features type quality. This is the list of criteria you can test your futurist with:

1. Data: The easiest check you have for the quality of your futurist, is asking what data he is using. If it’s just the blogosphere, then you know enough. A futurist can use examples from the blogosphere to illustrate scientific data. He should be able to show you his sources so you can check them if you want to. Good sources are peer-reviewed papers, conference papers, and his own university research

2. Vision: futurists frequently use the same sources. One of the few differentiators is what futurists do with the information. The futures they describe must be based on several trends and vary in the trends used, their speed and direction. It’s all about possible, probable, and wild card futures, both in the positive and in the negative

3. Prediction: There is no way that a futurist can predict which trends will or won’t make it, or what their growth rate and path will be. If he could, he would be called God, and if he just says he can, he’s a quack. A good futurist will use a disclaimer, telling you that his futures are just a slice of all possible futures. His purpose is not to act as a fortune teller, but to help you shape your own preferable future

4. Realism: Futurists must be able to explain abstract developments and scientific notions in simple and clear language. You can ask him what the relevance is of his futurism for the present, and he should not reply with the question what you think it the importance is. If he’s worth his money, he will be able to relate an abstract concept to today’s work processes and markets

5. Awareness: I have yet to meet the client who hires a futurist just for amusement. There are better ways to spend the company money than on an expensive bit of fun. So I think I can make the statement that the presence of the futurist serves a purpose. A good futurist will ask you what that purpose is, make clear how he can help you attain that goal, and what instruments he has to measure and manage progress along the way.

6. Responsibility: With knowledge comes responsibility. A good futurist will not leave a client in disarray. He has to dole out his futuristic inputs in well-timed phases and doses. You can’t be expected to drop everything your company has achieved to run after a possible future. Your staff can’t be forced to change into something they’re not ready for. Your customers may not be alienated. As the saying goes: a good futurist will not undo what he can’t reestablish. Meaning: he mustn’t move faster than your company can manage, but he still needs to be ambitious. You can check this by discussing the impression the futurist has of the extent that your company is able to change

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