1. History and Current Career Path: I came to foresight via two areas of management called business improvement and change management. The first asks where do we want to take our business, and the second asks why some people and projects are successful and other fail to sustain change. My Masters of Foresight was critical kind of “finishing schooling” that cemented my foresight focus. Formal training in Systems Thinking was also key to my own career path.
2. Key Foresight Skills: Key skills include:
Critical thinking to uncover hidden assumptions and blind spots
Creative thinking, to see solutions to wicked problems
Resilience in the face of significant uncertainty
Ability to use foresight tools
Facilitation of group learning
Effective communication, sometimes of radical and provocative ideas
Healthy scepticism of the fallibility of our own perspective
A working grasp of moral philosophy and reasoning
3. Self-Description and Marketing: I describe myself as a futures educator and coach, and sometimes as a Pracademic (practitioner/academic). Yep, that one’s a mouthful 🙂
4. Nontraditional Foresight and Continuing Education: Nontraditional skills include economics, gardener, career coaching. Economics (which started out as a branch of moral philosophy) is a useful language to be literate in. Gardening teaches you that nothing lasts, that we are not needed and that we have to work with what is here and within a knowledge of where the environment wants to go. It’s the real ‘boss’. In coaching, recognizing the future that a client is wittingly or unwittingly creating now, through their own actions (and inactions), is a great place to start. I then ask “Is this future the one you want to live in? If not, what future do you want?” For continuing education, I participate in APF and WFSF, and follow quite a few bloggers. I ignore the mainstream media.
5. Parting Advice: Follow your passion and not your pension. The life experiences you bring to the field can be very helpful in guiding you to your own unique contribution to the field.
Andy Hines, Assistant Professor & Program Coordinator at University of Houston Foresight Program
1. History and Current Career Path: I randomly took an undergraduate course called “History of the Future,” and was hooked. It led me to enroll in the University of Houston – Clear Lake Master’s Program in Studies of the Future (now Foresight). What drew me to the work is that not only is exploring the future fascinating, it is tremendously useful and important. I have always wanted to do work that was not just a job, but provided a real value to the world, and foresight does this.
After graduating from UH-Clear Lake, I spent seven years as a consulting futurist with Joe Coates. The number one issue we had is that our clients typically loved our work, but had trouble implementing it. So, I decided to “go inside” and work as an organizational futurist to find out why it was so difficult. I spend nearly a decade in that capacity, first with the Kellogg Company and then Dow Chemical. I learned a lot about how to “translate” our work in a way that my colleagues could use it. When I went back to work as a consultant with Social Technologies, I believe I was a far more effective consultant based on what I learned as an organizational futurist. I began teaching in the Houston Foresight program as an adjunct about ten years ago “on the side,” and when Peter Bishop retired last year, I took over as the head of the program.
The challenge of having to explain what foresight and futurists do remains, but perhaps less so. An additional challenge today is the tremendous pressure clients are under to prove the value of any external work. In the US, at least, it seems getting foresight consulting work has become more challenging since the Great Recession. On the other hand, there is some growth in organizations hiring futurists as insiders, and there are more foresight evangelists who have some exposure to our work and who are trying to spread it within their organizations. One change I’ve made in my consulting work is encouraging and coaching organizations to hire organizational futurists, which can in turn re-energize the consulting futurist market. When we have client contacts who personally know the value that foresight can provide, we have a much better chance of success.
2. Key Foresight Skills: Generic skills that any professional futurist should have include: researching, decision-making, facilitating and communicating, critical thinking, systems thinking, and creativity, and understanding change. Foresight-specific skills include framing, scanning, forecasting, visioning, and planning.
Once one has the basics, they can build and develop their personal tool kit. It’s good to be aware of and know how to use a wide range of approaches, methods, and tools, but most of us tend to develop favorites or preferences, whether its scenarios or CLA or the more intuitive visualization approaches. In communicating what you can do with potential clients, you might have your top-shelf tools that you lead with, but be able to dig deep and find a special tool that might work just right for a particular project. The key thing is to consciously cultivate what types of tools you want to use, so you have a sense of how you want to build your practice over time.
Some qualities that I find helpful for futurists are pattern recognition, embracing uncertainty, and not being too sure, that is, always being open to alternatives. Being highly self-aware is increasingly important—knowing your biases and preferences, strengths and weaknesses, and being able to tell others about you—your personal brand, if you will.
3. Self-Description and Marketing: I am comfortable describing myself as a professional futurist who works in the field of foresight. My sense is that the term futurist, while it used to conjure up images of crystal balls, actually has a positive connotation today. We see more and more people calling themselves futurists. Over time, I think we can build on that, and distinguish professional futurists with certain training and qualifications—we’re working on that now at APF.
I have personally paid a great deal of attention to my personal brand and have worked very hard to promote the field. I have worked as a consulting, organizational, and academic futurist. Each of those roles has a different audience and requires a different approach. While my style has remained fairly consistent over the years, I’ve been able to adapt my practice to suit my various roles. While some of that evolution of one’s practice will happen due to circumstance, I also think we should periodically do our own personal visioning and strategic planning to nudge our careers in the direction we might prefer. For instance, when I wanted to shift into academia, I started by teaching as an adjunct on the side.