What is a futurist and do I need one?

Futurists are the most endearing of the geek family. Some of us are your card-carrying sci-fi fanatics, the we-are-going-to-live-on-mars, robots-will-take-over, we-will-all-be-chipped-by-2021 daydreamers. And, the get-your-butt-in-gear-and-don’t-miss-it variety. I tend to be the latter. Pragmatic prognosticators understand the business case of futurist work. Futurists can provide C-suite execs advice that will help them avoid disastrous strategies.

Let’s start with the first question I get all the time, second only to “Can you make me go viral?”.

What does a futurist do?:

  • They tap into their experience in a field of work and notice the patterns that make their next bet a pretty sure thing.
  • They coach out the old. Often, a futurist will reduce risks of a competitive edge shift or market shift for a client.
  • They find, address and reorganize missed opportunities for client growth.
  • They help with clarifying goals and realistic actions for the clients near and long term needs.

Do you need a futurist?:

  • If your strategic plan has or does not include a “disruptor” factor.
  • If you *think* you are on top of your marketing game, but don’t have the empirical data to prove it.
  • If you do not have at least one risk goal and dedicate 10% of your team and budget to it.
  • If you still care about your website.
  • If you or your team has been in this job for 5+ years.
  • If you aren’t the disruptor in your industry.
  • If you want to test your strategies against market shifts.

Of course, I’m never going to tell you there is a situation that wouldn’t benefit from a second opinion from an experienced futurist. But, you should be clear on why you are hiring them and for what specific purpose. We do not read crystal balls, and predictions are only about 5% of what a good futurist relies on.

The best way to put it is this:

Futurists are strategists that have enough experience to look ahead 5 or 10 steps.

When I receive resistance from a client, I often find out it’s because of fear. Getting a strategy audit feels a little like getting called into the principal’s office. Your internal monologue may go a little something like this:

“They are going to “find out” everything your organization is missing, messing up on. And, they may ask you to change. I mean, hell, don’t you work hard enough already and haven’t you added on 17 new media outlets in the last 18 months already. There’s only so much a human can do! So, back off with your challenging, easy-for-you-to-say strategies. I’m doing just fine at keeping my job as is, thankyouverymuch!”

Here, have some truth: You are not meant to just pay bills and die. In between “keeping up” and being a market leader is a damn fine career you can be proud of. A good futurist will understand the fear and find solutions based on your situation. We are not going to ask you to change gears and start selling flying cars (but wouldn’t that be cool?).

What a futurist is not:

  • They are not a “guru”, only entry-level punks use that word.
  • They are not your parents. If you give an excuse not to do something, they are not going to write a note to the “powers that be” to get you out of gym class.
  • They are not “growth hackers” Another buzzword I loathe, why on earth would you want the word hacker associated with a professional career.
  • They are not soothsayers. Looking back at my trend prediction scorecard, I’ve missed a few due to the fact that I’m not psychic (which would also be cool, btw)
  • They are not tacticians. A lot of the time, when a fururists job is done, it’s easy for the client to ask the futurist to do the work for them. Nope, nope, nope. Stay in your lane. You can’t see the forest for the trees, and all that jazz.

To close out this little futurists are viable consultants manifesto, I will tell you why I am a futurist. I’ve done the work and managed it, delighted and disappointed clients, won and fell on my ass, done the never-been-done and fulfilled the overlooked. I pay homage to my path, because I demand that of myself. My experiences have given me a special talent to foresee strategy in an unique way, to understand client fear and limitation, and the path to clear up and move forward on any directive. I do it to honor those who have worked with me. I do it because that’s the talent I’ve been bestowed. I do it because I cannot live life any other way.

 xoxo, jb