Futurist Thomas Frey: I often get asked the question, “How do you become a futurist?”
When I get this question, I know that the person asking is secretly thinking that being a futurist is one of the coolest professions of all times, which it is. And they want some concrete process for becoming a futurist, which there isn’t one.
Becoming a futurist is really a calling. You are being called by the little voices in your head to spend slightly over 24 hours a day researching and thinking about the future. And if you run out of time, your only option may be to build “time-expanders” into your day to unearth just enough additional time to add brain spectrum to any area you’re lacking.
Until now, the process I’ve used has always been a secret. I’ve been debating for month whether I should reveal these secrets. Usually the debate is taking place between the little voices in my head, but lately they’ve gotten so loud that I’ve had to make a decision so I can get some rest.
After several months belaboring this point, I have finally decided to reveal my secret process for understanding the future. So here it is. (Drum roll please.)
My secret to understanding the future comes from something I always carry around in my pockets – my “holes.” Whenever I lack some level of understanding of the future, I simply reach for a “hole” to gain more clarity.
My First Encounter with Holes
I spent my childhood on the edge of reality.
On the outside, I looked like a perfectly normal child, but on the inside my brain was filled with all sorts of ideas that were so crazy I felt I couldn’t talk about them. Whenever I tried, people tended to laugh and ridicule me.
I was born and raised on a farm in South Dakota, so maybe it was my isolated childhood that caused all these ideas to happen. Maybe I was dropped on my head a few too many times as a baby. But whatever the reason, all I knew was that if someone else had the opportunity to step inside my head while I was sleeping, it would have been a total mind-warping adventure for them.
Most people go to sleep to get some rest, but I go to sleep to find my next adventure.
One night when I was 12 years old, I remember having a wrestling-match dream. This is one of those dreams that seemed so intensely real it caused me to spend the whole night wrestling with the bizarre concepts that were simultaneously insulting my intelligence, and revealing great truths about the world around me.
The dream I was having showed me how to make holes.
All night long I found myself making holes. One hole, after another, after another. And they were all different.
No, I wasn’t making holes inside of anything or through anything. Instead, I was making some sort of magical holes for later use.
Throughout my dream I was filling my pockets with ready-to-use holes, and these holes gave me powers – the power of perception, the power of discernment, and most importantly, the power of understanding.
Whenever I came to a closed door, I could simply pull out a hole and insert it into the door and I would see what was on the other side.
Whenever someone creepy was following me, I simply pulled out a hole, stretched it until it had reached the appropriate size, and threw it down on the ground so they would fall into it.
Everywhere I looked, I found more uses for my holes. I could look under things, I could see behind things, and if someone started arguing with me, I could even put holes in their arguments.
These holes that I was carrying in my pocket became my source of power. They became my muse, my source of creative inspiration.
Our Society of Gatekeepers
Being raised as a child of the 1960s, it seemed that everything I wanted to know was somewhere else.
Information was hidden, locked up, or protected by people whose job it was to prevent the rest of the world from seeing their information. The flow of ideas was being barricaded and imprisoned behind the walls of corporate and academic control, and only those who could afford it were granted the rights to see it.
The closest distance between me and the things I wanted to know was invariably through a series of gatekeepers on this toll-ridden information highway.
I needed my holes to see inside.
Our greatest enemy in life has always been the “unknown.” Even today with vast improvements in communications technology, we are constantly being blindsided by things we don’t know.
We live in a cruel and unforgiving world. Yet we are continually being separated from the simple solutions that could prevent mass chaos and even death, by toll-booth operators whose job it is to extract payment from us for answers we don’t even know exist.
The Cost of Ignorance
According to the USGS National Earthquake Information Center, the death toll for earthquakes in 2010 was 226,729, with 222,570 deaths occurring in Haiti, and additional deaths happening in Chili and Tibet.
2008 was a disastrous year in Myanmar (Burma) where over 140,000 people were killed by a single storm – Cyclone Nargis.
The recent earthquake in Japan and the resulting tsunami has spurred not only an enormous death toll, but also a series of problems with massive ripple effects extending around the world in ways that will only become clear in the coming months.
All of these disasters could have been greatly reduce if we had the ability to see the situation more clearly, and with a little forethought, move people out of harm’s way.
The cost of ignorance is staggering.
I find myself constantly wanting to ask Charles Darwin the question, “Why have we evolved so poorly?”
Ignorance is Bliss
Yet for all the wringing of hands and lamenting of our own limitations, there is also tremendous value in hiding behind the great unknown.
Hidden in the clock-ticking minutes before life’s greatest disasters are peaceful serene moments of people at their best; laughing, hugging, and giving generously of themselves.
Even after a disaster, before anyone knows the extent of the damage, we see people instantly transformed from people-helping-themselves into people-helping-people mode. We suddenly think “less about us” and “more about them.”
So while many have paid the ultimate price for our own ignorance, we can also view ignorance as a tremendous blessing. In a world seeking balance, we cannot live at peace without experiencing the extreme polar opposites.
If we had a lens that could give us a clear understanding of the inner workings of the earth, how differently would we live our lives?
The Complexity of the Hole
As I mentioned earlier, my toolkit as a futurist consists of a pocket filled with magical holes.
Every time I peer through one of my holes, I gain a new perspective. In much the same way photographers change lenses on their cameras to gain a new perspective, my holes allow me to see the world with insights and revelations not afforded to others.
In this moment of full disclosure, revealing the secrets I once said would never be revealed, here are a few of the remarkable holes that I typically have poised and ready for use:
- See-Through Hole: Perhaps the most useful of my holes is the one that enables me to see through walls, doors, and even inside metal file cabinets.
- Movable Hole: Distance is relative when you have insight, but very often the answer you are seeking lies only a few inches away from the place you’re looking. That is why the movable hole is so valuable. Simply move the hole and you will find your answer.
- Data-Encryption Hole: Sometimes I have to adjust the viewing angle of the hole, and even twist it a few times to bring it into focus, but even the best encryption is no match for a truly gifted hole-user.
- Answer Hole: Behind every situation that causes us to ask “why,” is an answer. Staring through an Answer Hole is a very revealing experience when we know the right questions to ask.
- Backward-Looking Hole: Too often what we think is in front of us is actually behind us. The real trick is to know whether to look forward or backwards.
- Stretcher Hole: If your perspective is too small, the best option may be a stretcher hole to expand your thinking. However, in most cases, the perspective is far too big, requiring a much smaller hole to bring things into focus.
- Nano Holes: The problem with nanotechnology is remembering where you put your work. The devil is always in the details and details are far smaller than most people can imagine.
- Slow Hole: Very often the answers I am seeking are traveling far too fast, so a “slow hole” will slow things down to just the right speed.
- Hidden-Agenda Hole: When trying to understand politics, few holes are more useful than the “hidden agenda hole.” Motivations and agendas are often layered into the complex intermeshed turmoil happening inside many of our key decision-makers. This one takes practice because there is seldom just one agenda in play.
- Future-Vision Hole: Today, as I spend time studying our relationship with the future, I love nothing more than being able to reach into my pocket, pull out a “future-vision hole,” and place it between me and this field of knowability that separates us from the future.
Some Final Thoughts…..
Now I know what you’re thinking. “Why do you get to use magical holes and not me?” and “If you really have magical holes, why are you wrong so much of the time?”
To answer your first question, these holes can be dangerous. As Stan Lee, creator of Spiderman once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” I am taking a great risk even revealing these holes exist. So no, you can’t have them. And don’t ask me if you can borrow one because the danger is far too great.
As for the second question, I have never been granted the ability to see the big picture, just pieces of it. And my ability to extrapolate the missing pieces is often fraught with misdirects and misguided conjecture leading to wrong-headed conclusions.
What I am still missing is the ability to create a hole-within-a-hole, a simultaneous big-picture, little-picture hole. There is exponentially greater power that can be unleashed with overlapping holes; ones that will enable me to have a backward-looking, future-vision hole that is concurrently stationary and movable, permanently square but with flexible, stretchable sides, combining the powers of fast and slow into a left-handed, right-handed multi-perspective hole that I can call upon on at a moment’s notice.
No, I don’t have that one yet, but I can always dream.