Futurist Thomas Frey: As a Futurist, people often ask me how many of my predictions have come true. I find this to be a rather uncomfortable question. It’s uncomfortable, not because my track record hasn’t been up to par (actually, a high percentage have come true), but because accuracy of predictions is a poor way of measuring the value of a Futurist.
In a world filled with MBAs and number crunchers, there is a constant push to reduce our analog world to digital analytics so we can accurately measure our return on investment. But not everything is measurable in this way.
As an example, for several years I have been tracking when my best insights occur, and they happen with far greater frequency when I’m riding bike. Therefor it’s easy to conclude that if I spent 8-10 hours a day riding bike, that I could somehow unlock the secrets of the universe.
However, the world is far more complicated than the surface details we can measure. What’s the value of a new idea, a new strategy, or adding awareness to a previous blindspot?
Too often, our ability to focus on one all-consuming detail blinds us to the oncoming train that is about to destroy an entire industry.
For this reason I’ve put together a list of the Eight Critical Points of Value that a Futurist brings to the table.
The Power of an Epiphany
The future is never a destination, it is always a journey. An idea that holds great value today, may be of little value two weeks from now.
Many of our best ideas appear in the form of an epiphany. An epiphany is a sudden insight or revelation into the world around us. Measuring things on an earthquake scale, an off-the-charts idea would be considered a Category 5 epiphany.
Creating an environment that cultivates great epiphanies can be hugely valuable. Every new business that gets launched, happens as a result of an epiphany. Every new product idea happens as a result of an epiphany. It’s in our best interest to create new epiphanies.
Eight Critical Points of Value
Thinking about the future is like a muscle that rarely gets used. Over time, our brains will atrophy and we lose our ability to think productively about what the future may bring.
At the same time, the world is shifting faster than ever. Our “need to know” about the future is no longer a luxury; it’s a functional imperative.
Here are some of the values a Futurist brings to the table:
1.) Altered Thinking – The future is constantly being formed in the minds of people around us. Each person’s understanding of what the future holds will influence the decisions they make today. As we alter someone’s vision of the future, we alter the way they make decisions today.
2.) Unique Perspective – The future is unknowable, and this is a good thing. Our involvement in the game of life is based on our notion that we as individuals can make a difference. If we somehow remove the mystery of what results our actions will have, we also dismantle our individual drives and motivations for moving forward. That said, the future can be forecast in degrees of probability. By improving our understanding of what the future holds, we dramatically improve the probability with which we can predict the future.
3.) Evidence of Change – Forecasting the future is not done by staring at tealeaves of reading tarot cards. Rather, futurists take an inter-disciplinary approach and employ a wide range of methods, from the study of cycles, to trend analysis, to scenario planning, to simulations, to strategic planning and visioning. Futurists use data from the past and present, as well as other concepts and methodologies to understand how the present will evolve into probable futures. We also borrow freely from other fields, such as forecasting, chaos theory, complexity science, organization development, systems analysis, and sociology.
4.) Connecting the Dots – Futurists come from a wide range of backgrounds. What we have in common is well-researched big picture thinking, strong pattern recognition, and innate curiosity. Ideas that are routine in one industry can be revolutionary when they migrate to another industry, especially when they challenge the prevailing assumptions that have infiltrated rank and file thinking.
5.) Find Your Future Competitive Advantage – French novelist Marcel Proust once said, “The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes.” The most successful companies don’t just out-compete their rivals. They redefine the terms of competition by embracing one-of-a-kind ideas in a world heavily steeped in me-too thinking.
6.) Take Control of Change before the Changes Take Control of You – Are you changing as fast as the world is? In a world that never stops changing, great leaders can never stop learning. How do you push yourself as an individual to keep growing and evolving — so that your company can do the same?
7.) The Future is Where Our Children Live – Our desire to leave a legacy is a uniquely human attribute. But our legacy becomes meaningless if we don’t have new generations of people to pass it on to. To many this may sound like an obvious statement, but to those in the business world, there is a constant battle being waged over the needs of the present vs. the needs of the future. It’s very easy to place short-term profitability ahead of long-term problems.
8.) Every Avalanche begins with the Movement of a Single Snowflake. Our ability to tap into and leverage the power of the future is directly tied to the number of times we think about it. The more we think about the future, the more we expand our understanding of it. And the more we understand the future, the easier it becomes for us to interact with it.
How do you and your business react to change?
The Reaction Paradigm
Most companies operate within a paradigm of reaction. When bad (or good) things happen, they may or may not adjust their way of doing business. This reaction paradigm occurs, frankly, because it takes all they can muster to keep the doors open, make payroll and turn a profit.
It’s a tough world out there, and the widely held belief is that we’re all out there just trying to chip away at the world in order to make a buck. When things happen, you just do your best to hang on, and hopefully do better next time around. These are companies that are always preparing themselves for the next disaster.
Other companies plan for the future. They understand that markets shift, technology evolves and unexpected waves of mayhem occur. These companies do marginally better than the previous ones. They have resources to weather the storm.
Their leadership has given the murky future some thought ahead of time, and allocates resources to various strategies for adaptation to the ebb and flow of nature — they embrace it as the pattern that it has become and create new attractors and endpoints based on the present trends.
Great companies take control of their own future.
Famed author Jim Collins often asks the question, “If your company went out of business tomorrow, who would miss you and why?”
Can your customers live without you? If they can, they probably will. So then what?
The researchers at Gallup have identified a hierarchy of connections between companies and their customers — from confidence to integrity to pride to passion. To test for passion, Gallup asks a simple question: “Can you imagine a world without this product?” One of the make-or-break challenges for change is to become irreplaceable in the eyes of your customers.
The future cannot be our only priority otherwise we lose our ability to function in the present, and here is where it gets confusing. Near-term futures invariably take precedent over long-term futures, but our ability to prioritize importance is directly tied to the context of our own future thinking.
Our thinking about the future cannot be made against a simple black and white, right vs. wrong backdrop. Every microcosm is a part of a larger microcosm, and I tend to agree with Futurist Mary O’Hara-Devereaux when she says, “Beware of conventional wisdom because it is usually wrong.”
Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything