How do you become a futurist?


The current edition of Fast Thinking magazine has a feature article titled ‘Know Future’ on “the future of futurists”. It looks at the history and background of the profession and goes on to interview a number of prominent futurists. It quotes me:

Ross Dawson says becoming a futurist is pretty straightforward. “You can claim you are a futurist and people either believe you or they don’t.”

And that is the nub of it. Almost anyone who is a futurist has created that role for themself. The experience can be bolstered by postgraduate or other futures studies programs, but it is the practice which makes you a futurist.

Of course many claim in some way to be futurists, and only a minority are given any credence. You have to earn your credibility. For me that has been by dint of over a decade of writing and working publicly as well as helping many organizations privately thinking about the future.

Still some media call me a “self-described futurist”. Yes I do describe myself as a futurist. However many others do as well, including a wide range of major newspapers and TV programs around the world. So, by dint of others being convinced and describing me as a futurist, I am one.

You too can become a futurist. Claim to be a futurist, and when many people accept that and listen to you, you will be one.

Here is the remainder of my coverage in the article.

Most futurists are less inclined to look at ‘the future of everything’ and instead have aspecific industry focus, he says, with futurists now often employed within large global organisations to guide planning and strategy. Dawson’s financial markets background and strong interest in technology start-ups are behind his own focus on likely futures.

It seems books are an important component in the construction of the modern
futurist; Dawson woke up wearing a ‘futurist’ label after the publication of his book, Living Networks in 2002, where he outlined the upcoming explosion of social networks and micro-messages.

“A futurist is somebody who helps people to think about the future, so they can make better decisions today,” Dawson says. “We can’t predict the future, but we can think about it. Prediction can do us a disservice because it’s
likely to be wrong and can be misguiding in helping us think about uncertainty.”

Like Ellyard, Dawson is big on constructing scenarios. “Strategy projections for organisations involves building a number of possibilities about what can happen, and trying to get an idea whether your plans will be relevant across business, society and technology.”

Dawson says that a significant shift in the near future will be the global talent
economy, where work will become individual-centric rather than organisation-centric. “Organisations are going to have to compete to attract the best talent – and money won’t be their prime motivator, people will be attracted by challenges, by the pleasures of working collaboratively with others.”

Dawson was greatly influenced by Alvin Toffler who he says was the father of today’s futurism. “Books like Future Shock and The Third Wave sold millions of copies and had a big impact on popular consciousness. They really helped futurism become a broad movement.”