Jobs of the Future: Futurist

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What is a futurist?

A futurist is a person who studies the future in order to help people understand, anticipate, prepare for and gain advantage from coming changes. Futurists use methods, techniques, and processes to:

  • -make better decisions and assess the long term implications of choices
  • -prepare for change, avoid surprises and be ready for whatever does happen
  • -imagine new opportunities and innovations

What do they do?

Futurists are often called upon to help make a decision, solve a particular problem, adapt to a coming change, or identify paths toward innovation. Many of them use structured methods of sorting and categorizing data to help distinguish useful information from noise. Futurists use different kinds of information in their research:

  • -Data-driven evidence like trend analysis and historical analysis;
  • -Descriptions of driving forces like a systems model;
  • -Mapping of influence networks, leaders or followers;
  • -Perspectives and visions of leaders and decision makers in the field;
  • -Current accepted expectations of the future of the field.

Most futurists prefer to stay away from forecasting or predicting the future. They are more likely to say how or why a future could appear rather than to say what the future will be.

Here are some examples of the work of futurists:

  • Jason Silva is a media artist, futurist, philosopher, keynote speaker, TV personality and the creator of Shots of Awe:


Human Machine Future

Where do they work?

Futurists work in large and small businesses, governments and non-profits, as teachers or researchers in education, and as consultants or as permanent staff.  Many futurists focus on one topic such as a technology or a specific industry.  Other futurists study broad social changes or global problems.

How do I become a futurist?

Futurists are often experts in specific field or discipline. This requires research, experience and credibility. Futurists also learn about concepts, tools and methods by familiarizing themselves with the literature, apprenticing or collaborating with professional futurists, and participating in professional development, conferences, and organizations.

There are also a handful of graduate programs to train futurists. For example, the Master of Science in Foresight at the University of Houston, the Master of Design in Strategic Foresight and Innovation, OCAD University in Toronto, Canada and the MBA program in Strategic Foresight at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco.

What are the most important skills of futurists?

Futurists need to be inquisitive, critical and comfortable with uncertainty. They should also have the imagination necessary to envision major disruptive events, yet have the ability to use solid research to guide that imagination. Finally, futurists must have the ability to recognize connections in scattered bits of information. These connections are often a sign of emerging trends, and identifying them allows futurists to forecast likely and alternative futures.

How can I learn more?

To learn more, you can find and stay up to date with futurists or other thought leaders in your field. You can also visit websites for groups of futurists, from which the information for this article was collected:

  • World Future Society – 15,000 members who subscribe to The Futurist magazine and attend annual meetings; mostly centered in the U.S.
  • World Futures Studies Federation – a few hundred members spread across the globe with a rotating secretariat, including many academics.
  • Association of Professional Futurists – a global organization of several hundred professional futurists and students in futures degree programs, emphasizing the practice of foresight and futures research.

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