What does a futurist actually do?

The two questions I am most often asked about my job are: 1) How does one become a futurist? and 2) How do you do what you do?

I'll save the answer to that first question for another time. To answer the second question, I'd like to share a few thoughts here, and also a link to a great article I suggest you take a peek at.

Being a good futurist is about understanding the confluence of a range of trends over time. Futurists have to understand technology trends, business trends, ecosystem trends, and (most importantly) people trends.

By understanding what people want, what they care about, what they are scared of, what their aspirations are, what their core motivations are, and so on, it's possible to start to imagine how technology can solve problems in their lives, improve their relationships, help them feel more productive, help them feel safer, help them to be more creative, and so on. Without fundamentally understanding and considering people, those developing new technology are really just shooting in the dark. Or designing technology for people just like themselves (which rarely turns out well).

Understanding cool new technologies is vital to being a futurist. After all, new technologies have the power to fundamentally reshape the way that all businesses operate, and the way that we all live our lives. Artificial intelligence, Blockchain, augmented reality, autonomous machines, the Internet of Things, and other technologies are being used to reimagine every sector, from education to transportation, and from banking to agriculture. But it is only by understanding how businesses operate, and how these technologies can cost-effectively be used to solve real business problems, that you can start to understand the possibilities the future presents. And of course all of these potential business advances have to be considered against the backdrop of regulations, market forces, political forces, and so forth. That's where a solid understanding of an ecosystem comes in. So, a good futurist is able to weave together considered understanding of technology, business, ecosystem, and human (demographic and attitudinal) trends.

All of this is detailed in a well-written and nicely-researched article I'd like to share. I was interviewed for this story, and you'll see me quoted a few times throughout the piece. It explores how futurists are used by forward-looking companies to help them figure out what possible futures lay ahead, and which of those futures they want to go and build.

The best plans for the future involve imagining possible futures, choosing one you want to help build, and then backtracking through time to understand all the steps necessary to get you there: your R&D strategy, your talent strategy, your M&A strategy, your IP development strategy, your partnership strategy, your marketing strategy, and so forth.