Chapter 3. Career Options - Great Ways to Be a Foresight Leader

1. Consultant

Marina Gorbis, Institute for the Future

Marina Gorbis,
Institute for the Future

[Examples: Scott Aughenbaugh (CSIS), Ulrik Blinkenberg (CIFS), Ian Bremmer (EG), Josh Calder (FA), Gerald Celente (TRI), Clay Christensen (Innosight), Christian Crews (AndSpace), Cornelia Daheim (ZPunkt), Hugues De Juevenel (Futuribles), Kaat Exterbille (SF&C), Banning Garrett (AC), Rob Gear (PA Consulting), Marina Gorbis (IFTF), Jennifer Jarratt (LF), Parag Khanna (NAF), Amory Lovins (RMI), John Mahaffie (LF), Pero Micic (FMG), Ted Modis (GD), Ruben Nelson (FC), Rafael Popper (FD), Tom Rath (Gallup), Gill Ringland (SAMI), Lee Shupp (TFC), Peter Singer (NAF), Dave Snowden (CE), Rohit Talwar (FF), Jaana Tapanainen (Zpunkt), Hardin Tibbs (SSC), Natasha Todorovic (NVC), John Vanston (TF), Heiko von der Gracht (ICE), John Watts (Noetic), Edie Wiener (WEB), Derek Woodgate (TFL), John Zogby (ZI)]

The consultant is the most widely recognized role of the futurist, at least in organizational environments. Most of the folks in organizations like the Association of Professional Futurists are consultants, as we would describe them. Consultants see themselves primarily as foresight service providers. They serve one or more clients, typically in a non-employee relationship, formally or informally. This semi-independence from their clients allows them a level of impartiality that, like creatives, can make them particularly effective at changing minds and actions, if they choose to be a force for change.

Consultants like to work as external or independent trainers, analysts, and advisors, either solo or in groups, consulting organizations or individuals. The largest number of these individuals have very simple consulting arrangements with the clients they serve. Any speaker who sees themselves as serving a client with their services is a consultant. The foresight consulting services they provide to organizations might be as simple as a talk, a workshop, a course, or as complex as change management, competitive intelligence, facilitating, forecasting, horizon scanning, idea generation, market research, planning, research, risk management, scenario development, strategy, training, trend analysis, visioning, or advising. Foresight consulting for individuals can also be quite broad and might include financial planning, wealth management, goal setting, life coaching, leadership development, or therapy.

While some futurists don’t recognize this point, the consulting role is typically primarily developmental (probable) foresight, and only secondarily evolutionary (creative, experimental) by its very nature, which is why we color it blue rather than green. Whether consultants are helping their clients to better manage uncertainty, projecting alternative futures (scenarios), think more creatively, or uncover probable futures, and whether they use qualitative or quantitative techniques, they seek to find and use reliably, objectively better foresight methods than their competition. In their role as social foresight experts they implicitly warrant and predict that their clients will better manage the future by using their services. This is a promise that creatives, when they offer it, would view as secondary to their creative work. Entrepreneurs may provide such a promise as well, but that promise is also secondary to their efforts to grow their business, whereas consultants and academics are ostensibly working, via their roles, primarily to advance the client’s interests or to advance objectively better social knowledge, respectively.

Consulting is the most visible job destination for professional futurists, with options ranging from top management consulting groups, which often don’t view themselves as doing foresight work, to boutique groups focused on specific industries and foresight methods, a number of which explicitly use foresight terms and a few of which actively intern and hire graduates of foresight education and certificate programs. See Appendix 2 for some starter lists of primary foresight consulting firms.

If you do foresight work as an independent consultant, you will face a particularly difficult set of challenges. How do you build trust with new clients, establish your value, and measure your ROI with our often abstract foresight work? How do you best sell into an often reluctant business market, and find your best clients? What is the right mix of free and paid products and services, for you? What price and fee structure, such as value-based pricing, will best grow your business? Fortunately, the consultancies listed in Appendix 2 have all developed their own answers to these and many other business questions. Many will share tips and give advice if you ask for it, and we include a little of that advice in Appendix 1.

There are also helpful organizations that will help you with these questions. The Institute of Management Consultants is one of the better-known professional organizations in this space. They offer three levels of certification for independent consultants, a great online training and support network, and a variety of in-person events and conferences, such as Grow! For consultants that develop their own software, TBK Consult offers a great biannual conference, and there are many other specialty communities for consultants. If you see yourself in this role, seek them out! If you hire others as your consulting work grows, you’ll may soon view yourself through a different foresight social role, the Entrepreneur, which we will consider shortly.

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