Chapter 1. Introduction – Our Emerging Foresight Field

Futurists and Foresighters

There are two common types of foresight practitioners. The first, the futurist, is commonly known in public, but is a rarity in the workplace. The second, the strategic foresight professional, or foresighter, to use a shorthand phrase coined by Andy Hines and John Smart in 2014, is less well-known by the public but is by far the main type of practitioner, and the main intended audience of this Guide.

A futurist is anyone who speaks or writes publicly (and typically more than once) about the future of any topic. The term usually connotes a qualitative, story-driven approach to the future, and the approach of a generalist. This isn’t always true. A minority of futurists are quantitative, evidence-based, and predictive in their storytelling as well, and we will introduce several in this Guide. But to tell their stories, all futurists rely at least partially on personal insights, intuition, narrative, and anecdotal experience to guide what they do, and they differ widely in their use of analysis, evidence, and quantitative methods. As a rule, futurists enjoy thinking about the future, and the more professional ones also spend a good deal of time consuming, producing, critiquing, and communicating futures content.

A foresight professional (foresighter) is anyone who is paid to do foresight work for others, using any of a wide variety of specialty practices and methods we will discuss, and typically in one or a few specialized industries and contexts. The word “foresighter” is good single word to substitute for “foresight professional”, and we advocate its usage by all foresight practitioners. By analogy, think of officer, insurer, treasurer, manager, leader, and other descriptive words that end in -er, and that describe important organizational functions.

As an ideal, the term foresighter connotes not only specialty practice competency, but a diverse and more balanced use of both qualitative and quantitative approaches to foresight than the typical futurist. Foresighters tend to prefer reason and evidence first and story and aspirational thinking second, and the use of critique and various formal methods over argument or exposition to guide their practice. They are more apt to practice in just one or a few industries, to specialize their clients, and some focus on specialty activities, like gathering intelligence, to the neglect of other foresight methods, or on improving foresight methods, like risk management, to the neglect of foresight process.

The Guide seeks to help each of us become better futurists and foresighters. Every one of us have been both futurists (speaking publicly to others about the future, even if it is regularly done just to one or two others, on just one or two topics) and foresighters (looking to and analyzing the future for pay, for others) at various times in our lives. These two roles often overlap. But the market for foresight is perhaps a thousand times larger than the market for futurism, if we were to venture a first guess on the number of orders of magnitude separating the two. Both roles are useful to society, but far more people are engaged in full-time foresight work.

In personality most futurists are like foxes, seeking to know a little about many different things. A few are like hedgehogs, knowing a lot about a few things. Many foresighters, by contrast, and perhaps even most, are hedgehogs first, and foxes secondarily, as their past experience and job allow. For more on these two key personality types, see Chapter 2.

Whether you are a futurist or a foresighter, you should strive to become a “T-shaped” practitioner, to use a term coined by journalist David Guest. The horizontal bar of the T represents your “fox-like” qualities, how broadly you understand futures issues and foresight methods in different disciplines, and how well you can collaborate in disciplines outside your own. The vertical bar of the T represents your “hedgehog-like” specialist abilities and credentials in at least one well-recognized professional discipline, like the twenty foresight specialties we introduce later in this chapter.

We are all at least T-Shaped, and should strive to be Star-Shaped.

Being skilled at any one of these twenty specialties (actually, forty specialties, as each specialty actually is a group of two that go together well) is usually enough for anyone to be able to do good foresight work on a team in an organization. But as one becomes T-shaped, it is easier to work with others who think differently from you, and to move into management and leadership.

After becoming T-shaped, with some broad understanding of different aspects of your organization and the world, it often makes sense to become “star-shaped”, with expertise and credentials in multiple specialties. This can further improve your effectiveness, and make your work more unique, particularly in interdisciplinary areas between your specialties. A few foresight practitioners, with time and experience, will even become polymaths (“Renaissance people”) gaining deep expertise in several specialties. If you are an autodidact (someone who enjoys self-directed learning) becoming a polymath is both an achievable and desirable goal.

As Robert Heinlein famously said, “(total) specialization is for insects.” We all must specialize in at least a few things, but good foresight thrives on having general knowledge and experience, and a cognitively-, skills-, and experience-diverse community of clients and colleagues that can solve problems with us, and continually give us critical feedback.

All foresight practitioners shift perennially between these two roles, that of futurist (storytelling, provocateur) and foresighter (specialist, researcher, strategist, consultant) as context dictates. But as we will see, the much larger numbers, narrower and more evidence-based focus, and less grandiose titles of foresight professionals tend to make them both more trusted and more successful in business environments.

Being effective in either role requires developing insight into and empathy with client problems, learning their worldview and languages, gaining trust, and demonstrating value. Both groups are quite capable of this, but futurists have handicaps to overcome that foresighters lack in client engagements, making it harder for them to easily achieve these outcomes. Let’s take a look at a few of these “futurist handicaps” now.

Because the term futurist is publicly used to describe anyone who tells stories about the future, it can be snickered over in boardrooms and organizations, where practicality dominates. The futurist community includes imaginative futurists, whose future tales are entertaining but not always evidence-based, utopian and dystopian futurists, who offer visions that can inspire or scare us but have little or no probability of occurring, and preconventional futurists, dreamers and eccentrics who cheerfully pursue their personal visions outside the norms and conventions of society. These individuals will always be with us, and I believe they will always keep the wider futurist community from having deep business impact.

“Futurist” is a term best minimized in business environments

“Futurist” is a term best minimized in business environments

Future stories can have great value, particularly in influencing others, but they are just one tool in the leader’s toolkit. Sometimes, one clarifying bit of critical data, one good model, or one new key causal inference can be worth a thousand stories for a leader who needs to create strategy. That is why, if you speak as a futurist to organizational audiences, you must strive to be evidence-based, both quantitative and qualitative, to tie your stories to strategic implications, choices, and actions, and to offer examples of measurable results.

If you are a public speaker, author, or other public personality, the word “futurist” will commonly be used by others to describe the public part of what you do, making it a title hard to avoid for those individuals. But beyond your public speaking and media, the term futurist is usually best minimized, both in organizational environments and in your formal titles.

Instead, as a foresight professional you are usually best served to use a more specific and well-recognized title, like strategist, forecaster, designer, analyst, trend researcher, technology scout, risk manager, planner, intelligence analyst, innovation manager, risk manager, investment manager, evangelist, community manager, or many others to describe your professional work. If you want to be adventurous, use the word “foresight” somewhere in your title. Because the term is less known, you can position your work and value contribution in an uncontested way within your organization. For tips on that, see Kim and Mauborgne, Blue Ocean Strategy, 2015.

Most foresighters generate foresight without the aid of a self-description that makes it too obvious they are doing so. In practice, a lower profile can even be an advantage, particularly in change-averse, high-stakes, or troubled firms, where the future can be a very politicized topic.

Foresight can be practiced at any systems level, and in any industry. The three domains of personal, organizational, and global foresight are the three most common areas of practice, with universal foresight (science and systems thinking) being the way we ground our field. Its forward view can be over any time horizon, from the next few seconds in equity futures trading, to the next century in urban planning or climate modeling.

It is both the shared methods used across each of these foresight problems, and the unique methods developed in each application that define our fertile field. In coming decades, as foresight methods become more quantified and validated, and as our computing, communication, and collaboration systems gain new capabilities, significant parts of our practice will incorporated in future social and economic sciences. For a good survey of our emerging field, and arguments and recommendations for professionalizing it, see Andy Hines and Jeff Gold’s article “Professionalizing Foresight” (PDF), J. Futures Studies, 2013.

A general definition of a foresight career then might be any position, occupation, or role that intentionally and methodically engages and analyzes the future in a strategic way, either implicitly or explicitly in the job description, and results in changed intentions, plans or actions as a part of its function. Foresight professionals, when they recognize who they are, will strive to bring diverse, future-relevant inputs, forecasts, and possible alternative futures to strategy discussions, decisionmaking and planning, and ensure that when plans are communicated and actions taken, after-action review occurs, to validate and improve the quality of future foresight. Helping foresighters to recognize who they are, and how they can improve, is the primary goal of the Guide.

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Table of Contents


Chapter 2. Personal Foresight – Becoming an Effective Self-Leader

Chapter 2: Personal Foresight

Becoming an Effective Self-Leader

Chapter 4. Models – Foundations for Organizational Foresight

Chapter 4: Models

Foundations for Organizational Foresight

Chapter 7. Acceleration – Guiding Our Extraordinary Future

Chapter 7: Acceleration

Guiding Our Extraordinary Future (In Process)

II. Global Progress: 5 Goals, 10 Values, Many Trends

Innovation: Our Abundant Future
Intelligence: Our Augmented Future
Interdependence: Our Civil Future
Immunity: Our Protected Future
Sustainability: Our Rebalanced Future

III. Universal Accelerating Change

Great Race to Inner Space: Our Surprising Future
Entropy&Information: We’re Running Down & Up
The Puzzle of Meaning: We Have No Einstein Yet
Trees, Funnels & Landscapes: Intro to Evo Devo
Big Picture Change: Five Scales of Accelerating ED
Transcension Hypothesis: Where Acceleratn Ends?
IDABDAK: Social Response to Accel & Developmnt
We’re On a Runaway Train: Being Accelaware

IV. Evo Devo and Exponential Foresight

Seeing It All: Accel., Diverg, Adapt, Convrg, Decel.
Natural (I4S) Innovation: The Evolutionary Drive
Natural (I4S) Intelligence: The Human-AI Partnership
Natural (I4S) Morality: Why Empathy and Ethics Rule
Natural (I4S) Security: Strength from Disruption
Natural (I4S) Sustainability: The Developmental Drive
S-Curves: Managing the Four Constituencies
Pain to Gain: Traversing the Three Kuznets Phases
Hype to Reality: Beyond Hype Cycles to Reality Checks
Exponentials Database: Measuring Accelerations
TINA Trends: Societal Evolutionary Development
Managing Change: STEEPCOP Events, Probs, Ideas
A Great Shift: A Survival to a Sentient Economy

V. Evo Devo and Exponential Activism

Building Protopias: Five Goals of Social Progress
Normative Foresight: Ten Values of Society
Top & STEEPCOP Acceleratns: Positive & Negative
Dystopias, Risks, and Failure States
Three Levels of Activism: People, Tech & Universe
A Great Opportunity: Exponential Empowerment


Chapter 8. Your Digital Self – The Human Face of the Coming Singularity

Chapter 8: Your Digital Self

The Human Face of the Coming Singularity (In Process)

I. Your Personal AI (PAI): Your Digital Self

Digital Society: Data, Mediation, and Agents
Personal AIs: Advancing the Five Goals
PAI Innovation: Abundance and Diversity
PAI Intelligence: Bio-Inspired AI
PAI Morality: Selection and Groupnets
PAI Security: Safe Learning Agents
PAI Sustainability: Science and Balance
The Human Face of the Coming Singularity

II. PAI Protopias & Dystopias in 8 Domains

1. Personal Agents: News, Ent., Education
2. Social Agents: Relat. and Social Justice
3. Political Agents :  Activism & Represent.
4. Economic Agents:  Retail, Finance, Entrep
5. Builder Agents :  Work, Innov. & Science
6. Environ. Agents : Pop. and Sustainability
7. Health Agents :  Health, Wellness, Death
8. Security Agents :  Def., Crime, Corrections

III. PAI Activism & Exponential Empowerment

Next Government: PAIs, Groupnets, Democ.
Next Economy: Creat. Destr. & Basic Income
Next Society: PAI Ent., Mortality & Uploading
What Will Your PAI Contribution Be?

Chapter 10. Startup Ideas – Great Product & Service Challenges for Entrepreneurs

Chapter 10: Startup Ideas

Great Product and Service Challenges for Entrepreneurs (In Process)

I. 4U’s Idea Hub: Building Better Futures

Air Deliveries and Air Taxis: Finally Solving Urban Gridlock
Ballistic Shields and Gun Control: Protecting Us All from Lone Shooters
Bioinspiration Wiki: Biomimetics and Bio-Inspired Design
Brain Preservation Services: Memory and Mortality Redefined
Carcams: Document Thieves, Bad Driving, and Bad Behavior
Competition in Govt Services: Less Corruption, More Innovation
Computer Adaptive Education (CAE): Better Learning and Training
Conversational Deep Learning Devsuites: Millions of AI Coders
Digital Tables: Telepresence, Games, Entertainment & Education
Dynaships: Sustainable Low-Speed Cargo Shipping
Electromagnetic Suspension: Nausea-Free Working & Reading in Cars
Epigenetic Health Tests: Cellular Aging, Bad Diet, Body Abuse Feedback
Fireline Explosives and Ember Drones: Next-Gen Fire Control
Global English: Empowering the Next Generation of Global Youth
Greenbots: Drone Seeders and Robotic Waterers for Mass Regreening
High-Density Housing and Zoning: Making Our Cities Affordable Again
Highway Enclosures and Trail Networks: Green and Quiet Urban Space
Inflatable Packaging: Faster and Greener Shipping and Returns
Internet of Families: Connecting People Over Things
Kidcams: Next-Gen Security for Child Safety and Empowerment
Kidpods: Indoor & Outdoor Parent-Assistive Toyboxes
Microdesalination: Democratizing Sustainable Fresh Water Production
Noise Monitors: Documenting and Reducing Noise Pollution
Oceanside Baths: Sustainable Year Round Beach Enjoyment
Open Blood Scanners: DIY Citizen Health Care Sensor Tech
Open Streaming Radio: User-Centered Audio Creation and Rating
Open Streaming Video: User-Centered Video Creation and Rating
Open Values Filters: Social Rankers, Arg. Mappers, and Consensus Finders
Personal AIs: Your Private Advisor, Activist, and Interface to the World
Pet Empowerment: Next-Gen Rights and Abilities for Our Domestic Animals
Safe Closets: Fire-, Earthquake-, and Intruder-Proof Retreat Spaces
Safe Cars: Reducing Our Insane 1.3M Annual Auto Deaths Today
Safe Motorcycles: Lane Splitting in Gridlock Without Risk of Death
Shared Value Insurance: User-Centered Risk Reduction Services
Sleeperbuses and Microhotels: Demonetized Intercity Travel
Space-Based Solar Power: Stratellite Powering and Weather Management
Stratellites: Next-Gen Urban Broadband, Transparency, and Security
Touch DNA: Next-Gen Home Security and Crime Deterrence
View Towers: Improving Urban Walkability, Inspiration, and Community

Chapter 11. Evo Devo Foresight – Unpredictable and Predictable Futures

Chapter 11: Evo Devo Foresight

Unpredictable and Predictable Futures

Appendix 1. Peer Advice – Building a Successful Foresight Practice