Is the value of futurists to make weather forecasters look good?
In our introductory podcast Bob Covey observed that he never saw the profession futurist offered as an option during high school career counseling. In fact, MACLEANS magazine reported in their article “The futures business” (October 13, 2014) that there are only a handful of independent working futurists in Canada. A theme was that futurists are mistrusted more in Canada than in the US, that whereas Americans are open to an outsider offering insight into helping them make better future decisions, Canadians are more likely to perceive futurists as fortune tellers, offering up a sermon of bogus mumbo jumbo.
Many believe that trying to predict the future is fruitless, particularly when the world is too complex and unpredictable.
In the early eighties, working in new product development for Puss ‘N Boots and Ken-L-Ration, I was assigned the task of deciding whether pet owners would, in future, own more dogs or cats? I began to perform trend analysis as a result and have been working as a strategic planner/futurist ever since.
I’ve learned the hard way that it is unwise to predict an exact number at an exact time. That is a fool’s game; any prediction will likely be wrong.
Working across sectors, it became obvious over time that only by studying how human needs change can we truly uncover future opportunity. Experience with my clients and own businesses have proven to me that performing a future scan allows planners insight into possible need scenarios and enables them to put better plans in place. My career hinges on the assumption that success comes from satisfying client needs. Period.
Shouldn’t planning be all about determining how client needs are changing? Deciding how to improve client need satisfaction over time will bring success.
I do my work as a futurist differently. Whereas other futurists specialize in one trend category, whether it be trends in technology, economics, demographics, or consumer behaviour, I look at the interplay between trend categories, analyzing how trends converge, providing a better understanding of how to meet needs of the future.
In the Innovation Age client needs are changing more rapidly than ever before. All clients can now do online research, giving them more power in the marketplace to switch providers.
We must offer better benefits in relation to current and changing needs, or success will be increasingly tricky to achieve.
Trends cut across all industry boundaries, affecting every sector. But often at a different pace. Lessons learned regarding how one sector tackled a trend can be transferred across. In all cases, trends point to opportunity. For example, let’s look at the future of boating. Demographically, we are getting older. The peak year for baby boomer births was 1961, so there are more 54 year olds than any other age in Canada. Grandpa will want a stable boat where he can host a safe dinner party, but take the grandchildren waterskiing. The tendency with age is to favor comfort over speed. That’s a different boat design to what has primarily been offered in the past.
To summarize, I believe a futurist isn’t a fortune teller or paranormal trend tapper. Rather, a futurist is someone who uses logic to better meet future needs. This process helps stoke innovation, with insight into future opportunities for success.
Hope your planning goes well. Future smiles!