What Do You Mean When You say You Are a “Futurologist”?

That’s a question I get asked a lot since I started pretending I am a Futurologist. So I thought a more detailed explanation would not hurt.

First of all, let’s be clear about one thing. I’m perfectly aware that it seems very pretentious because it sounds like I know the future. And that’s a superpower that everyone would love to have. And yet I still pretend it because it often triggers a conversation that I like to have. It makes people curious, and that’s always a first step to an interesting chat.

I’m perfectly aware that it seems very pretentious because it sounds like I know the future.

Sometimes I use the more mainstream title of “innovation strategy consultant”. But then it makes me look like one of those Gartner experts who just keep whispering their prophecies to the ears of big decision makers on golf courses until they become self-fulfilling. But I don’t have that kind of influence (or golf subscription).

Ear to the ground, or bird’s eye view

In a sense, it’s like drawing a map based on ground observations vs aerial views. Both are possible, but certainly don’t yield the same results.

To me, it’s clear that the future doesn’t happen overnight. Before some innovation or trend becomes visible to the mainstream population, it grows underground and sends all sorts of hints about where it’s likely to go, and which path it’s likely to take. And then you have two big approaches to detect and interpret those signs.

Futurologist, ear to the ground

Either you stop walking, keep your ears to the ground and listen to the sound of innovation in the making. The problem with that approach being that you are still very close to the ground, so you know where innovation is, but it’s very hard to tell where it’s going. I feel like it’s the approach adopted by most analyst firms. They look at historical trends, and they try to extrapolate, often linearly.

Futurologist's bird's eye view

Another approach is to take off and look at things from high above. It might seem counter-intuitive if innovation grows underground. But you can often detect the signs it sends with special instruments. When you read those signs from the sky, you see the patterns more clearly. It’s easier to see the big picture. Not only can you see where it is, but you can more accurately get a sense of where it goes, and how fast it’s going there, even when the speed is exponential. And guess what: it more and more often is. More importantly, you can get a better sense of how one innovation is likely to collide with others to create other trends. This aspect is key, because innovation never happens in a vacuum.

In a sense, it’s like drawing a map based on ground observations vs aerial views. Both are possible, but certainly don’t yield the same results.

 

The Piri Reis map is a pre-modern world map compiled in 1513 from military intelligence by the Ottoman admiral and cartographer Piri Reis. This was a maps drawn from a collection of different maps available at that time. Now only 1/3rd of the map survives.
The Piri Reis map is a pre-modern world map compiled in 1513 from military intelligence by the Ottoman admiral and cartographer Piri Reis. This was a maps drawn from a collection of different maps available at that time. Now only 1/3rd of the map survives.

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My job as a Futurologist

It just integrates a lot of skills and information channels into a consistent view of how things might evolve beyond where they have been, or where they currently are.

As you probably guessed, I’m more of an aerial kind of guy, and I love to draw maps. And the way I see it, my job as a Futurologist is to:

  • design and build instruments to detect underground trends from high above
  • draw maps that show which paths are more interesting and which are less worth following, based on those trends
  • show carefully selected maps to decision makers, depending on where they are and what their specific context is. Because there is no one map to rule them all.
  • help decision makers see the trends for themselves and teach them how to enrich my maps with their own knowledge from the ground
  • let them choose the best path based on their own gut feeling and business data
  • accompany them in planning expeditions to explore the most promising routes

And this job has nothing magic or psychic. It just integrates a lot of skills and information channels into a consistent view of how things might evolve beyond where they have been, or where they currently are. I’m more and more convinced  that this expertise creates some real value for entrepreneurs and managers as it helps them direct their efforts towards the most promising options and prevents them from wasting too much time, energy and money on less likely futures.

That’s what I mean when I say I’m a Futurologist.

How does it translate concretely?

In more concrete terms, my offering as a Futurologist spans a wide range of services including, in no particular order:

  • Private and public speaking to make decision makers and innovation builders sensitive about future technology trends
  • Custom analysis and content creation about industry-specific topics (internal blog articles, whitepapers)
  • Prototyping of different solution approaches to well-identified problems
  • Hand-in-hand coaching on tools and methodologies to help decision makers choose the best technologies to explore (Lean Startup, Design Thinking, Business Model Canvas, etc.)
  • Internal and online training about specific technologies like blockchain and so on, from high-level concepts and opportunities all the way down to technical implementation tutorials.

Of course, if you are interested in getting in touch with me about any of these, I would be more than happy to discuss it with you.

On the other hand, if some points are still not clear to you, I’d be really curious to answer your questions in comments, and enrich this post. So feel free to leave a comment down below. Let’s have this conversation.

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