Being a professional futurist means spending all or part of your work time using your skills and knowledge as a futurist to help clients.

It’s a recent term, in theory intending to differentiate between those who do futures as their primary work, and those for whom studying the future is more of an avocation. In practice the distinction is not at all rigid.

We would expect a professional futurist to be skilled and up to date in the use of tools, theory, and practice in the field, and to have had some training or education that distinguishes what he or she knows and can do from the more casual practitioner of a futures interest.

The Association of Professional Futurists (APF) is a global community of professional futurists, started in 2002. Members have to meet several criteria to be recognized as full professionals. The APF includes organizational members as well as individuals. Most of the professional futurists in the APF are consultants. Others are futurists working on staff inside organizations, or are futurist educators.

Leading Futurists (LF) are founding members of the APF and organizational members. To professional futurists like LF, the APF is a network that enables us to contact, work with, or recommend futures professionals in other parts of the US, or the world.

Looking at the future, you don’t like what you see. In the next few years there are big changes to come, new competitors, changing professional demands, an operating environment that seems alien, unfamiliar.

Will your organization survive? Can it succeed under new and unknown conditions?

Important questions a futurist can help with answering. A futurist can work with you on these crucial steps:

1. Have you really looked at all the future, or just the scary bits? Almost certainly there is more out there, and some of it will be useful in crafting the innovations you may need. A futurist will expand your field of view. In the best outcome, you uncover promising new opportunities

2. Do you really understand the system you are working with? Futurists are systems thinkers and can help you discover insights about how your system works. You may have new friends and potential collaborators out there.

3. Discovering the future and owning the broader picture of what’s ahead brings a new dimension of “thinking differently” to your organization. Not tangible, perhaps but valuable in sharpening everyone’s ability to meet changes successfully.

Leading Futurists’ long experience tells us that organizations call us in most often when they face change they don’t understand or have the people, skills, or technologies they may need to cope with it.

Futurists can’t make potentially wrenching change go away. They can help you re-design your organization to be more robust in the face of a difficult future.

There are many words in use to describe what futurists do and who they are. And some of them are even kind!

We choose to call ourselves “futurists” and the work we do is “foresight” or “futures research.” (See What is a futurist? for the basics of what we do) “Futurology” is also used to describe the study of the future, and the people who do it are “futurologists.” You might also see “foresight practitioner,” or “foresighteer.”

A search for “futures” or “futurists” can also bring up commodity trading futures or “futurism” the social and artistic movement of the early 20th century that began in Italy. You might pause a minute to look at some of their startling images before you go back to looking for us–the futurists.

Fears and hopes about the future are a big part of our thinking unless we are complete fatalists.

One way to alter our mindset is to become better anticipators of change. As futurists we’ve seen that this can be comforting to individuals when they learn how to bring the future into their experience and decision-making.

It is important to our society that organizations–government, businesses, associations, any group affected by change–actively understand what changes are shaping their systems. Strong anticipation leads to effective action. It is taking a step beyond today’s crisis to act on the longer-term implications.

Futurists can help you build this foresight capacity in your organization with briefings, workshops, training, and recommendations on the future tailored to your interests.

No, it’s not a crystal ball! Seriously, futurists use many tools. New tools to explore and describe the impacts of change are being invented every day.

A currently popular–and useful tool–is the scenario. Scenarios are stories about the future. If you want to explain an evolving, complex pattern of change, a story is a powerful and engaging way to do it. All the better if you can do it with images, or video!

Scenario tools can be expanded and shrunk to accommodate the time and effort available. The shorter the process, the more important that key people are engaged in it! That’s because creating a story of the future sparks insights you might not get in any other way.

What is a futurist?

March 21, 2013

A futurist is someone who spends time in three activities. 1) exploring change, 2) understanding what that change implies for people, organizations, and societies, and 3) what the future plus those changes will look like.

Professional futurists, such as Leading Futurists, apply their knowledge and discoveries to the needs of their clients. Clients of futurists usually want to understand the implications of change for them. How will they adapt to, innovate with, or influence those changes?