Exploring this Job

There are many ways to learn about the work of futurists. First, talk to futurists about their careers. Many futurists will have a unique story about how they broke into the field and turned a love of strategic foresight into a career. You can find potential information interviewees by looking over the member list (https://www.worldfuture.org/members) of the World Future Society (WFS). The society also offers a free general membership, which will provide you with a lot of opportunities to interact with futurists online and access selected WFS online events and Q&As with leading experts and educational resources. 

The Association of Professional Futurists offers a list of its members at https://www.apf.org/search. In addition, check out its Emerging Fellows blog, https://www.apf.org/blogpost/1763106/Emerging-Fellows. The association also publishes Strategy magazine, https://www.strategyassociation.org/page/Publications.

The Job

The first thing that comes to mind when many hear the word “futurist” is a fortune teller with a crystal ball predicting the future. This image could not be further from reality. First of all, futurists don’t predict the future, but use foresight to help businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies understand, anticipate, prepare for, and obtain advantages from coming changes. Second, they don’t use supernatural powers to formulate future possibilities, but rather their analytical ability and extensive knowledge of a specific field or discipline.  

“Futurists specialize in recognizing upcoming uncertainty and attempting to manage it,” according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, a publication of the U.S. Department of Labor. “They realize that unknown—and unknowable—changes will shape the future. By identifying a range of possible changes, these workers develop alternate visions of the future.”

According to the Association of Professional Futurists, a futurist’s analytical process falls into six general areas:

  • framing: scoping the project, defining the focal issue and current conditions
  • scanning: exploring signals of change or indicators of the futures
  • futuring: identifying a baseline and alternative futures
  • visioning: developing and committing to a preferred future
  • designing: developing prototypes, offerings, or artifacts to achieve the vision and goals
  • adapting: enabling organizations to generate options to alternatives futures.

Futurists formulate future possibilities for a wide range of employers. For example, a futurist at the U.S. Department of Defense might use her knowledge of science, engineering, military services, aviation, and economics to make long-term projections about the military strength of several countries in South America. One who works for an oil company might study the long-term affect global warming will have on the company’s oil exploration and drilling operations. A futurist at a nonprofit organization might be tasked with studying how a combination of issues—such as population growth, unemployment, political unrest, immigration, and global warming—will affect stability in Europe in 2035. Futurists may also work at colleges and universities as educators or as researchers at school-sponsored think tanks. Some are self-employed—working as generalists or specializing in specific areas such as the environment, labor issues, the automotive industry, immigration, or the military sciences.