“Futurist” is the Word of the Day at CES; Here’s One Futurist’s Advice On How to Become One

Published on January 12, 2019

It’s a good time to be in the business of the future, according to futurist and blockchain developer Eric Lamison-White. Futurists are predicting some good things for 2019, especially in the world of tech: facial recognition technology to heal our travel woes, Blockchain emerging triumphant over bitcoin, and some major changes in the retail sector.

Prominent industry leaders across markets are seeking the insights of futurists to make sure they’re on the right side of tomorrow’s history. But Lamison-White didn’t mean to become a futurist, he says. He kind of fell into it.

“It does take a lot of specialized knowledge, but it’s not necessarily rocket science,” says the software engineer and founder of Pareto Network, a financial intel platform. “Sometimes you can see the way things are going in a certain field before others catch wind of it.”

Of course, Lamison-White adds, this doesn’t just happen by itself. “It’s a matter of staying on top of developments in tech, brands, whatever your field is,” he says. “Companies don’t always have the resources to stay ahead of the curve, so they need a consultant. Insights that may seem ordinary to you can be very valuable to others.”

For many, consulting as a futurist is a career path as viable as their original course of study. According to Entrepreneur, 14 percent of consultants make over $50,000 per project.

What is a Futurist?

So what does a futurist actually do? It’s a bit like being a historian… of the future.

“As a historian, you usually deal with incomplete information,” said Christopher Kent, a futurist in Washington DC. “You look at disconnected clues and information to piece together a story about the past. A futurist looks at clues and information from today to piece together stories for the future.”

“A company might hire you to determine where they should focus their R&D efforts for the upcoming year, whether they should shift to a new media format, or how the political climate might influence their industry in coming years,” says Lamison-White. Your job is to know the direction of things.

How does one become make the career shift to becoming a futurist? Glad you asked. Here are the key points that will make you a success… in the future.

#1 – Have a Deep Knowledge of Your Market

Futurism doesn’t require a specific degree or course of study. In fact, most futurists started off as something else, just like Lamison-White. That gives them a field into which they have strong and tested insights. Since you spend your days looking at industry trends, you need to pick an industry to focus on in depth.

Go with what interests you, and what aligns with your educational background and professional experience. And don’t be afraid to focus. What may seem ordinary or too specific to you is a niche into which others are trying to gain insight.

Things develop quickly these days, so a futurist devotes a lot of time to keeping informed about their field from all angles.

#2 – Position Yourself to Catch the Next Wave

Just like surfing, when you see a swell coming, you get in position to ride it. When Bitcoin emerged in 2010, Lamison-White knew something big was coming. He developed a patent to make cryptocurrency investing safer and more stable, years before crypto hit the mainstream. Now that big banks and fintech companies are buying up blockchain patents like they’re going out of style, Lamison-White is capitalizing on his foresight.

If you have a hunch that something is going to be big, get yourself and your clients ready. But first, do your research to make sure you’re not just dreaming.

#3 – Run the Numbers

Futurists are devoted to research. A good futurist never bases their predictions on their opinions, their gut, or what they hope the outcome will be. Instead, they keep a finger on the pulse of current trends at all times, and look for hard data to determine the trajectory of developments.

You also have to know how to present the most relevant data in a clear and digestible format. “One client wanted us to look at how different trends influenced specific generations over the course of 10 years,” said Kent. “We developed an interactive, color-coded timeline that allowed the client to see the work graphically.”

When two paths or outcomes are possible, it’s easy to default to the assumption that it’s a 50/50 chance. But this is almost never true. Many influential factors will make one more or less likely under certain conditions, and it’s the futurist’s job to determine what the most influential factors and conditions are. This will give you a good estimate of what developments are most probable, although you can never know the actual outcome until it happens. Which brings us to our next point.

#4 – Put Your Tea Leaves Away

Divination is a deeply rooted practice that takes innumerable forms in cultures all throughout human history. Futurism is not one of them. Your job is not to predict the future. It’s to explain to your clients what the data suggests about it.

Any time your predictions are grounded in good data, you can defer to the numbers for their authority. If you’re wrong, it’s not necessarily your fault. You could’ve missed a telling signal, but it could just be that the data didn’t account for an unexpected event, like a natural disaster. That’s not your fault. You still did your job as best you could.

If, on the other hand, you defer to your intuition, a hunch, or whispers from the spirit world, you’ll have a hard time defending an incorrect outcome. So stay in good standing. If you want to practice fortune telling, make that a separate business.

#5 – Practice Empathy

Successful futurists know people, and care about them. Thinking about your industry from multiple points of view requires the empathy to put yourself in the shoes of the consumer, the developer, the management, the press, and more. Not everyone is going to react to trends like you are, so tuning in to other people’s wavelengths is a valuable skill—one that you can’t learn in school.

Furthermore, a strong empathetic nature gives you a bedside manner and relatability with clients that can offset the fact that most of what you’re presenting is cold calculations and data crunching. The data matters, but you’re using it in the service of people. So don’t forget to take your heart to work, too.

Onward to Your New Career

If you have a thorough enough understanding of your market that you’re positioned to identify the next wave before it hits, if you love research and know how to crunch the numbers, if you have a knack for understanding people, you might be on the road to a new career in futurism. And if after reading this you strike it rich in your newfound profession, just remember: we told you so.

Andrew "Drew" Rossow is a former contract editor at Grit Daily.

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