“Futurist” Does Not Equal “Visionary”

In the United States, graduates of the academic field of futures studies are generally given the label of “futurist.”  That title, however, is entirely unregulated and anyone can adopt it without fear of any sort of real admonishment.  Thus do we find many consultants, conference speakers, and corporate positions leading with that title.  Through the wide-ranging use of the title that results from this situation, the title could mean everything and it could mean nothing.

Most often the title is used by those who want to be identified as talking about “the future.”  They often focus on trends, and they very often gain traction by painting images of the future for audiences that are awash in fantastic technologies.  Because of this many people come to equate a futurist with someone who is going to talk about how amazing new technologies are going to transform their future lives.

A real futurist, however, is fundamentally concerned with thinking critically about change in life.  Technology is seen as a frequent and important component of social change, and so it often features prominently in foresight work, but the trained futurist isn’t concerned with technology merely for its own sake.  The work of a real futurist isn’t to dazzle you with visionary images of tomorrow, but rather to assist you with probing assumptions about the future and with revising your expectations for the future based on a more critical view of how and why the world changes.

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