How do I Become a Futurist?

Brendan McGuigan

A futurist is, most simply, a person who thinks and discusses what he or she thinks the future will look like. The term originated in the mid-19th century, when it was used to describe Christian futurists, who looked at scripture to try to determine what the future would hold. Since the mid-1940s, however, a futurist has been more concerned with using a rational approach to deduce what the future likely holds.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

In everyday life, a futurist has a great deal of fairly normal job opportunities. One can become a futurist that specializes, for example, in predicting markets. In this sense, to become a futurist you would focus on economics, and perhaps study a number of cultures or industries. Using as much data as possible, you would then begin trying to draw out patterns from historical data, and to connect those patterns with a sophisticated understanding of the many systems at play. This would, if done properly, allow the futurist to come up with a fairly good assessment of where a specific sector of the market might shift, and use that information to consult businesses, or to invest on one’s own.

Another type of futurist might consult and speak on the future of technology. To become a futurist in this vein, you would need to have a strong understanding of cutting edge technologies, as well as a good idea of how to keep abreast on changes as they occurred. One of the most important steps to become a futurist is to cultivate a peer group that is deeply involved in the fields you are trying to make predictions about. In this way, you can enlarge your potential understanding by tapping into the resources of many different experts, rather than having to personally become an expert in a range of fields.

At the heart of futurology is an understanding of what is possible, what is probable, and what is preferable, as well as the wildcards that may dramatically affect future outcomes. Futurists look at the world as it is, and then attempt to extrapolate all of the many futures that could possibly come from that. They then whittle these possibilities down to what is probably going to occur, given trends and group behaviors. They may then also look at what the preferable choice is from a number of probable futures, and how the future can be pushed in that direction. Finally, they examine any variables that may affect these outcomes.

To become a futurist whose opinion is valued, one need not only be able to come up with possible and probable futures, one needs to also be able to handicap these futures well. As a result, a good understanding of wildcards and how trends can play out or shift instantly is key to futurism. The most respected futurists are those who not only play with mind experiments to look at what paths the future might take, but who can also say which futures are more likely than others, and ideally can give a range of how likely those futures actually are to occur.

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