The Value of a Futurist

By Thomas Frey

Thomas Frey explains why thinking about the future is important and offers 10 intriguing predictions for the world in 2030.

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As a futurist, people often ask me how many of my predictions have come true. I find this to be a rather uncomfortable question. It's uncomfortable, not because my track record hasn't been up to par (actually, a high percentage of my predictions have come true), but because accuracy of predictions is a poor way of measuring the value of a futurist.

To put it into perspective, the future is a force so massive that the entire universe is being pulled forward in time simultaneously. We have no choice in this matter. The future will happen whether or not we agree to participate. There is no known way for us to speed it up, slow it down or even try to stop it. The pace with which the future is unfolding is constant and, at the same time, relentless.

In a world filled with MBAs and number crunchers, there is a constant push to reduce our analog world to digital analytics so we can accurately measure our return on investment. But not everything is measurable in this way. What's the value of a new idea, a new strategy or adding awareness to a previous blindspot?

Too often, our ability to focus on one all-consuming detail blinds us to the oncoming train that is about to destroy an entire industry. Ignorance is a valuable part of the future. If we knew the future, we would have little reason to vote in an election, host a surprise party or start something new. Once a future is known, we quickly lose interest in trying to influence it. For this reason, our greatest motivations in life come from NOT knowing the future. So why, as a futurist, do I spend so much time thinking about the future? Very simply, since no one has a totally clear vision of what lies ahead, we are all left with degrees of accuracy. Anyone with a higher degree of accuracy, even by only a few percentage points, can achieve a significant competitive advantage.

The Reaction Paradigm

As a futurist, it is my job to help forward-thinking companies weather through or simply avoid stormy trends and achieve a more profitable, vibrant and successful future.

French novelist Marcel Proust once said: "The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes." The most successful companies don't just outcompete their rivals, they redefine the terms of competition by embracing one-of-a-kind ideas in a world heavily steeped in "me-too" thinking.

Most companies operate within a paradigm of reaction. When bad (or good) things happen, they continue to forge ahead. They may or may not adjust their way of doing business. This unswerving reaction paradigm occurs, frankly, because it takes all they can muster to keep the doors open, make payroll and turn a profit.

It's a tough world out there, and one widely held belief is that we're all just trying to chip away at the world in order to make a buck. In this line of thinking, when things happen, you just do your best to hang on, and hopefully do better next time around. These are companies that are always preparing themselves for the next disaster.

Other companies plan for the future. They understand that markets shift, technology evolves and unexpected waves of mayhem occur. These companies often do better than the previous ones because they have the resources and foresight to weather this type of storm. Their leadership has given some thought to the murky future ahead of time and allocates resources to various strategies for adapting to the ebb and flow of these natural occurrences.

In the end, it becomes easy to see that the greatest companies are those that take control of their own future.

Researchers at Gallup have identified a hierarchy of connections between companies and their customers--from confidence to integrity to pride to passion. To test for passion, Gallup asks a simple question: "Can you imagine a world without this product?" One of the make-or-break challenges for change is to become irreplaceable in the eyes of your customers.

The future cannot be our only priority. Otherwise, we lose our ability to function in the present, and here is where it gets confusing. Near-term futures invariably take precedence over long-term futures, but our ability to prioritize importance is directly tied to the context of our own future thinking.

Our ability to tap into and leverage the power of the future is directly tied to the number of times we think about it. The more we think about the future, the more we expand our understanding of it. And the more we understand the future, the easier it becomes for us to interact with it.

Ten Predictions for 2030

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1. Over 80 percent of all doctor visits will have been replaced by automated exams.

2. Over 90 percent of all restaurants will use some form of a 3-D food printer in their meal preparations.

3. We will see a growing number of highways designated as driverless vehicles only.

4. A Chinese company will become the first to enter the space tourism industry by establishing regular flights to their space hotel.

5. Over 20 percent of all new construction will be "printed" buildings.

6. Over 50 percent of all traditional colleges will collapse, paving the way for an entirely new education industry to emerge.

7. The world's largest Internet company will be in the education business and it will be a company we have not heard of yet.

8. We will have seen the revival of the first mated pair of an extinct species.

9. Forest fires will have been reduced to less than 5 percent of the number today with the use of infrared drone monitoring and extinguishing systems.

10. Over two billion jobs will have disappeared, freeing up talent for many new fledgling industries.

Reading through the predictions above, you probably experienced a number of thoughts ranging from agreement to amusement to confusion to total disagreement.

As with most predictions, some will be correct and others not. But the true value in this list comes from giving serious consideration to each prediction and deriving your own conclusions.

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Thomas Frey is executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute, a nonprofit futurist think tank located in Louisville, Colorado. Read his blog at