Last night I spoke at the Manchester Futurists meetup, sharing my experience as a full-time futurist for now more than five years. I explained my journey and my process, and the type of work I now do for clients around the world.
(If you’re interested in seeing that slide deck, I’ve started releasing all my materials to supporters on Patreon — if you enjoy this blog, I’d love your support).
One of the questions afterwards was about the moral imperative for futurists. Do we have an obligation to promote a positive vision of the future and the actions it will take to achieve that vision?
This is not the first time I’ve had this question. For me it belies a very understandable confusion about the role of a futurist — particularly an applied futurist, as I am.
My brand of futurism is rarely about advocacy of my own opinions. I get to do this on my blog and my podcast, because I am the client. But for the most part, I am being paid by clients not to advocate a particular perspective but to do the opposite. To show them not what I would like to be true, but what I believe to be true based on the available evidence.
The moral company
This difference is most acute when it comes to talking about drivers and motivations, particularly those of companies. People want to believe that morality will, or at least should, overrule profit, when it comes to corporate behaviours.
I would like this to be true. But companies, particularly listed companies, have a legal duty to return value to shareholders. This is their motivation. The only real determinant of whether what they do is ‘good’ or not is whether they are focused on short term returns or long term success. The latter is usually more closely bound to ‘good’ corporate behaviour, since the company recognises the need to sustain good customer relationships.
I can tell my clients about the factors that might affect their success, over the short or long term. But I am not there to advocate for a particular set of behaviours.
The only caveat to this is in the language that I use when talking about the process of Applied Futurism: I talk a lot about a recipe for sustainable success, and hope that the organisations that engage my services are interested in that, not rapid returns at any cost. There may also be organisations in the future that I choose not to work with because I find their behaviour so egregious.
But in any client engagement, my role, and that of any applied futurist, will be to offer a dispassionate analysis of future realities, not to advocate for the future they would like to see.
Like this? Get more when you subscribe for free at subscribe.bookofthefuture.co.uk.