Insights · April 22nd, 2020
Exponential Minds Podcast Interview with Glen Hiemstra, Part 1: Glen Hiemstra on becoming a futurist
For Episode 1 of the second season of the Exponential Minds Podcast Nikolas Badminton had the pleasure to speak with a futurist with over 40 years of experience in the field, Glen Hiemstra. Nik is also the newest member of the Futurist.com Think Tank.
Glen is an internationally respected expert on future trends, long-range planning and creating the preferred future. An inspiring and deeply experienced voice among futurists, Glen has advised professional, business, and governmental organizations for over three decades. He is also the Founder of Futurist.com.
You can listen to the full interview here, and Part 1 (of 4) of this interview transcription, edited for clarity, is below.
Becoming interested in foresight and futurism
Nikolas Badminton: So the world is interesting. And today, we were just talking before we started recording, there’s lots of people out there that hang “futurist” onto their job titles. And now, if we look back when you started out over 40 years ago, it wasn’t that commonplace you know, you had some of the people out there like Alvin Toffler, I imagine Ray Kurzweil was out there but maybe not calling himself a futurist. But what really turned you into looking towards the Future and becoming a futurist.
Glen Hiemstra: My story is really simple, actually. So I’m a young high school student in the 1960s and the space program catches my imagination. I go to college at a liberal arts college in Spokane, Washington. I’m a college student there when they hire a new president, a guy who comes straight to the college from the Apollo spacecraft program where he was director of program planning. And he gets up in front of his first college convocation, and he says, I’m a “futurist.” His name was Ed Lindaman. He had worked for the Rockwell company which built the craft that went to the moon. And he was a founding member of the World Future Society, which had started up right there around 1970 or so.
So, I became acquainted with him. I’m involved in student government. I hang out with the president of the college, and he becomes a mentor. And he starts bringing future speakers to the campus. One day he brings Robert Theobald to the campus and asks that everybody in the campus read Future Shock (by Alvin Toffler) when Future Shock was new. It just captured my imagination.
Long story short, I went off to graduate school to be a professor of communications for the next 6 years, then went to the University of Washington in the 1980s to work on a PhD in communication. Dr. Lindaman tells me that the first person to go meet at the University of Washington is Dr. Ed Wenk. Wenk was the first science advisor to the US Congress, wrote the legislation that created the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, and he became my PhD advisor. And then in the middle of all that Dr. Lindaman dies on a trip to China very suddenly. He has a full speaking slate, his wife calls me and says, I know you’re in graduate school and he had a full speaking slate. Would you like me to give them your name? So I begin making my first presentations as a futurist while completing my doctoral graduate work. I then do another stint as a professor for four more years during which I begin consulting on the side.
My bio says two decades, but it was really about 1990 that I left my last college teaching position. So it’s actually been about three decades now of full time futures work So in summary the path I took was a mentor relationship, beginning with a longtime personal interest in the future, then a mentor, then this opportunity to go out and do some speaking in front of large audiences who otherwise would never have hired me, but because they needed somebody and Dr. Lindaman was no longer around. It kind of gave me a foot in the door, you know?
In my final college teaching job, I directed a Master’s Degree program in Systems Theory and taught some future studies, and I really felt ready to go out and be a full-time consultant starting by 1990.
Nikolas: That’s super interesting as well, what did it feel like? Because you must have been in your mid 20s, when you started doing talks about the future.
Glen: The future? It was fascinating. I was borrowing a lot of material from Dr. Lindaman. I have a file box somewhere of my old speech notes. And I used to do these outlines on paper that I would then use to do my speeches. This was obviously pre-PowerPoint days, and all of that and sure enough, I found the box and there are the notes from my very first speech as a futurist, in 1980, it’s about a five page outline.
And I need to write a blog about that for May, the 40-year anniversary of that first futures speech. And, there are two things that I really notice about it.
Number one, the fundamental approach that I had taken from this mentor, which is all about asking these three questions about the future was what’s probable, what’s possible, what’s preferred? That was there already.
And number two, I don’t know if it’s discouraging or encouraging, or just a simple observation to say some of the issues that we were talking about in 1980 are the same issues that we talk about in 2020 – 40 years later. Environmental issues, the impact of technology on the future of work and jobs, and so on. The themes are, it’s pretty amazing to see how some things seems to change very fast and other things seem to change virtually not at all. Even in 40 years.