Insights · May 2nd, 2022
My name is Nikolas Badminton and I am the Chief Futurist and Think Tank leader at Futurist.com, a Fellow of the Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (The RSA), and the futurist that works with the world’s most impactful companies to awaken curiosity and create incredible futures.
I’ve worked with hundreds of world-leading companies, including NASA, Google, Microsoft, United Nations, United Way, Bayer, Corteva, Bank of Canada, American Express, AT&T, Thales International, Rolls Royce, Heineken, Procter & Gamble, Government of Canada, UK Home Office, Government of Cayman Islands, IDEO, and many more.
I’ve had the pleasure of working in TV, radio and film. I regularly appear on SIRIUSXM, and on CTV’s Future Friday talking about future trends. My research has also been featured by the BBC, VICE, The Atlantic, Fast Company, Techcrunch, Business Insider, Huffington Post, Forbes, Sputnik, Venturebeat, and Global News. In addition, I was the star of the CBC documentary ‘Smart Drugs: A futurist’s journey into biohacking’, was an advisor to the ‘Age of AI’ series with Robert Downley Jr and appear in the upcoming series ‘The Secrets of Big Data’ on Superchannel.
What is a Futurist?
Simply put, a futurist – also known as a futurologist, futurist speaker, foresight practitioner – is a person that has unbounded curiosity about what our futures may hold. They practice foresight, write, organize events and engage with people to challenge their poverty of imagination. They ignite new thinking without restrictions of the industrial complex that we find ourselves ensnared by.
What is Foresight, and why is it important?
Foresight is the practice of how we come together to think critically about our world and our possible futures. It’s a reality check that includes the ideas of both bad and good futures that can actively influence public policy, research, and cultural norms. However, do not consider it a value system. It’s an evolving set of competencies we develop, nurture and share openly over time.
Foresight is the discipline of looking at horizons that lay ahead of our shorter term cycles of strategic planning – 10, 20, 30, and even 100+ years. It’s the ability to shift our mindsets from what is to what if…‘What is’ focuses on the here and now and the very near future – the next 3 to 5 years. Something that organizations do fairly intuitively. And, ‘What if…’ is an invitation to be curious, playful, and introduce wonder to our thinking about how our futures might be in 5, 10, and 20+ years.
The Work of a Futurist
There are three core areas of the work for a futurist / foresight practitioner:
- Signal scanning – we look for distinct pieces of information, statistics, stories, activities and/or events that indicate an impending change or an emerging issue may become significant in the future. The strength of signals are determined through research and observing the amount of R&D activity, practical and useful ideas that solve real-world problems, levels of continued investment and predicted growth (USD$ + CAGR figures). Media coverage also plays a part, however the media has a bad track record of undertaking good foresight and prefers the catchy headlines and clickbait – which is not all that useful in this process. Signals are the most useful when they are weak i.e. in early stages but show incredible promise. They are speculative and experimental by nature. There’s also a high chance that many of these solutions proposed will not come to fruition. However, we know that from a sea of ideas that are investigated some world-changing ideas emerge as we connect the dots;
- Trend identification – from the signals we can divine trends. These are the general directions in which our world is developing or changing. Trends inherently have momentum, and are created by existing conditions and environments. They are part of the reshaping of how we see the world and/or how we operate within it;
- Scenario building – the signals and trends give us the reference points for what might come next and hypothetical scenarios help us explore dimensions of change – Financial, Organizational, Regulatory, Cultural, Environmental, Political, Technological and Social. Building multiple scenarios helps us see a bounty of possible futures, and equally, the gaps that we need to work to fill to ensure we cover a decent amount of ground to base our speculations on.
There is a natural hierarchy here – you scan for signals and evaluate them and collate like ones together e.g. all related to electrification of vehicles – both personal and industrial – and identify a trend e.g. Electric vehicles will replace internal combustion engine vehicles (ICE), first for personal usage and then industrially.
We need to be critical of when this shift occurs. Because of the limitations of batteries in 2022 it’s unlikely that heavy machinery – tractors, in-field trucks – that need to run for 10+ hours a day actively hauling and powering machinery will be prevalent in the next 5 to 10 years until battery energy density increases and on-farm/in-field charging infrastructure is prevalent and investment levels make sense.
This is when we write a futures scenario to understand the challenges, opportunities, risks and complex interactions of a future where this can be true while considering other trends – ‘What if in 2035 we replace heavy machinery with electrified vehicles, generate our own power through solar, store energy in portable charging stations and offset the costs and emissions relating to burning fossil fuels’. That’s when we can start analyzing the impact to our business and industry across the dimensions of change we identified.
Thinking like a futurist
When adopting the role of futurist as you undertaken planning I encourage executives to consider the following ten guidelines:
- Question your own history – Our legacy and current strategic planning provides an important reference point, however we should aim to rewrite your assumptions and consider the impact of the decisions you make today;
- Practice curiosity and be courageous – Embrace new and challenging ideas and share your thoughts and concerns in lively discussions. Also, listen carefully to the arguments and perspectives of others at the same time;
- Get comfortable with ambiguity and multiple perspectives – Organizations have as many futures as employees multiplied by the number of interactions they have over time internally, and externally with partners and customers. We have to consider all of these and understand that our futures are plural;
- Suspend judgment – Be aware of prejudgments and cognitive bias as they will lead you to drawing conclusions or making judgments ahead of exploring futures, Especially avoid terms like ‘that will never happen’ and ‘this is a fad’;
- Be (wildly) creative – Work fast in small teams and write down as many signals, trends and ideas of our futures as possible. Don’t discount any ideas presented. Discuss and remix them with the work your colleagues and partners have also undertaken;
- Look for ‘pockets of the future’ in the present – Look for those organizations and researchers being wildly creative with their views on where we are going as a society. Also, look to the works presented by speculative designers, poets, philosophers, writers, musicians, counter-culture creators, and listen to children’s naive ideas. One point of inspiration can open up new ideas;
- Embrace the long-view – Much of the work we do focuses on the next 5, 10, and 20+ years. However, when you start thinking of 50, 100, 200, 500+ years then everything is on the table for change. It’s exhilarating and encourages creative thinking about our futures with no boundaries;
- Focus on the non zero sum game – In game theory, this is a situation in which the rewards / benefits and costs / effects experienced by all players do not balance (i.e., they add up to less than or more than zero). In these situations, one player’s – or, country’s, organization’s, community’s – gain is not necessarily another player’s loss. It’s an upside from everyone achieving something together. I personally believe that this is how we will be doing business in the next 30 to 50 years;
- Be careful when ‘predicting the future’ – In the foresight community there is rigorous debate that being a futurist is not about prediction. Predictions pre-determine a biased outcome and are limiting (see ‘judgment’ above). We speculate with the expectation that futures we design today are malleable and will change over time. Futures design work is continual and must be revisited at least annually;
- Save ‘how’ for last – In your work you will be tempted to put aside the futures work and take particular ideas that you may be enamored by and start to work out how you can make them a reality in the next 2 to 3 years. In these cases it’s likely these are not ideas for our futures and just extensions of existing strategic thinking or business development activities underway. Know that these ideas can be useful and put them aside to tackle the wilder ideas.
Note: If you’d like to go deeper into how we should consider the futures ahead of us then please listen to my 2021 podcast interview with Dr. Joseph Voros here, and read his article ‘The Futures Cone, use and history’ here.
Futurists are Activists
For the relaunch of futurist.com and for the clients I work with I wanted to develop a call-to-action to wake up and realize that we must take action. This is the importance of Facing Our Futures:
If you want to learn more then please reach out to us.