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So you want to be a futurist

Gazing in a crystal ballNow and then I hear from people who want to be futurists. They get what I see as "the call" and there's no dissuading most of them who have discovered the field and what (they assume) it has to offer. It's not an easy profession to enter, but there are some ways to find out more, get training, and perhaps get started. These thoughts are necessarily U.S. focused–that's all I am qualified to talk about!

How do you get to be a futurist?

Futurists are sometimes people with a degree in futures studies, sometimes people who have gone to work for a futurist/futures organization and learned the business, and most often people who have decided they love exploring the future and have learned about the tools and techniques of foresight, and announced that they are futurists. I have to assert that there's nothing wrong with the non-degree approach–I got to futures that way myself, having on-the-job training, but no degree in the field.

A lot of people, however, become futurists not only without studying futures studies in a program, but also without working for a futures organization. They "become" futurists in whateever part of their professional or personal life they begin to focus on change, envisioning future possibilities, and deeper strategic thinking.

Go be a futurist, versus be a futurist where you are

A lot of people I talk to about being a futurist are sick of their job/their profession, and would like to go do something cool. Being a futurist is definitely cool! But for most people, it's valuable to recognize the expertise you already have. You can leverage your professional skills and contacts to give yourself a firm base on which to build a futures career. So you might want to consider being a futurist in the field you are already in.

Some first steps

Your best way to explore the futurist profession further is to meet some professional futurists and get their advice. Some ready ways to do that are:

  • call them on the phone for a chat–most are generous with their time and will gladly talk with you
  • go to a professional futurists event–the Association of Professional Futurists Spring meetings are a great place to meet and get to know futurist professionals, and the World Futures Society conferences (normally in late July, rotating among different cities in North America) offer a mix of people interested in the future and those working as foresight professionals
  • Join the Foresight Network, an online community of futurists and people interested in the future
  • Find the futurists at Poptech, TED, SXSW, and other events that draw forward thinking people

Then, you may consider taking a course and seeing how your skills fit, whether you like the kind of work futures involves, and so on. There are online offerings from several futures studies programs.

Resources for futures degree programs

I am best informed about the U.S.-based programs in futures studies, including graduate programs at:

Each offers a first class program in futures. I know the key faculty at all three.

There are also foresight events and educational programs around the world, including those connected with:

The Acceleration Studies Foundation offers information and links to the main futures/foresight graduate programs around the world

The Association of Professional Futurists' What is a Futurist? is also a resource for people interested in the profession.

World Future Society courses

The World Future Society annual conferences offer introductory courses that are inexpensive, and taught by leading practitioners in the field. They are a good way to learn a little more about the work of a futurist without committing to a degree program. The WFS meetings are a smorgasbord of futures sessions, and you may find good ideas there, good conversations, and people to talk to about the work of the futurist. WFS courses. See the World Future Society annual conference courses at www.wfs.org under "Interact".


If you really decide to make a go of this, great. And let me know how it goes, and how I can help further.


Image: seanmcgrath, via Flickr, cc license

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{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Dale Thomas Vaughn March 13, 2013, 1:20 am

    Thanks for the candor. I’ve been working for years very specifically as a change agent in the future of masculinity. I am only now seeing the connections to being a futurist, and it’s very exciting to know there are more resources out there for me. I’ll be looking into schools, courses, and finding ways to grow my futurist credentials. Your point in the right directions helps.

  • Amulya Sharma October 7, 2013, 12:58 am

    I do not have any financial support to study in Masters in Futures programme, So Its little bit tough, So I want to ask If I can start my career in futurism without a degree?

  • John Mahaffie October 7, 2013, 9:33 am

    Thanks for your comment. I sense I can be of further use here and may create another blog post on what you are asking.

I'd love to hear your thoughts