Futurists in the Media: What it Means to be a Futurist

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Futurist may not predict the future, but we can anticipate one question we will all get: What does a futurist do or What is a Futurist? In fact, we practice Elevator Speeches in our curriculum to have a ready response. It’s interesting to learn about how professionals respond. Marketplace.org asked that very question and similar others to futurist Amy Webb in “What it means to be a Futurist.” Amy is the author of “The Signals Are Talking: Why Today’s Fringe is Tomorrow’s Mainstream” a new book on tech trend prediction and she owns her own firm , the Future Today Institute, specializes in forecasting trends in technology.

When asked what futurists do, Amy replied “Futurists are people who specialize in lots of different disciplines and the focus is not to predict what might happen next, but instead to forecast given what we know to be true today and doing extensive modeling using evidence and data, what might be the possible scenarios tomorrow and what do we do about it?

Another interesting response was to: “do you ever look backwards?” She answered ” Of course I look backwards. That’s another really, really fascinating thing to me. Everybody has fetishizes the future and yet they forget the past. So we’re in a cycle of people freaking out about AI, but this exact same cycle goes all the way back to the invention of the light bulb and then again with cars. And then again with computers but none of these technologies happen over night. That’s the whole point of the book, and the clear message I think for anybody in business and that is you have to pay attention to what’s happening right now, you have to look back in time, to what has already happened, and you also have to be paying attention to what’s possible, what might happen in the future.”

More articles like this can really help raise awareness and about what futurists do and how we can help. — Waylon Edens

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Student Scanning: Futurecraft Biofabric

Shoe company, Adidas is going above and beyond to become a sustainable company. In November, they launched a prototype of a new shoe called Futurecraft Biofabric. The shoes’ material is made of a material called Biosteel, which is a replication of spider silk and is fully biodegradable. Adidas collaborated with a German biotech company, AMSilk which produces the biosteel fibers. The material is inspired by spider silk due to its lightweight composition. The company claims that it is the strongest fully natural material available today.

Photo Credit: Adidas.com

According to AMSilk, ” The unsolved dilemma of the textile industry is the existence of two mutually exclusive trends: On one side there is a need for ever more performance and light-weight products, while on the other hand the demand for environmentally sound solutions is constantly increasing. With the fibers available today this dilemma cannot be solved.”

Their aim is to mimic spider silk’s anti-allergen, skin-friendly, and biodegradable properties while having a low carbon footprint. The material is made by fermenting genetically modified bacteria, and the result is a powder substrate which is then spun into biosteel yarn. Biosteel is marketed as, “The first high performance bionic fiber with true environmental integrity. This technological advancement is not only useful for the future of footwear, but its implementation can influence the futures in technical textiles, automotive interiors, and furniture design.

Would you buy a pair of these vegan sneakers?

UPDATED: 2017 Spring Gathering: Good futures work!

When: Friday April 21 & Saturday April 22, 2017

Where: UH Campus (and other fun spots)

Why: Learn, network, and have fun!

The topic and dates are set for our 7th Annual Spring Gathering of students, alums, faculty, prospects, and friends (and do feel free to bring a guest). It’s a tradition that we do this weekend face-to-face, so that we can get to know one another better and also to provide our online colleagues a best time of year to visit.

We’ll start Friday night at 5:00 pm at the Goode’s Taqueria (4902 Kirby Drive; 713.520.9153) We’ll enjoy a casual atmosphere for Mexican food and, in Dr. Bishop’s view, the margaritas in town. We’ll follow that up with drinks and maybe some hookah in the Mid-Town area.

On Saturday, we’ll have a light breakfast at the either the Cameron Building or another on-campus venue from 8:30 to 9:00, and then dive into the day’s festivities. Lunch will be at the venue. Around 5pm, we’ll journey over to Dr. Hines’ home at 714 E 9th St, Houston, TX 77007.

The main feature on Saturday will be to explore “good futures work.” We’ll explore frameworks, tools, and cases. We are still working on the agenda. We’d love to co-create the day, so please replay to me with your ideas and potential contributions to the day (ahines@uh.edu). Among the topics we might consider:


We use several frameworks in our program. Indeed, our core method of Framework Foresight evolved from integrating six key activities common to foresight projects. For instance, we might look at the new APF’s new Competency Model. We might also explore the Outcomes Framework I put together for my dissertation and was published in the Journal of Futures Studies last year. What are the frameworks that you find useful in your work that you can share with the larger group?


What new tools are you using? Or what new tools might you want to hear about? Last year, for instance Wendy Schultz took us through a demo of Sensemaker. We have a few options to consider, but we would like more ideas on this.


What interesting projects have you worked on in the last few years that you’d be willing to share? We can share some of the program’s recent client projects for the Foresight Service and Dubai’s General Directorate for Residency and Foreigners Affair. But I’m sure our alum and community also has some interesting cases to share.

The types of questions we might consider in reviewing the cases:

  • How did you sell the project/get the order?
  • What was the team and how did you put it together?
  • What is about learning/deciding/acting?
  • Choice of methodology
  • Adjustments/tweaks/innovations
  • Client participating and response
  • Results: how used

If you’re coming from out of town, it’s probably easiest to stay at the University Hilton on campus, but some guests used have used AirBnB. So save the date and stay tuned for more details. Andy Hines

Congrats to Fall 2016 Graduates

Congratulations to our Fall 2016 graduates: Gandhi Bhakthavachalam, Maria Romero, and  Johann Schutte. I am going to miss them, but happy to see them moving forward!

Gandhi has an amazing array of talents and interests beyond the future, including being a professional tennis player. Nonetheless, he went through the program full-time, did outstanding in all his classes – a true master of time management! His Master’s project mapped out an alternative economic system.


Maria also went through the program full-time, which made it seem far too quick. She jumped right in as my GA and was always an eager participant in extracurricular activities, working on projects for the Forest Service, Herman Trend Alert, Student Needs 2025+ and Aperio Insights. She also used her graphic skills to redesign our Framework Foresight cone and our scanning process, as well as updating our system for reaching out to prospects, students, and alums.

Johann started out the program from South Africa taking one class at a time. But he decided that was taking too long and moved to Houston to take courses full-time. He was also a GA and participated in the Forest Service and Student Needs 2025+, as well as doing internships with UNESCO and UCB, a global biopharma company.

We look forward to continuing our journey together, as professional colleagues now! We hope – no, make that expect! — that each will stay involved with the foresight community as they take their next steps! Andy Hines

Forest Futures: Increasing Resiliency

Forests have been around a lot longer than humans. Thick and mighty, they represent the powerful unknown while sheltering the wild and inspiring the stuff of fairy tales. Though resilient in some aspects, many forests are vulnerable to human and environmental stressors, and they are the subject of much research considering conservation and sustainable resource production. In an effort to conserve the green spaces of the world, increasing resiliency is a huge contributing factor in that it is less of a direct intervention and more of an effort to strengthen the natural mechanisms the forests use to heal themselves. Increasing forest resiliency for the future identifies five steps for increasing resiliency are below:

  1. The first step to increasing resiliency in forests is assessing the resilience of the forest in question by addressing a few key areas and identifying resilient and vulnerable aspects of the forest. Connectivity to other resilient forested areas is important, so we want to know if estate-planning in these area includes a plan that takes forest conservation into account.
  2. Second, we want to maintain connectivity to larger resilient bodies of the forest, that is to say we want to make sure we aren’t disrupting the natural spread of the ecosystem.
  3. Thirdly, we want to look at the prevalence of natural forest stressors such as soil compaction and erosion, invasive plants, insects, and deer population.
  4. Fourth, we want to look at diversity of native species (especially those well adapted to future conditions).
  5. Fifth, we want to look at whether there are areas of crowded tree stems, whether there are 5 or more large snags per acre, whether there are 5 or more large logs per acre, and finally whether water resources have forested buffers. And finally, we want to look at how accommodating the area is to threatened, endangered, or threatened species.(CITE)

Once the forest stressor evaluation is complete, interventions can be employed to decrease areas of low resilience and to increase future forest resilience based on vulnerability specific to the forest in question. Legal help will usually be the first step in establishing resilience. By establishing a legal document with clear distinctions about what should be done with the land in question in the future, you can protect it from vulnerability to development or intervention. Furthermore, by maintaining connectivity in the forests by backing conservation-based zoning which minimizes fragmentation, we can greatly increase resiliency by minimizing the impacts of segmentation (this will require cooperation between municipal offices and private land owners).

Cooperation is key here because of the sheer size of the forests, and it is likely going to be the most difficult aspect of increasing forest resiliency. Controlling invasive plants in your back yard isn’t going to do any good if they are thriving on the other side of the fence, so getting people to act together to implement good practices in forestry may well be an area worth focusing on. — Will Williamson


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Futurist in the Media Update: December 2016

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In late November/early December we saw a good variety of activity involving futurists. An article by James Wallman suggested the gender pay gap will close by 2045 — which is almost 100 years earlier than the World Economic Forum estimation of 2133.

Pablos Holman’s article on “The Big Threat” suggested that it’s not the catastrophic all-at-once attack that we should worry about, but the potential of a hacker getting in your system and quietly gathering data to use and gather information that can harm us when they are ready.

On the political side of things, Ian Morrison sees swift changes to “Obamacare”,  but suggest any big changes will take some time and may be in the process until 2019. He also believes futurists may have there work cut out for them in  facing perhaps the most unpredictable president we have seen to date. A related article piece by Johann Galtung was more direct, suggests a decline in US power under the Trump administration.

3D printing continues to pick up traction. Ray Kruzweil sees 3d printer in every home and 3d printing to find its place in fashion as well. One will buy “print designs” for pennies on the dollar and print it instantly in your home.

Shifting gears, we have an  interesting and useful piece on careers — Reinvention is an essential career skill — from Houston Foresight alum Jim Lee. He talks about how he used his foresight degree to evolve his approach to investing in his investment advisory firm StratFi.

These and other interesting articles wind down the year of 2016 for Futurists in the Media. — Waylon Edens

From Christmas Tree to Coffee Table: Pine Needles are Full of Potential

Pine trees are the world’s main source of timber. When pine trees are cut down, the needles are often left behind as waste. With pine needles contributing to about 30 percent of the tree’s mass, that adds up to an enormous amount of material being left behind. That was until Tamara Orjola of the Design Academy Eindhoven, started a project called Forest Wool. The project is based on the experimentation of using pine needles as textiles, composites, and paper. She has produced a series of stools and carpets using pine needles alone, and was recently featured during Dutch Design Week 2016.

Tamara explains, “My material experimentation ends in tactile products like stools and mats that communicate about the potential of materials currently discarded by industrial production.” Pine needles are composed of cellulose and lignin, and essential oils and dyes can be extracted from them. By treating the needles, they can be transformed into paper, textiles, and composite materials. This makes them a good alternative material for cotton and coir. Proper consumption of the entire pine tree can decrease the demand of other natural resources and wood itself. Tamara’s discovery of new uses for pine needles raises the question of what other wood waste materials can be upcycled. Perhaps the billions of Christmas tree needles sprinkled across the floors of the world can be given another life after the holidays. — Liah Johnson

Science Fiction Writing Contest

A Certificate boot camp alum has alerted us to a science fiction writing competition seeking entries (yes, you!) Here’s the announcement: The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command is pleased to announce its first Mad Scientist Science Fiction Writing Contest and will accept submissions between November 22, 2016 and February 15, 2017. (Mad Scientist Writing Competition Flyer).

The topic for this competition is “Warfare in 2030 to 2050.”  Writers from all walks of life have the opportunity to contribute ideas that are outside what the Army is already considering about the future.  These stories are being used to explore fresh ideas about the future of warfare and technology. Writers are asked to consider (but not limited to) how trends in science, technology, society, the global economy, and other aspects could change the world in a meaningful way, with implications for how the Army operates in future conflicts.

The winning contestant will receive an invitation with most expenses paid to the concluding 2017 Mad Scientist Conference co-hosted by Georgetown University, Center for Security Studies, School of Foreign Service, Washington, D.C.  Submissions selected as runners up will be published in one of several professional military journals.

More information or  email Allison Winer.    — Andy Hines


Forest Futures: Knowing Each Tree in the Forest

There’s no doubt the forest is different than the sum of its parts — its more than a collection of specimens who happen to cohabitate. It just so happens we’ve designated some of those specimens as a resource commodity.  The moment we as society ascribe value to the health, origin, uniqueness, age and care of trees within that forest though there becomes a potential desire to ensure and categorize that value.  The value of timber is determined as a result of variety of grading criteria — is it destined for pulp, for dimensional lumber, or for the highest grade veneers and stock for example? In the future, the industry will be able to grade and certify each tree before it ever leaves the forest.

How might consumption shift if we knew and could track each tree?  As the cost of sensors, connectivity, and data processing fall, the notion of tagging each tree enters the realm of possibility (especially given the value per board foot of prized or highly regulated species). Silviculturists could monitor and manage the individual attributes during the life of a tree’s growth.  Importers and processors could validate certifications of origin, just as Walmart and IBM are tracking Chinese pork products using blockchain.  The European initiative FlexWood was designed to ensure timber’s value was better managed by optimizing supply chain regionally. This system though partnered whole forests with particular mills. In the future, mills could be sent tightly specified raw materials they are ideally suited to break down — tree by tree.knowntree_1-001The building trades could laminate highly engineered lumber products using a composite of specific logs that were grown in unique ways.  Mass consumers could trace the wood in their furniture not only to a reputably certificate of stewardship, but to the individual company that grew fair trade trees. Shippers might be able to certify the pallets they are transporting internationally were made from genetically engineered trees designed to resist pests at the cellular level, and prevent transporting invasive species. Managers could adjust and monitor the controlled introduction of stresses to individual trees to farm burls and other prized figures.  Carbon credits could be traded accurately knowing exactly how much carbon each tree had absorbed. — Bo Roe

Alum Terry Collins “furthering” Integral Futures

I am Terry Collins, an alum of the foresight program, and I’m very excited to announce that the “father” of Integral terry-collinsFutures, Richard Slaughter, has transferred the Integral Futures domain www.integralfutures.com to me! Integral Theory is used as a method to explore the intention, behavior, culture and systems aspects of whatever is being investigated. Integral Futures is a holistic and all-inclusive approach to exploring futures.

Richard was the first to publish on Integral Theory in association with Futures and has covered Integral Futures philosophy, methodology, and application, particularly in social foresight and futures studies in various publications. He is the foundation that others in this branch have constructed on and has provided leadership in looking beyond the traditional “western” ways of looking at the discipline of Futures and emphasized that other perspectives should be embraced in the discussion.

terry-integral-picsOthers have written about Integral Futures in various publications in relation to current future’s practices such as how it can be used in environmental scanning, scenarios and scenario development, organizational and corporate development, transformation, leadership, and strategic change. Richard had a rich treasure of contributions on the Integral Futures domain website that he maintained.

Now that I am a steward of that domain, I would like to broaden the contribution and develop it even further. With that in mind, if you have a desire to enrich and add to this endeavor, please do not hesitate to contact me at IntegralFutures@aol.com.