Emerging Fellows 2020

The Association of Professional Futurists is accepting applications for its Emerging Fellows 2020 program!

APF Emerging Fellows are futurists at the beginning of their career interested in sharpening their research and writing skills, forming a cohort, and blogging regularly on critical issues that define the future. The theme for the 2020 program is the Geopolitical Future to 2050.

[More info: https://www.apf.org/news/469461/2020-Emerging-Fellows-Program.htm]

Applicants may contact EF Program Leader, Stephen Aguilar-Millan. Make sure to check out 2018 and 2019 work here: http://www.eufo.org/emerging-fellows.html

Visiting Scholar Alex Fergnani explores the state of foresight

We are happy to have PhD student Alessandro “Alex” Fergnani spend the Fall semester with us to research the state of foresight. Alex chose to spend his semester abroad with us as he pursues his PhD in Management and Organization from the NUS Business School in Singapore. Alex has already earned a Master of Social Science in Futures Studies from Tamkang University of Taiwan. It is great to learn from the different perspective and experience that Alex brings to Foresight. He is already an accomplished scholar, having published several papers, including “Extracting scenario archetypes: A quantitative text analysis of documents about the future” with Mike Jackson that was published in Futures & Foresight Science, and “Mapping futures studies scholarship from 1968 to present: A bibliometric review of thematic clusters, research trends, and research gaps” in Futures.

A key focus of Alex’s work with us involves helping us to kick off of a State of Foresight project (see related post). In particular, we are working on an article for a general business publication that makes the case for foresight. To support that case, and to support the larger State of Foresight, we are looking at examples of how foresight has been and is being used in the corporate sector.

It’s really exciting to have visiting scholars join us and enrich our understanding of the different ways that foresight is understood and applied. — Andy Hines

Lesia Embarking on Foresight Current State Assessment

Houston Foresight’s current student, Lesia Fejer is embarking on an important and long-overdue research project: Assessing the State of Foresight.  How many Fortune 500 companies employ futurists? Have in-house futurists? Do foresight work? These are some of the questions we hope to answer.

As a trend, Foresight is growing in the world; but to what degree, how it’s penetrating the market, and who is on the bus is all a mystery.

Lesia plans to utilize Houston Foresight’s clout and will first take her research to LinkedIn. As of 16 October 2019, over 14,000 people identify themselves as a “futurist” on LinkedIn.  Yes, degreed-futurists, I said Fourteen THOUSAND. Even more daunting, when we included derivatives or common synonyms for Futurists (e.g. Foresight Professional, long-term forecaster and planner, etc.) that total went up to over 50,000.


Here’s a word from our Lesia about the project.

Can you tell us a little more about your plan of attack?

We are starting with LinkedIn and will be categorizing individual profiles, job postings and company profiles in an attempt to gain a general survey of the current state of foresight. As you all know, many of todays’ “foresight” jobs are not clearly indicated or delineated so we have to ensure we are coding our data accordingly. We will be cataloguing all posted job adverts and scanning them for key academic-based futures studies terms; however, this becomes more difficult when we look back into previous jobs held by current foresight job holders. For this reason I have split the raw data into two fields – Job Adverts  (current assessment) and Job Holders (current and past assessment). The Job Adverts will seek to understand the stagnant state, what Fortune 500 companies are employing futurists. The latter, Job Holders assessment, will help us to understand (1) of those who are employed in Futures jobs, did they receive formal training?, (2) what cycles might be occurring, overtime, indicating a greater or diminishing update of Foresight in particular industries, (3) Does size, industry, or growth impact the uptake of foresight?. LinkedIn provides us millions of data points and insights into the field. As we collect and categorize the data, I’m sure even more research questions will arise!


What’s an interesting tidbit you can share that you’ve found so far in your research

There seems to be a shift from self-taught futurist to university-taught futurist – but I think we are still 10-15 years away from it impacting our professional careers. This does mean that the entry-level jobs are few and far between, for those who are exiting academia at an earlier stage in their career, and it also means that the possibilities for both are endless as they near the peak of their career. The high rate of self-employment in university-trained professionals at the height of their careers is staggering. One would think a major consulting firm would be eager to pick them up – but the high rate does indicate that companies are eager to seek out the talent, and eager for our particular methods over the traditional consulting firm insights when asking futures-relevant questions. Of course, this is based on qualitative analysis, so lets wait until I have the numbers to back this up!


Do you have anything you’d like to say to this audience?

One of our most difficult challenges is understanding the “black market” of Foresight & Future Studies. From our research, it seems a large hunk of trained professionals in futures studies, at some point, pursue a self-employed consulting position. While we can measure for in-house consulting and in-house foresight operations, we are unable to get a picture of the contract work. If you are currently employed as a foresight consultant and able to share profiles of recent work (perhaps research questions, industry, approximate size of the company, and the opening/closing date of the project) this would drastically improve our ability to draw insights on the current state of Foresight. Of course, if you’re able to provide concrete details of your client list, we would welcome it – we just cannot imagine Lawyers being as interested in the academic insights as we are.


Thank you Lesia – we can’t wait to get the report!

Q&A: What are Your Top Trends?

At a recent keynote Q&A, I was asked about my top trends. The question actually went like this “a year ago, I attended a presentation by a futurist named Faith Popcorn (yes of course I’ve heard of her) and she presented her top 10 trends that should be on everyone’s mind.  What are your top trends?”

I have a confession to make.

I don’t have top trends. I have favorite trends. Now, to be clear, this doesn’t mean I ignore trends I don’t like in my work. At this point in my futurist career, top STEEP trends are pretty well engrained in my psyche and are integrated in every forecast I do.

Here’s what I mean by the top trends (IMO) in STEEP:

Social: I understand generational and geographical characteristics, the movement from Modern to Integral value and am a true crash-test dollbaby when it comes to understanding technological impacts on society

Technology: Automation, AI, machine learning, VR/AR. All forecasts include these

Economic: Distribution of wealth, cryptocurrencies / blockchain, Access Economy

Environmental: Climate change, sustainability, zero waste, play / recreation IRL

Political: Nationalism vs. globalization

These are really the list of Top Trends I would present if I was forced to do so. They are megatrends and deserve constant investigation and consideration.

Now, my FAVORITE trends are:

  • #metoo and Female Empowerment: unlocking the feminine gifts by raising the status of women through raising awareness, education and training. Okay so shocker…I am a little biased here. I am a woman and am especially excited for the opportunities for women. We are doing it, ladies! And we are creating quite the beautiful ruckus in the meantime.
  • Human Augmentation & Performance: Dramatic increase in human capabilities using biological and physical means such as advanced pharmaceuticals, CRISPR for genetic manipulation, smart prosthetics, implants, and wearables. CRISPR in particular is one of the coolest technologies I have ever seen. It is a gene slicing technology that is able alter DNA sequences. So you want hawk vision? CRISPR can give that to you.
  • White Collar AI: Technology is quickly catching up to, if not surpassing, human capabilities. Technological advancements, such as artificial Intelligence systems, continue to become smarter as they learn new information and retain past skills. My favorite scan hit that dropped right in to this one was an ad agency “hiring” an AI to be their creative director. Watch out Don Draper, there’s a new kid in town. 
  • Circular Economy: The Circular Economy promises to keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life. The CE is one of those daunting topics that all futurists would be lucky to be paid to research. Fortunately, the UH Foresight Research Program just finished a project on this topic. And folks, it is THRILLING out there. The ground is already producing beautiful CE vegetation…we just see if companies can make money off it and the people will want it. Simple, right
  • Value Capitalism: The definition of success is changing. Whereas it was once all about cost, many consumers are more concerned with products’ societal and environmental benefits over finding an economic bargain. From crowd funding, to waste reduction, to inclusion of all cultural backgrounds in product offerings, social responsibility is an expectation. Anyone that knows Futurist Laura knows this is one of my favorites. It was my first topic I studied in school and still jazzes me to this day. What if governments / companies considered their impact on the Planet and People as just important as their Profit. Triple Bottom Line accounting, I’m rooting for you!

What are your favorite trends?

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Posted in Education Talks by laura schlehuber. 1 Comment

Journal of Futures Studies Publication: Transition Scenarios via Backcasting

Dr. Hines and alumni Johann Schutte and Maria Romero co-authored a piece in the Journal of Futures Studies about Transition Scenarios via Backcasting. The three futurists were presented with three scenarios developed for the USDA Forest Service, Strategic Foresight Group (the Forest Group) set in 2090. Although the long forecast is entirely appropriate for this domain (given the forestry’s slow clock speed), the Forest Group was interested in identifying emerging issues that would be influential closer to the present than 2090. Our group of futurists decided to try a Backcasting approach to transition these 2090 scenarios back to 2035.


At a high-level, our futurists took the following steps:

  1. Identified 12 categories/drivers present in the 2090 scenarios
  2. Backcast this 2090 category back to 2060 (split the difference and find our mid-point), under the scenario archetype approach
  3. Backcast 2060 back to 2035
  4. Forecast 2035 – 2090 and compared forecasts for plausibility
  5. If plausible, used the drivers as of 2035 to create transition scenarios.

The new scenarios, along with backcasted / forecasted drivers are all laid out in the journal.




Check it out and let us know what you think!

Professor Andy Hines is a Fellow at GAO’s new Center for Strategic Foresight

Our own Dr. Hines was asked to be a Fellow and participate in a conference celebrating the new Center for Strategic Foresight at the Government Accountability Office (GAO). As a Fellow, he will participate in GAO Center conferences, webinars, and surveys, and will be on-call to provide informal advice as needed.

The conference, on September 10, 2019, focused on critical issues confronting policymakers today with an emphasis on two topics: the management of space policy by government and the private sector, as well as the growing use worldwide of “deep fake” synthetic media to manipulate online and real-world interactions.

Gene Dodaro, Comptroller General of the United States and the head of GAO, opened the conference. “The Center for Strategic Foresight helps to keep us agile by encouraging creative and critical thinking on the latest trends facing government and society. Our goal is to stay focused on Congress’ top policy priorities and to help prepare policymakers for future challenges.”

The new center opened with nine fellows from academic and industry backgrounds around the country, who will spend the next year studying issues just over the horizon.

Spring Gathering 2020: Save the Date!

The dates for the 2020 Houston Foresight Spring Gathering are LOCKED!  April 17-18 we will explore Science Fiction futures.  Details on location, Friday plans, etc. will head your way soon!

We are still looking to fill some time slots so if you are interested in presenting, please email laura at laura.schlehuber@gmail.com.


A few weeks ago, I was asked to keynote the morning of a week-long training a for large healthcare insurance provider. They had already spent time exploring “Today” and now were going to be turning their attention to the future.

This is a pretty common request for a known futurist. Companies want us to come in, set the tone and inspire. The crowd “mmm’s” and nods their head on a few delicious foresight quotable quotes such as:

“The future is already here – it’s just unevenly distributed”

“Foresight is not about predicting the future, it’s about finding plausible and provocative scenarios that may unravel and determining the action we can take TODAY to take advantage of that future”

“Change is hard, but stagnation is fatal”

Typically, when I’m asked to do one of these presentations, and after I understand the goal, I’m able to quickly build a wireframe based on previous presentations. For this 30-minute keynote, I spoke about:

  • Myself and background on how I became a futurist
  • The history of modern-day foresight
  • 4 reasons your trends aren’t working

Each of these points will have their own post in the future…

I am often asked to speak on the “Future Of <a topic>. And I often decline. Although futurists should know a lot about everything, it still takes tremendous extra effort to come with a “Future Of…” keynote that is surprising, thought-provoking and fresh. I could come in with the top 5 or so megatrends in the industry but my hope is that these leaders in healthcare would already be well-versed.

It was a good group of about 30 leaders present, they laughed at my jokes, aww’ed and ooo’ed. After 30 minutes of presenting, it was Q&A time.  Some of the questions, I’ve had many times before:

  • “How do you take action on scenarios?”
  • “What’s the best way to start?”
  • “Have you heard of X trend”
  • “Where should be invest our money?”  <I laugh at this one and let them know that if I was that kind of futurist, I would be off at my vacation home in the south of France>

And some of the questions were especially challenging to me in the moment / on the spot. Over the next few weeks, I am going to sit down with each of these questions and share my thoughts:

  1. What are your top trends?
  2. How far out can you predict?
  3. How do you filter out the noise when scanning?
  4. What do you wish your clients asked you?


Till then!

Finding the Fringe Takes Time

Recently I posted about snowball scanning as a way to find the fringe in horizon scanning. As I thought more about, I realized a big challenge with developing fringe sources is that they take time to develop! I was adding a hit to my After Capitalism library (private on Diigo) and I realized that over the course of the last several years, I’d come across some pretty funky — aka fringey –sources.

We should probably review two different kinds of horizon scanning:

  • Scanning: continuous, year-round search for interesting trends, needs and ideas w/out a particular topic in mind
  • Scan: focused effort for a project/given period of time around a specific domain

It seems to me that in scanning we have the luxury of time to dig for the fringe. We can do the snowball scanning. We have the time to dig deep down the Reddit Rabbit hole and find those fringe conversations. But with a scan for a project that might last three months and have a month or so of intense scanning, it becomes much more costly to invest time and effort in the fringe. Not impossible, but more challenging.

This is an advantage for organizational futurists in that a single organization’s domain is likely to be more bounded (compared to a consulting futurist jumping from topic to topic). The organizational futurist can put more time in finding and characterizing their fringe.

What say ye? What’s your experience in how much time it takes to find the fringe? – Andy Hines

Snowball Scanning

We have been doing a lot of thinking and work on horizon scanning at Houston Foresight. We revised our process several years back captured in the graphic below.

And in Spring 2018, we dedicated our annual Spring Gathering to “scanning the fringe.”

We also talk about it a lot in class. In particular, we’ve been trying to get better/more systematic about finding Horizon 3 scanning hits and “the fringe.” One of the student scanners sparked a response from me that maybe we should include in our how-to. “You might do some “snowball” searching in which you look at an interesting piece, and see what sources it has that might be more provocative, and follow them, and see where they lead you.” So, “snowball scanning?” I owe the thought to Dr. Oliver Markley who taught us snowball surveying…why not apply it to scanning. Be interested to hear your feedback. – Andy Hines