Written by: Alireza Hejazi, APF Emerging Fellow
Reviewing a number of published works, I concluded that the futurists’ roles can be generally defined based on a continuum that stretches from a point of leadership to a point of innovation. Many functions, competencies and responsibilities might be considered on this continuum, but there are six key roles that can be attributed to futurists. First, three roles are described from the point of leadership and then three other roles are reviewed from the point of innovation in this post.
In my view, the futurists are primarily leaders. This is why I changed the direction of my studies down the road of strategic foresight at MA level in 2012 and took up the leadership road at PhD level in 2013. I look at foresight from a leadership perspective, and this convinces me to consider Mumford, Campion and Morgeson’s (2007) strataplex of leadership skills as a good basis for classifying futurists’ roles. Therefore, I can regard a futurist as an analyst, a manager, or a consultant in the first place.
Second, I think that foresight is aimed at serving the objective of facilitating or improving innovation at the corporate level. Consequently, Rohrbeck’s (2011) taxonomy of initiator, strategist, and opponent can be considered as one of the best classifications that have been proposed to this date. I will make an attempt to describe each role briefly in this post based on two of the above mentioned resources.
Futurist as analyst
An analyst is the person who applies foresight tools and methodologies in his or her activities, someone who is competent in scanning, trend analysis, and basic forecasting. An analyst is not laboring under the influence of others’ ideas. Instead, he or she studies those ideas and proposed the best way of applying them in favor of individual, national and international benefits. The analyst produces information for the second role, the manager.
Futurist as manager
A futurist manager is usually a foresight project manager who supervises the foresight processes at the corporate level. He or she facilitates projects and generates intelligence from foresight methods and outputs. A futurist manager is a self-disciplined individual capable of creating change, managing uncertainty, coordinating a range of foresight activities, applying alternative futures and transforming to better futures.
Futurist as consultant
A futurist consultant is a strategic leader who works with executives to facilitate change based initiatives on the base of insights resulted from foresight processes. He or she may be known as a senior executive, a director, or creator of foresight initiatives. A futurist consultant possesses good teaming and collaboration competencies, practices problem-solving foresight and welcomes transformational challenges.
Futurist as initiator
Foresight activates innovation by identifying new customer needs, technologies, and product concepts of competitors at the corporate level. A futurist initiator analyzes cultural shifts and collects the needs of lead customers. He or she scans the science and technology environment to identify new emerging technologies. At a higher level, a futurist initiator identifies new competitors’ concepts by monitoring the activities of the competitors.
Futurist as strategist
Foresight directs innovation activities by creating a vision, providing strategic guidance, consolidating opinions, assessing and repositioning innovation portfolios, and identifying the new business models of competitors. A futurist strategist develops well-informed future-oriented strategies that lead innovation on desirable effective paths.
Futurists as opponent
Foresight challenges the innovators to create better and more successful innovations by challenging basic assumptions, challenging the state-of-the-art of current R & D projects, and scanning for disruptions that could endanger current and future innovations. A futurist opponent not only challenges innovative ideas and assumptions, but proposes tweaks and re-adjustments that can improve innovation in various ways.
It should be noted that foresight is a cross-functional profession, and a futurist may play two or some of these roles simultaneously based on the nature of enterprise he or she serves. Another consideration is that new future-oriented jobs have been created or conceived in recent years such as: future-guide, global system architect, global sourcing manager, grassroots researcher, organizational quartermaster, monitor/analyst, and talent aggregator (Wagner, 2010). It is possible to include all these jobs and professions into the proposed taxonomy or perhaps something better.
Mumford, T. V., Campion, M. A., & Morgeson, F. P. (2007). The leadership skills strataplex: Leadership skill requirements across organizational levels. Leadership Quarterly, 18(2), 154-166.
Rohrbeck, R. (2011). Corporate foresight: Towards a maturity model for the future orientation of a firm. Berlin: Springer-Verlag.
Wagner, C. G. (2010). 70 jobs for 2030. The Futurist, 45(1), 30-33.
About the author
Alireza Hejazi is a PhD candidate in Organizational Leadership at Regent University and a member of APF Emerging Fellows. His works are available at: http://regent.academia.edu/AlirezaHejazi