- Dr. Timothy X. Merritt
Book Review - Becoming a Professional Futurist: A Five-Step Approach
For sound and practical advice, tons of useful information, and an assortment of extremely helpful tools, “Becoming a Professional Futurist” is a must-read for anyone considering entering this field. As I read it, I had the sense that Dr. Hejazi had written this book especially for me during this challenging and often confusing time of transition into on this strange and exciting career path.
In the spring of 2021, I found myself a newly-minted Doctor of Strategic Leadership with a concentration in Strategic Foresight. I suppose technically, that made me a futurist, but on a practical level, I really had no idea where to start on this strange and exciting career path. That's why I was amazed to find Becoming a Professional Futurist by Dr. Alireza Hejazi. As I read through the pages, I had the sense that Dr. Hejazi had written this book especially for me during this challenging and often confusing time of transition from active-duty military to an as-yet-undefined futurist role I would play post-military retirement. He writes, “Though anybody interested in becoming a professional futurist can profit from this book, the primary focus is college graduates who have finished their studies in the field of foresight” (p. 9). I couldn’t help but think how odd it was that a book had been written just for members of this very narrow demographic group.
First Things First
Hejazi begins by clarifying the distinctions between four complementary and often overlapping concepts essential for futurists to understand: 1) Foresight and Futures Thinking, 2) Strategic Foresight and Forecasting, 3) Strategic Foresight and Strategic Planning, 4) Strategic Foresight and Strategic Thinking.
In addition to understanding the distinction between key concepts, every futurist should master these skills: 1) Become familiar with futures concepts and terms, 2) they must comprehend “change” very well, 3) Know scenario planning, 4) They must know the principles of planning.
While addressing the issue of assisting clients in developing their strategic plans and goals, Hejazi councils emerging practitioners that “a futurist must highlight from the start that the goal of strategic foresight is to establish a road map to success…” (p. 25), you can see how this advice can apply equally to the foresight professional just starting their own career. It seems that a new futurist's first client must be him or herself.
Choose Your Career Path
This chapter asks the reader to question their motivations for becoming a futurist. Do you want to 1) satisfy your curiosity about the future, 2) fulfill some personal desire, 3) are you fed up with short-termism? Or 4) is this subject relevant to you because of your occupational or educational background? (p. 30). Throughout the book, Hejazi asks the reader questions that make them think deeply and ponder different answers. I recommend reading this book with a notebook nearby so that you can take notes, much like you might have done in school. When you compile your answers later, you will have done a significant amount of strategic work for your own foresight career. But more on this later…
Futurists have a critical mission… to provide value… foster leadership… inspire others… to empower and extend our perception of the present… and to start transformations that will benefit everyone (paraphrased from p. 33)).
The point is interesting because it paints a picture of the significant and enduring role of the futurist in society. This is a strategic level concept that pulls the reader out of the realm of their own personal situation and places the profession in the wider context of human endeavor. In essence, the 'job' of futurism becomes the 'calling' of futurism.
Within the field are several distinct paths, and Hejazi broadly describes them in three categories, 1) the Consultant Futurist, i.e., science fiction author, or “creative storyteller,” 2) Organizational Futurists, and 3) Academic Futurists (p 35). To give the reader a sense of where they fall along this spectrum, Hejazi introduces the Foresight Competency Model. This model is one of the many resources available through this book.
Hejazi concludes with an excellent section on professionalism. "The quickest way to success is to master a single talent" (P. 36) and, "When people search for you, the first thing they see is your website. "(p. 40). There is lots of good advice for anyone wondering how to establish their own reputation as a futurist.
Hejazi says that “to build your brand, you should limit your clients to your core competencies” (p. 42). The implied task in this statement is first to understand your competencies. He directs the reader to the 16 Personalities website (p. 43) to facilitate this self-awareness. Career planning is a difficult process. Understanding your own desires, fears, strengths, and weaknesses is vital for charting a course that will allow the aspiring futurist to earn a living and find purpose and meaning in the work.
Graduate students of foresight and future studies ought to critically consider their talents, values, beliefs, and working preferences to find the sort of position that suits them best in the future. In my own case, examining my personality traits reinforced my notion to build a career as a science fiction writer. Regardless of which of the many career paths you choose, Hejazi discusses the importance of the "Futurist Mindset" (p. 52), which he describes as a natural blend of logic and intuition. This common characteristic, the willingness to incorporate both the analytical and creative aspects of the mind, seems to be fundamental.
Hejazi discusses several other character traits in detail. However, one common character trait of futurists that stuck out to me was the willingness of futurists to help others solve difficult problems. Again, this perspective seems to shift the focus from mere employment to more of a noble calling. With that idea in mind, it is time to turn those talents, skills, and attributes to your first client, you.
Design Your Career
We live in times of tremendous change, and Hejazi is inspirational in his message that the future belongs to those who are able to learn about it. He recognizes that the work futurists may actually do in the future may not even exist.
“If your perfect foresight job doesn’t exist yet, make it one” (p. 56).
To help the novice grasp how this is done, he explains that futurists don't really study the future; they actually study people's perceptions of the future. Let that sink in for a minute because it is counter intuitive. Nobody knows what tomorrow holds. It is unknowable. However, the facts, trends, and momentum we see around us are all things that can be collected and studied. That insight really shifted my perspective on future work. I understand now that I really need to be looking at people's ideas about the future.
Even though Hejazi does a fair job of explaining the industry standards for future work, one gets the sense that his real focus is on the individual business model rather than the corporate entity (p. 62). Once again, not only does he offer the nine elements of the futurist's business plan, he also shares a link to Business Model Canvas (p. 64) that I will be using during my military retirement out-processing to build my personal business plan: Nine Elements and Components of a Business Plan - Global Zia.
Hejazi takes a few sidetracks to explore the future roles of artificial intelligence, the value and purpose of science fiction, and considers a supra-organizational system for networking futurists. Then he returns to the reader’s more immediate needs.
Design Your Personal Brand
In Hejazi's view, there are two methods for acquiring work as a futurist. First, you can craft a resume or CV and submit it to a large number of businesses. However, the second alternative is preferable; to avoid having a firm pick you, and instead, choose whom you will serve. To follow the second course, you must create your personal brand.
Your personal brand is a mash-up of who you are, who you represent yourself to be, and who others believe you are (p. 71).
Building your brand implies that you must first find what you want to do, and only then focus on how to communicate and present yourself to others. Common ways of identifying yourself as a futurist, as well as standing out from other types of consultants include:
Demonstrating that futurists see the world differently
Emphasizing that in addition to analysis, futurists can detect trends where others see chaos
Futurist’s tools, concepts, and methods are part of the package
Futurist brands share a profile of knowledge, competency, and ethics
The futurist will solve problems that frustrate people
To build a personal brand, Hejazi considers the whole person. In addition to business plans, CVs, and start-up costs, he also discusses the importance of relationships, internal fears, and various obstacles. He recommends that you take the time to develop a coherent brand strategy across multiple platforms, create a digital profile on LinkedIn, etc. Hejazi talks extensively about "content marketing," which is exactly what I am doing on this blog! I love his idea that I am selling myself as a problem-solver for someone who has a “futures problem.”
Develop Your Network
There is an entire chapter devoted to networking because “It's strategic networking that brings you the opportunities you need to grow and develop your foresight business" (p. 85). He advises that you should become fully immersed in your market:
Who is your ideal customer? What are their desperate problems? What have they previously purchased? What aspects of the present solutions do they find appealing? What are the gaps in the present options? What do your most successful competitors have to say? What is the prevailing narrative of the market?
It seems like a lot of work to maintain relationships, to understand clients' needs, and to build a collaborative rapport with colleagues, but Hejazi emphasizes the positive aspect of being able to strike up conversations with intriguing people from all walks of life.
Ultimately, Hejazi returns to the basic philosophy: you must provide value.
In his conclusion, Hejazi explains that he worked for twenty-nine months for a futurist website, helping recently minted graduates (like myself) find employment in the industry. His work there was very popular, and this is where he generated his ideas. So, I finally understood that there were others like me, seeking to explore often uncharted terrain and to build future careers in fields that might not even exist yet. It was refreshing to learn I was not alone but part of a new burgeoning movement of professional futurists. That alone might be worth the price of the book.
For sound and practical advice, tons of useful information, and an assortment of extremely helpful tools, “Becoming a Professional Futurist” is a must-read for anyone considering entering this field.